Statistically speaking, most of us will consider ourselves to be excellent Google search users who find what we are looking for most of the time, if not always. The problem, according to a recent article by Google researchers in Scientific American is that we are probably overestimating our actual capacity to find what we are actually looking for online.
In addition to describing the way the search engine actually workds, the researchers offers some simple tricks and Google search tips to make us all better Google search users, but there is even more mostly-unused options that can very quickly help you discover exactly what it is you are looking for online.
How Google Search Works and Why We’re Probably Using It Wrong
If you know anything about Google, its that its the most trafficked website on the planet. 3.5 billion searches are run through Google Search, Google’s flagship service, every day and when it suffered a 5-minute outage in 2013, Internet traffic around the world plummeted 40 percent.
You may also think you know your way around Google search like a pro, but statistically speaking, you’re probably doing it wrong. According to an article by Daniel M. Russell and Mario Callegaro in Scientific American, research shows that a majority of us, 56 percent, are very confident in our ability to use the service.
However, research also shows that we are not really good at distinguishing whether the information we’ve found is credible or not. In 2016, a Stanford University study found that 80 percent of students couldn’t accurately assess the credibility of the material they found online.
Meanwhile, Google finds that about 35 percent of users report always finding what they were looking for and 73 percent either always finding what they were looking for or finding it most of the time.
When you factor in things like confirmation biases—where you are most likely to believe or seek out information that confirms already held views or beliefs—it shouldn’t be surprising that Fake News and other false information spreads so quickly online.
So how do we counter this?
Some Google search tricks that Russell and Callegaro suggest are seeking out alternative viewpoints than those that you think are true. Actively combating confirmation bias is crucial to actually learning what is true and what isn’t; as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we simply don’t know everything.
It’s also important to exercise critical thinking to distinguish what it is you are actually looking at. An example they use is Googling how many teachers there are in New York, which if you don’t think about it, can give you the wrong information. Did you mean New York State or New York City? These numbers are very different, but Google Search will return both.
With these things in mind, here are some Google search tricks you can use to help get the most out of the world’s most powerful search engine.
Google Search Tips
These tricks are broken up into Google search tips for optimizing your search query to get exactly the kinds of information you are looking for, followed by specific Google search tricks for processing the results of your searches to filter out unwanted information.
Optimizing Google Search Queries
* Use different wording of your search phrase to see how the results of your search change, specifically by making it more precise. You can even try opening up several browser tabs to keep the different results handy for comparison.
* Search using synonyms for the main search terms. Pet food and animal nutrition will give you two different sets of results. Good search queries share some common features. They use words central to the topic. They use common terms together in the right order, i.e., whether you use “house dog” or “dog house” makes a difference.
* Keep searches between two to five words long. These don’t include so-called “stop words”, words like “the”, “a”, “an”, “there”, etc. These words are usually ignored by the search, so you can even exclude them entirely if they aren’t necessary parts of the search term. Later you’ll see how to make sure these words are included in the search itself.
* When checking whether search results are relevant, use the find text function on your browser to search the page for the specific information you’re looking for. To access the find text function, use Command + F on Macs and Control + F on Windows PCs.
Google Search Commands for Search Queries
There are a few Google Search query operators that can make a huge difference in the quality of your search results, especially on the second or third searches after getting back an initial result. It’s important to remember that for most searches, the case of the letters is normally irrelevant, but in the case of operators, the logical operator must be in all caps to be recognized by google search.
* | or OR : Considers results using both sides of the operator. For example, capital city Texas OR Florida will return information on both Authin, Texas and Tallehasse, Florida.
* - or NOT : Excludes a specific term from your results. For example, Elon Musk NOT Tesla will return results about Elon Musk’s that exclude sites or pages the deal with his work with Tesla.
* .. : Returns results in a specific range. For example, if you wanted to search for life in the Eastern Roman Empire in the 450s CE, searching Life in the Eastern Roman Empire 450..460 will exclude everything about Julius Caesar and the Later Byzantine Empires and focus on a specific time period in a specific place.
* “ ” : Put quotation marks around a term and Google search will only return results where that exact order of words was found. This can also be used around stop words to force the search engine to consider them rather than ignore them.
* * : The asterisk is used as a wildcard for one or more words in a specific phrase when using the “” operators to search for a specific phrase. For example, "Google search tips * make things easier” will include results for “Google search tips should/do/don’t/shouldn’t/will/ make things easier”.
Google Search Tricks to Filter Results
Other search terms can be included in the query to filter results according to a specific criteria.
* site: - Restrict results to a specific domain, for example “site:interestingengineering.com” will return only results from Interesting Engineering and no where else. You must include the full domain though, including the “.com”, “.gov”, etc.
* related: - Returns sites related to site indicated. So related:flickr.com will return other photo sharing sites like imgur.com and others.
* intitle:/inurl:/intext: - Restricts results to those that have a specific term in the title, url, or in the site text itself, respectively.
* allintitle:/allinurl:/allintext: - Like the above, only used with multiple words enclosed in “”.