Use Google search operators – syntax – to zero in on the topics that you’re searching. Syntax refers to a combination of words, symbols, and numbers – also known as search operators – with which Google can find almost anything. To refine your search results or make them more relevant, using search operators or functions will tell Google Search not only what to search for, but how to search.

Search with Syntax

Syntax – symbols and words that define and refine your search – is the secret to effective searches. To minimize the guesswork using Google Search, use the right syntax to get focussed results. For example, to search for a complete phrase, the syntax is to put your search parameters in quotes (“ “). If you were searching for Fried Green Tomatoes, without quotes, Google would search for pages that contain any of those three words in any order. However, if you search for “Fried Green Tomatoes” using the syntax of the quotes, Google will only search for pages that contain that phrase exactly as you typed it, with the words in that order.

Try searching now using your own choice of subject, with the quotes syntax and without.

Wildcard Search Tricks

The asterisk (* ) wildcard syntax is one of the most useful syntax operators on this list of search techniques. Here’s how it works. When you use an asterisk in a search term on Google Search, it will leave a placeholder that may be automatically filled by the search engine later. This is a brilliant way to find song lyrics if you don’t know all the words. Let’s look at how it’s used. If you search for, ‘Come * right now * me,’ that may look like nothing. However, Google Search will search for that phrase knowing that the asterisks can be any word. More often than not, you’ll find they are lyrics to the Beatles song ‘Come Together,’ and that’s what the search will tell you.

The second trick the asterisk can perform is to search all words starting with a specific word. For example, if you search: ‘inst*,’ this will return variants such as Instagram, institute, and instructor. Here is another wildcard search example that will give you results that are variations on the well-known phrase from Star Wars: “May the * Be With You.

Details Matter

Google Search usually ignores punctuation that isn’t part of a search operator. But don’t put spaces between the symbol or word and your search term. A search for site:nytimes.com will work, but site: nytimes.com won’t.

Exclude Words

Sometimes you may find yourself searching for a word with an ambiguous meaning. Let’s use Trudeau again. When you search for Trudeau, you will likely get results for both the current Prime Minister, Justin, as well as his father, Pierre. If you want to eliminate Justin from your search, the syntax is to use a minus sign (or hyphen) to tell Google Search to ignore content with Justin in the content, like this: Trudeau -Justin

This tells the search engine to search for “Trudeau” but to exclude any results that have the word “Justin” in it. The search results may still display pages that include content about Justin, but your results will be much more focussed and limited in scope.

This can be very helpful when searching for information about one specific subject (e.g. Flu Pandemics) without getting information about something else (e.g. Getting a Flu Shot).

More Than One Meaning

Occasionally, you may need to search for a word or a phrase that has more than one meaning. In such an instance, the syntax is to use the plus sign (+ ) to put the word or phrase you’re searching for into the appropriate context. For example, the name of Winnipeg’s NHL team, Jets, has more than one meaning. So, if you wanted to search for the hockey team, you would use the plus sign syntax, like this: Jets + Hockey. That search will return results for Jets, the hockey team.

Use Combinations

When you type a bunch of search words into Google, it’s search engine is more or less smart enough to what you want. However, you’ll sometimes get results that match most but not all, of the words you typed. To be more specific you can tell Google which the most important keywords are using the right syntax. Put a plus symbol (+ ) in front of words you want to force Google to include.

What if the results you want get eliminated from the page by similar but irrelevant articles? There’s an easy syntax fix: add the minus symbol (- ) in front of keywords that you don’t want to see. Google Search has to match any word preceded by a plus, and exclude any word preceded by a minus. ‘Tom Cruise +scientology’ will return search results regarding Tom Cruise and Scientology, while ‘Tom Cruise -scientology’ will return search results regarding Tom Cruise, but excluding content about Scientology.

Keywords that lack a preceding syntax symbol are considered important but not essential. For example, if you type: +Montreal +coffee -Starbucks, Google will search for results that are non-Starbucks coffee shops in Montreal. Running that search without the syntax symbols would bring up a very different list of results. Search for ‘jets -Winnipeg -hockey’ to look up the aircraft without seeing any mention of the hockey team.

