Try These Power User Search Tips

Category: Search-Engines

The Web is a window to a world of wisdom. But as the amount of online information grows, finding what you want in search engines is getting harder. A casual search for a keyword or phrase can produce millions of hits, but they are not always ordered by relevance. On the other hand, search engines can quickly tell you things that you wouldn’t expect a search engine to know. Here are some easy ways to get more out of search engines, or less if that’s what you need…

Search Engine Tips and Tricks

Are you getting too many hits when you search on Google, Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo? Restricting the scope of a search helps to reduce irrelevant results. Here are some helpful tips you can use on most search engines to limit the number of results, and zero in on what you want to find.

Exact phrase: By putting quotation marks around a set of keywords, you create a phrase that becomes a single keyword. Search engines will show you only results that contain ALL of the phrase’s words in the EXACT ORDER you specify them.

Without quotes, results will include pages that contain any (but usually most) of the specified keywords. Try searching for the phrase autonomous vehicle crash or digital camera photography with and without the quotes to see the difference in the results.

Google and Bing search tips

Keyword exclusion: You can omit from your results all pages that include specific keywords or phrases. The Boolean operator NOT (which must be capitalized) may be used on Bing or Yahoo, but on Google and DuckDuckGo the shortcut for NOT is the minus sign. For example, bob rankin -colorado will return results for pages about bob rankin but only if they don’t include the word colorado. (There are a few other well-known people who share my name.) You can excluded quoted phrases by putting the minus sign immediately before the first quotation mark, e. g., -"made in China" will exclude results that contain that phrase.

Wildcards: If you’re not entirely sure how a keyword is spelled or what words should be in a keyword phrase, try using the asterisk (*) to allow any number of any characters to fill in a blank in your memory. For instance, the rain in * falls mainly on the plain will return all the countries in which rain falls on the plain. You can get some pretty oddball results this way, but some will probably contain what you’re really seeking.

Time/Date: Most search engines allow you to narrow down your search results by time and date. On Bing, click the Any time dropdown just above the first search result, and then select All, Past 24 hours, Past week, or Past month. Similarly, DuckDuckGo has the Any time dropdown with options to restrict results to the past Day, Week, Month or Year. On Google, click the Tools button (after performing your search) then you'll see the Any time dropdown. In addition to day, week and month, Google adds Past Year, or Custom range to the list of options. This is handy especially if you know something appeared online very recently, or at some specific date in the past.

Location, Location, Location (and other handy search tips)

Location: By default, search engines search the contents of all the Web sites they’ve indexed. If you are pretty sure the article you want appeared on a specific site, you can search just that one site by specifying its name immediately after the operator site: – i. e. faxing will return only articles on my site that mention faxing. This is especially useful on sites that don't have an integrated search feature.

Want more search tips? See the Help files of the major search engines: Google and Bing. Looking for other ways to search? See Beyond Google: The Other Search Engines and Wolfram Alpha: Search Engine or Answer Calculator?. Or take a class! Google's Power Searching course consists of two self-paced video lessons.

File type: Search engines don’t just index text in HTML files (Web pages). Google, Bing and DDG also index words inside PDF, PowerPoint, Word and other types of files. You can limit your search to a specific type of file, e. g., batteries filetype:ppt if you remember seeing what you seek in such a presentation. This trick is also useful for finding inspirational JPGs or GIFs with which to annoy your Facebook friends.

People are seldom looking for keywords; they’re usually looking for answers to questions. Here are some natural-language ways to get just answers instead of Web pages with lots of irrelevant data.

Definitions: If you’re playing Scrabble and need to prove that a word has a definition, a quick search using the define: operator should do the job. Often, simply typing what is will do the trick.

Conversions: The syntax X to Y will convert X into Y where both are currencies, temperature scales, systems of weight or measurement or area, and more. How many hectares in 24.71 acres also works surprisingly well, as does What is $36 in British pounds.

Track a Package: Enter the tracking number of your UPS, Fedex, or USPS delivery into the search box, and you’ll get a link that takes you right to the tracking status page. Too bad it doesn’t work for Amazon-delivered items. (Amazon delivers about 70% of orders with its own vehicles.)

Set a timer: If you want to be reminded of an appointment or when it’s time to quit watching cat videos, just type set timer for into the search box and it will pop up a timer console that you can set. Your browser will start beeping at you when the time runs out. Set timer for X minutes is a shortcut.

Do you have any search tips to share? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Try These Power User Search Tips"

Posted by:

Mike Herlihy
23 Nov 2020

When searching using the time period selections offered by Google there are the following parameters added to the search URL:

&tbs=qdr:h [past hour]
&tbs=qdr:d [past 24 hours (day)]
&tbs=qdr:w [past week]
&tbs=qdr:m [past month]
&tbs=qdr:y [past year

You can specify even finer time periods by adding a number to the value of the tbs=qdr: parameter.

For example:
qdr:h12 (past 12 hours)
qdr:d3 (past 3 days)
qdr:w2 (past 2 weeks)
qdr:m6 (past 6 months)
qdr:m2 (past 2 years)

Very useful at times!

Posted by:

23 Nov 2020

What I want is a global exclude so I don't have to type in -pintrest every time...

Posted by:

23 Nov 2020

Yes, I know I misspelled it. :)

Posted by:

David Horsfall
23 Nov 2020

Every tried "Search Everything? Dead simple and faster than you can type out what you're searching for. Why the search in File Explorer is so agonisingly slow I have absolutely no idea. Try it. It is free too.

Posted by:

23 Nov 2020

A lot of helpful hints in this article Bob.
I am always looking to type the least number of characters, so, typing
$36 to GBP
gets the same answer as the longer example you gave.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
23 Nov 2020

Thank you for this item, Bob! I ordered an item on Amazon about October 13, 2020. It is due to be delivered by November 27, 2020. The tracking information provided a tracking number (and the assertion that "Package has shipped" on October 16, 2020), but no carrier. By simply placing my tracking number in my Firefox search window, I have now at least been able to ascertain that my order has reached American soil. Needless to say that when I rate this seller, I will not give a 5-star rating.

I appreciate the information I received in this post!


Posted by:

Dave Leippe
23 Nov 2020

David Hornsfall was refering to Everything by Void Tools. It is amazing and blazingly fast for searching your computer and anything attached to it.
You can have more than one Everything search window open side by side if you want to look for duplicates etc.

Posted by:

Jerry Owen
23 Nov 2020

My biggest beef about irrelevant data is when I want to find out what X is Google wants to tell me where I can buy X instead of what X is.

Posted by:

24 Nov 2020

Thank you for all that you do for us, AskBob.
Would it not have been more appropriate to give us a tutorial (and tips) on how to properly ask questions to the voice assistants (Cortana/Siri/Alexa/Googly)?

Posted by:

Eli Marcus
24 Nov 2020

the one tip I can remember right now is -
to search for something in a particular website,
type the URL, add a colon,a space, and the keyword you are searching
for example -
" hp printer ink"

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Try These Power User Search Tips (Posted: 23 Nov 2020)
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