Google Search Tips & Tricks


I am going to be doing a Google Search Tips workshop next week (Tuesday at noon in room LL-109).  For those who will not be able to attend, here is what we will be covering.

Google Search Basics

1. Every word you put in the search box counts.

  •  Don’t use too many words, but the right word and word order matter.
  • Don’t ask a natural language question that a human would understand.
  • Don’t worry about spelling, Google will correct it.
  • The search algorithm understands only terms you give it, so express your search in the terms that might appear on the page(s) you are looking for.
  • Stop words (the, and, a, for) are generally ignored, so don’t put them unless they form a definitive role in the term you are searching. For example, searching on the term bangles will find references to the 80’s band along with lots of references to bracelets and other body ornaments. Searching on the bangles will move hit results for the band to the top page of search results.

2. Terms in the search box are ALWAYS case insensitive at Google.

3. Punctuation is ignored, except in the case of special operators (like – ~ “ “ or *) which can be used to modify the way searches behave. (See below for information on special operators).

Special characters that do matter include @, #, ++, +, %, $

  • @barakobama will find the twitter handle for this username
  • #ibm will find the twitter hashtag for IBM
  • c++ will return results related to the programming language
  • +barakobama will find the Google + home page for the president
  • 47% will find results about Romney’s famous comment
  • Handgun $50 will find handguns for sale at $50
  • Special characters that are completely ignored include ¶, £, €, ©, ®, ÷, §, (), ?, !

4. The simpler your search terms, the more likely they will yield what you are looking for. Instead of typing: where is Phil’s barbeque restaurant in san marcos California, type, phils bbq san marcos. Instead of, what is the weather like in Canton, Ohio, type weather canton oh

5. Once you click a search result link on the Google search results page (see below) you can use the browser command Ctrl-F (Mac, Command-F) to find the text on the page—or, more importantly, discover that the text does not appear on the page. Remember, this is a browser feature, not a Google feature, and the way it works varies slightly from browser to browser, but it is the same basic idea in all browsers: Ctrl-F searches on a string (usually a full word) and reports back on its existence on the page, and permits jumping to each of those instances.


Understanding Google Search Results

google search results page

After you enter a simple search term(s), you will be presented with a results page, illustrated above:

1) You can refine your search by adding terms to the search box and search again.

2) Search other specific types of media results for the same terms: images, videos, news, and so on. Clicking the More button under these sets of search tools and filters will reveal many other specialized searches, like books, blogs, patents, and so on.

3) More search types, including videos, news, books, places, etc.

4) Search filters (see below)

5) If you are performing a personalized search (i.e., you are logged in with your gmail account) you will be able to simultaneously search your Evernote notebooks with same search terms. Set “Use personal results in the Search settings form by clicking the gear icon in the upper right of the search term. Personal results can also use your search history and other search settings to customize results for you.

6) The blue headers listed down the page are links to search results.

7) Preview button: hover over it to see a preview of the web page referenced in the results link.

8) Actual URL of site and time since it was cached with a brief summary of the page.

The Preview

When you hover your mouse over the preview button, to the right of the blue link in a list of search results, a preview of the page will appear to the right of the column of links. Note that there are two additional links at the top of this preview page: Cached and Similar. Google keeps a historical cache of pages, so it is possible even though the page has been deleted that it can still be viewed in this fashion.  Of course, not all pages are cached, but many are.  The “similar” link will find web pages most similar to the one in the preview window.


More Advanced Searching—Operators

1. Placing a search phrase within double quotes (“”) will search for exact words. For example, searching on on the road to ruin in and out of double quotes will return very different search results. When the phrase is in double quotes, the results refer to a web site that uses the literally in its entirety. Out of quotes it will contain hits for all or any of the words.

2. Placing a minus sign (-) directly in front of a search term (without an intervening space) will EXCLUDE that term from the results. For example, abraham –lincoln will return hits on the patriarch, and other related Abrahams, but not the sixteenth president.

3. Placing an asterisk (*) within a set of search terms within quotes will serve as a wildcard search term, that is, any/all terms will be substituted for the asterisk. For example, a search on “powerpoint * effects” will return results on various types of PowerPoint effects; “f* fighter jet” will return results about various jets named f-something. The asterisk will be replaced only with whole words or numbers, not parts of words.

4. Placing the tilde (~) before a search term will search for the term and its synonyms. For example, ~inexpensive cameras will search also for cheap, affordable and low-cost cameras.

5. Placing two periods before, between, or after constrains a search to an upper or lower limit, or a numeric range. For example, nikon cameras $100..$500, placing a dollar sign ($) before a number searches for prices.