Gradually Add Words

Sooner or later, Google Search doesn’t give you the results you expect. In this instance, keeping it simple may not be the best option. The best method is to start with something simple then gradually get more complicated. For example, on your first try, you type: job interviews. This will bring a lot of results. On your second try you type: prepare for job interviews. But the results are still not specific enough. On your third try, you type: how to prepare for a job interview. Now you are finding what you’re really looking for.

Adding descriptive words to your search will help refine your search to bring you fewer but more targeted terms. The reason you don’t go straight from the first try to the third try is because you may miss what you’re looking for by skipping the second step. Millions of websites phrase the same information in a number of different ways; using this technique lets you search as many of them as possible to find the information that best suits your needs.

Search Multiple Words

Google search is flexible. It knows you may not find what you want by searching only a single word or phrase. With that in mind, it lets you search for multiple words at once. By using this trick, you can search for one word or phrase along with a second word or phrase. This can help narrow down your search to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

For this search, we’ll use a combination of the word OR and the quotes syntax used above. You would type your search phrases in quotes, and put the syntax operator OR between them, like this: ‘Best ways to prepare for a job interview’ OR ‘How to prepare for a job interview.’ By searching with this syntax, these two exact phrases will be searched for at the same time (because you enclosed each phrase in quotes). This works with words, too. A search for chocolate OR white chocolate will search for pages that have either chocolate or white chocolate in their content.

Synonym Searches

You have likely encountered times when you can’t remember the exact name of something, whether it’s a book, a website, a restaurant, or whatever. As a result, your initial searches fail to find what you’re looking for. In cases like this, you might want to try a Synonym Search. Sometimes it’s useful to search for a less specific term using the tilde symbol (~ ) in the search syntax. Searching for ‘plumbing ~university’ will bring up results for plumbing from plumbing companies as well as from colleges and universities.

This or That

If you’re not certain of the exact word or term you’re looking for, try a This or That approach. Type in your first word and then separate it from your second word with a vertical ‘ | ‘ symbol. Such as, “Doctor | Surgeon.” Using ‘or’ also works. This search will find results for both words, and will allow you to compare them to determine which is the one you are most interested in.

Around

When lots of words are missing for what you are searching for, and you can’t remember the longer part of the phrase rather than a single keyword, trying writing out the first and last words, try writing, “Around + (the approximate number of words)” between the first and last words. For example, “I wandered AROUND (4) cloud.”

All-In Searches

All in (allin: ) is a powerful search function that can help you find what you’re looking for in various contexts. Here are several variations of searches using that syntax. Remember to always use the colon (: ) without spaces before or after.

  • intext:

The search terms must appear in the text of the page.

  • allintext:

If you want to find a web page where all the words you’re searching for appear in the text of that page, but not necessarily beside each other, use the search operator allintext: followed immediately by the words you want to be included in the search. For example: allintext:saskatchewan medical community origins will return results that include all four of those specific words. When you add quotes to the query (“ “), you’ll get more specific results. For example: allintext:ingredients “cilantro chicken lime” will search for recipes with these three ingredients.

  • intitle:

This searches for results with a single term in the title of a page rather than a whole phrase. For example: intitle:spaghetti will return results that have ‘spaghetti’ in the title. But you can also add a second word separately for more results. For example: intitle:spaghetti sauce will search for pages that have spaghetti in the title and ‘sauce’ elsewhere on the page.

  • allintitle:

This searches for web pages that have your specific phrase in the title tag of websites. This is particularly useful for finding pages such as articles and blog posts that have your entire phrase in the title. For example: allintitle:the cow jumped over the moon would find pages that have The Cow Jumped Over the Moon in the title.

  • inurl:

Sometimes you only want to find text either within the URL, body, or title of a page. Using the qualifier inurl: will search just within the URL. ‘inurl:pharmaceutical’ will search for pages that have pharmaceutical in the URL.

  • allinurl:

With this syntax, all query words must appear in the URL. ‘allinurl:pez faq’ will search for pages containing the words pez and faq in the URL.