There are times both personally and professionally where I’ll get asked all manner of questions that could have been answered with a simple Google search. I suspect you’ve probably had folks ask you to do Google searches on their behalf as well. Now, that’s justifiable in cases like my wife driving and needing me to look-up an address for her. What’s not justifiable are folks sitting behind desktops who want to know Dragonfly Cinema’s weekend showings schedule. The commonality and frequency of these “please do this search for me” requests has spawned sites like Let Me Google That For You [lmgtfy.com]. If you use Chrome as your web browser, you don’t even need to visit Google Search; just start typing a search query into the URL field and you’re off to the races.
Google Search is a quite powerful little tool. (Little and simple on the surface, not behind the scenes certainly.) What you may not know is that there are some ways to tell Google to conduct your search in very specific ways. Most of the time, Google just gets it right. (They have a mind-reading artificial intelligence engine in their Columbia Valley data center.) However, there are times when you want to get more specific. Here are some of the “power features” I enjoy using:
Limit Search to a Site
Often times I know I’ve seen a particular bit of information on a specific site, but the site administrators moved things around since my last visit, and the site search feature doesn’t work effectively (or at all). Enter Google. Just add “site:example.com” and Google will only return results from that domain. This also works for classes of domain; for example, if you want to search all government web sites for tax law, you might try:
tax law site:gov
Exact and Approximate Matching
Let’s say you want to search for anything related to airplanes called “Withering Heights”. Please don’t ask me why you would want to conduct such a search; you have weird interests maybe. Anyway, try the following search:
"withering heights" ~airplanes
This tells Google that you’d like to “expand” the word “airplanes” into: “airplanes” or “aircraft” or “planes” or similar. Google will match content that includes “aircraft” that might not normally get matched.
If you wanted to look for any word that ended with “planes”, you could:
"withering heights" *planes
Secondly, Google is going to look for the two-word phrase “withering heights” rather than “withering” and “heights” as two words perhaps separated by some number of other words.
Force Include and Exclude
Google is quite good at being fairly intelligent about automatically including and excluding certain words in your search query to bring up results you want. However, sometimes you want to force the search engine to do your exact bidding. In those cases, include a “+” or a “-“ to force an inclusion or exclusion of words.
~airplanes +"Kitty Hawk" –carrier
That search will find me pages that talk about things like planes, airplanes, and aircraft and have (for sure) a reference to Kitty Hawk but are not about the aircraft carrier the Kitty Hawk.
What if I want to limit my search down to pages of a particular range in years, like the last couple years? No problem.
~airplanes +"Kitty Hawk" –carrier 2013..2014
File Types, Authors, and Titles
Often, I find I’m looking for a PDF of something. I only want Google to tell me about PDFs that match my search:
Or I may know that I’m looking for something a friend of mine has written:
tolkien author:"James Rosenzweig"
Or I may know the title of the thing I’m searching for:
Finding Related Material
This is one of my favorites. You can search for web sites that are related in some way to NASA:
Putting It All Together
Where things get really interesting is in combining these little tricks together. Let’s say I wanted to find anything related to airplanes (airplanes, aircraft, etc.) that wasn’t from Wikipedia, wasn’t a PDF file, had a price of $100,000 or less, and absolutely included some reference to amphibian:
~airplanes +amphibian –site:wikipedia.org -filetype:pdf ..$100000
Google is great at determining what you want, sometimes returning to you the content you want in addition to search results. Try the following examples:
- seattle weather
- seattle time
- sin(pi) * 3
- 120 knots in mph
- 1 usd in euros
- translate “I am impressed” to Latin
Fun, right? Easy, right? So next time you feel the urge to call someone to ask them something the Great and Powerful Internet probably knows already, give Google Search a try.