 Using Filters, Views and Advanced Search Options

By default Google searches on everything and any time and in any location on earth. To modify these parameters use the Search Tools button at the top of the screen. They will allow you to change the date/time range of the search, the results type of the search, and the location of the search.  The tools you see when clicking the Search Tools button will vary, of course, depending on the type of search. When performing an image search, for example, you can access tools to filter by size, color, type, and so on.

Date/time filter


Results type filter


Location filter


Media Type Searches

Here are the Media type searches. The default search is for web pages, but you can change this by clicking the media type.


Advanced Search

Access the advanced search form the gear icon in the upper right of the search screen.


The advanced search form is a simpler way of applying the search operators that you can insert on the basic search form, provided you know how to use them.


The advanced tools for images, videos, news, and so on vary with the search.

You can also access advanced search tools at:

Web advanced search:

Image advanced search:

Scholar advanced search:

(Scholar is Google’s database of academic/scholarly journal articles).

Search Settings

Access search settings from the gear icon at the upper right of the search screen:



Search settings will permit you to turn on SafeSearch (filter out explicit sexual language or images). If you have a Google account you can lock SafeSearch on for that browser on that computer.

Search settings also permits enabling of Google instant predictions (the drop-down list of search results under the search bar); Number of results reported per page (10 (default) – 100); whether search results open on a new tab or in the same tab; create a list of blocked sites; and whether you want Google to keep track of your search history.

Search Tips

Did you know…

That the Google search box can be used as a dictionary? Just type the term define: and follow it directly with the term you want defined, like this:


That you can filter filetype right in the search box, rather than having to use advanced search? Just type the term filetype:, indicate the filetype, and then type your search term(s), like this:


That you can filter specific domain or domain type right in the search box? Just type the term site: and follow it with the domain or domain type you want, followed by the search term, like this:


That you can use the Google search box as a calculator? Just enter your numeric terms using standard operators, like this:


That you can use the Google search box as a unit converter for just about units of measure:



That you can find related web sites to one you have already found by using the “related:” operator:


The search illustrated above will find sites related to the San Diego County library web site.

Focused Searches


After searching on a food item or list of ingredients, the Media type bar at the top of the screen will change to contain “Recipes.” Click it for recipes containing the items you searched on.


Find out what time it is in any city by typing “time” and the name of the city.

Real Time Stock Quotes

Get real time stock quotes by simply typing the company ticker symbol into the search box.

Track Packages

Simply enter your tracking number to track UPS, FedEx or USPS packages.

Search by Location

Add a zip code to the end of any search term, like pizza 92069 to find pizza restaurants in San Marcos, CA, including a map.

Movie Show Times

Simply search on a movie name to get local show times.

Flight Schedules

Enter “flights from” or “flights to” followed by the city or airport to get a schedule. Include departure and destination to get the specific route.

View arrival and departure information for U.S. flights by searching for name of the airline and flight number.


Just enter the name of a generic or brand-name prescription drug and you will receive an enormous amount of information about it from the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and various authoritative medical web sites.

Cached Pages

Google maintains a cache of web pages over time. Clicking the Cached link in the web site preview will show older versions of the page, even when the page has been removed.

Similar Pages

The web site preview also contains a link to similar pages. Click it to view them.

 Search Innovations

Google Goggles

From an Android phone open the Goggles app and snap a picture of the item you want to search for. On an iPhone open the Google Search app and select Goggles, then take a picture to search.


Voice Search

Voice search is available on iOS and Android phones and tablets. Just tap the microphone icon in the Google search app and speak the term for which you are searching.

Search by Image

You can search by giving Google an image URL, or uploading an image, at this site:

 Click the camera to begin the search.


The Knowledge Graph

Google claims to be transitioning from an “information engine” to a “knowledge engine.” The knowledge graph, which will appear when searching for famous people, places and things is an example. A search for “Leonardo da Vinci” produces the standard set of search results on the left of the screen, but also an inset on the right of the screen with key facts about Leonardo and related people, and a “knowledge carousel” at the top of the screen, in this case a set of Leonardo’s most famous paintings.


The Knowledge Graph Carousel


A click on any of the images or links in the knowledge graph or carousel will expand your search in ways that serve to connect it to wider knowledge.

Google Instant

Google instant predicts your search as soon as you start typing with suggestions on a drop-down beneath the search box. Obviously Google in uniquely situated to predict the most common and related searches to any text string. According to Google using instant search saves 2-5 seconds per search.


One thought on “Google Search Tips & Tricks

  1. Wow, Terry, I learned a lot from reading this! Thanks for all of these tips. They are going to make my searches much more productive in the future.

Comments are closed.