Get bet­ter re­sults from Google

Use Google’s ad­vanced search op­er­a­tors to im­prove your search queries

Mac Format - - IMPROVE | SYSTEM -

The web is a mar­vel­lous re­search tool for study and work, to solve a prob­lem with a piece of equip­ment or soft­ware, or just be­cause you’re cu­ri­ous about a sub­ject. Part of the chal­lenge in us­ing search en­gines such as Google is in choos­ing ap­pro­pri­ate key­words that ac­tu­ally yield good re­sults. Even if your words are well cho­sen, a more popular con­text other than the one you in­tended may share key­words, bury­ing the pages you’re look­ing for deeper among search re­sults than you care to dig, lead­ing you to re­fine your search to hone in on the cor­rect re­sources.

This is when you might ben­e­fit from switch­ing to Google’s Ad­vanced Search, by click­ing the cog at the top-right of a search re­sults page. It pro­vides a form that en­ables you to ex­plic­itly state how Google should treat par­tic­u­lar key­words and phrases. You can tell it to look for a se­quence of words as an ex­act phrase, rather than as in­di­vid­ual key­words that might ap­pear in any or­der.

Searches can be re­stricted to a par­tic­u­lar site, or per­haps sev­eral, so that you only see pages from, say, BBC News and se­lect other or­gan­i­sa­tions, or maybe you just want to ex­clude a spe­cific, less au­thor­i­ta­tive site that dom­i­nates re­sults.

There’s no need to break down your search in this man­ner. Many of Ad­vanced Search’s most use­ful op­tions can be lever­aged from the search bar it­self, pro­vided you know some spe­cial syn­tax. This en­ables you to per­form com­plex searches more quickly. By do­ing so, you spend less time dig­ging through page after page of re­sults – of­ten a fruit­less task any­way – and in­stead leave it to Google to do its job to the ab­so­lute best of its abil­i­ties, and for only a small amount of ex­tra ef­fort on your part.

If you still can’t find what you want, it’s worth check­ing whether cer­tain of your key­words are lim­it­ing. Look at their punc­tu­a­tion. Hy­phens are okay be­cause Google con­sid­ers the words ei­ther side

Many Ad­vanced Search op­tions can be lever­aged from the search bar, with some spe­cial syn­tax

to be strongly con­nected, so a search for “built-in” re­turns pages that are hy­phen­ated like that, or which omit the hyphen.

Con­trac­tions are more prob­lem­atic; Google does not treat “won’t” and “will not” as the same search term, and you may find that it helps to re­frame a search phrase to omit con­trac­tions and their ex­panded forms.

In this type of sce­nario, the wild­card op­er­a­tor can help by telling Google that you aren’t so specif­i­cally con­cerned about which form ap­pears within a longer phrase.

Google will au­to­mat­i­cally con­sider dif­fer­ent forms of the same word – so if you spec­ify the stem word ‘in­stall’, re­sults may in­clude pages that con­tain ‘in­stal­la­tion’ or ‘in­stalling’.

Us­ing Google like a pro isn’t just about know­ing how to spec­ify key­words, though. It’s also about adapt­ing your way of think­ing – by con­sid­er­ing how other peo­ple might phrase some­thing, for ex­am­ple. Per­haps your cho­sen words are ap­pro­pri­ate in a for­mal con­text, when an in­for­mal syn­onym would yield a wealth of use­ful pages, ripe for brows­ing.

We’re go­ing to look at how to use th­ese and other ad­vanced fea­tures right from your browser’s search bar – or the bar at google.com or google.co.uk, if you pre­fer. For other search en­gines, check their doc­u­men­ta­tion for sim­i­lar syn­tac­tic short­cuts. In the fol­low­ing ex­am­ples, when we’ve spec­i­fied what you need to search for in sin­gle quotes, you should omit those quotes but en­ter ev­ery­thing that’s writ­ten be­tween them into the search bar. How­ever, wher­ever we show some­thing in dou­ble quotes, in­clude those. As you’ll see in a mo­ment, Google gives spe­cial mean­ing to them, but it will ig­nore sin­gle quotes as if you hadn’t typed them. Alan Stone­bridge

You can take a short­cut by learn­ing spe­cial syn­tax to en­ter into your browser’s search field.

Re­fin­ing cri­te­ria from the search field works well with im­age search to get in­spi­ra­tion for cre­ative projects.

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