A Comprehensive Guide to Google Search Operators
Google is, beyond question, the most utilized and highest performing search engine on the web. However, most of the users who utilize Google do not maximize their potential for getting the most accurate results from their searches.
By using Google Search Operators, you can find exactly what you are looking for quickly and effectively just by changing what you input into the search bar.
If you are searching for something simple on Google like [Funny cats] or [Francis Ford Coppola Movies] there is no need to use search operators. Google will return the results you are looking for effectively no matter how you input the words.
Note: Throughout this article whatever is in between these brackets [ ] is what is being typed into Google.
When [Francis Ford Coppola Movies] is typed into Google, Google reads the query as Francis AND Ford AND Coppola AND Movies. So Google will return pages that have all those words in them, with the most relevant pages appearing first. Which is fine when you’re searching for very broad things, but what if you’re trying to find something specific?
What happens when you’re trying to find a report on the revenue and statistics from the United States National Park System in 1995 from a reliable source, and no using Wikipedia.
If we type in [United States National Parks Visitors Report in 1995] We get:
One’s a wikipedia return, but it’s unrelated so it doesn’t matter. The top result is a Government shutdown news article, and the most relevant return is a report on the Yellowstone Wolf Project Report in 2012.
The returns aren’t relevant because google is searching for pages with United AND States AND National AND Parks AND Visitors AND Report AND in AND 1995.
This a very broad search term and the amount of pages with a combination of these keywords will be too many to get the right info. But if we type in [“United States” National Parks visitor statistics site:gov 1990..1995 -wikipedia]
The first return looks promising. When we click on it we find:
Exactly what we needed from a government source. You’ll probably be able to figure out what the operators are and what they did, but in case you don’t, don’t worry we’ll talk about the specifics of Google Search Operators, and some of the kinds that are available.
What do Search Operators Do?
Now that we’ve seen an example of search operators in action and we know the mindset we must have to approach Google searching (start with the end in mind). Let’s take a more specific look at what search operators do.
Essentially, search operators sculpt your results to satisfy your query. You are giving Google more information about what you want, or don’t want in your return results.
So let’s break down our search term from our last example:
[“United States” National Parks visitor statistics site:.gov 1990..1995 -wikipedia]
- “United States” – this concatenates United and So now Google doesn’t look for pages with [United AND States]. Instead it looks for pages with [United States].
- […National Parks visitor statistics..] Are our standard search terms. But what’s [..site:.gov…] doing? The operator site: Makes google return results that only come from that URL address. We used it with the .gov parameter to make sure that Google only looks for pages that end in “.gov” So all of our results are going to be coming from government sources.
- We can also use site: to search in specific websites (i.e. [ “Finding Nemo” site:pixar.com] Make sure that there is no space in between the semicolon and the parameter.
GOOD: [site:facebook] BAD: [site: facebook]
- [1900..1995] is a date range. Meaning that the information on the page has to include info between 1900 to 1995.
- Finally, the minus operator [ – ] is used for exclusions. It can be used to exclude categories (ie [Harry Potter -Movie], [Rollling Stones -rock -music]), or websites like we did. Since the prompt asked for no results from Wikipedia.
Here’s a list of useful operators and what they do:
[“Aaron Sorkin” OR “Matt Weiner”] – returns pages that have either Aaron Sorkin or Matt Weiner. Not both.
[“Aaron Sorkin” AND “Matt Weiner”] – returns pages that have both Aaron Sorkin and Matt Weiner.
[“imagine all the people” ] – returns exact words or set of words on web page.
[Civil War related:time.com] – returns sites that are similar to the URL
[“a * saved is a * earned”] – a place holder for unknown terms within a phrase.
[camera $50..$100] – returns results that contain numbers in a range like dates and prices.
info:google.com – Get information about a URL, including the cached version of the page.
[tax info “los angeles” filetype:pdf] – returns specific filetypes, like pdf links on search terms
[syria “civil war” site:.edu] – only returns links from sites that have .edu in the ccTLD
[Joe Biden site:.whitehouse.gov] – only returns results from pages within from whitehouse.gov
[syria* “civil war” ]- includes syrians, Syria, and all variations on the word
[human trafficking -india] – excludes any links relating to india
[allinurl:pez faq] – returns searches that have pez and faq in the url
[allintitle: spoof movies best] – returns results with spoof, movies, and best in the web page title
[define:deipnosophist] – definitions of deipnosophist from the web
[books:”A Game of Thrones”] – returns book related info
[movies:Pulp Fiction] – movie information
[Movie:90046] – what movies are playing around zip code 90046
[music:Mumford and Sons] – returns music related info
[intext:shopping] – returns pages that have guest and blog in the text.
[inanchor:”guest blog”] – returns pages that have guest and blog in the anchor text.
[inpostauthor:”guest post”] – returns pages that have “guest post” as the author
Let’s do a few more examples to see these operators in action. Why don’t we try to find informative articles on cougars in houston. If we type in [cougars in houston], we get:
It seems that we mostly get information about sports and dating. So we’re going to want to consider adding […-dating] and […-sports] in our search term. But besides, that. Let’s take a moment to think about what we are searching for and what our ideal source will look like.
We are looking for an informative, scientific article about cougars (the animal) in Houston. What will the page look like, or better yet, what will the page have in it? When I was thinking about this..I came to the conclusion that the page will include the latin, or scientific, name of cougars. So with one quick google search I find out that the latin name for cougars is Puma concolor.
Now our query looks like [Puma concolor in Houston -dating -sports].
Let’s really make sure we’re getting info on these animals Texas by addIng: [intext:houston] and [intext:information].
So now we have [Puma concolor in Houston intext:houston intext:information -dating -sports] When we search for this we get:
The first page, although informative, looks too specific with information about the animals. But the second return looks promising. Let’s see:
Succes! General information about the puma concolor from Texas Parks & Wildlife. The best way to learn how to use operators is to use them yourself. It’s a fun little game to come up with a specific page and see if you can locate it with operators.
Google Image Search Optimization
Not only can you you optimize your searching with Google’s web search, but you can also optimize your Google Image searching. I’m from Denver, and I recently moved to Los Angeles and I’m thinking of changing my desktop background to remind me of my hometown team the Denver Broncos. But I want a picture of them in action.
When I type in [Denver Broncos]. I get:
Mostly logos and graphics, not really want I’m looking for. What can I do? Well first I want this picture to work as my desktop wallpaper, so it needs to be big. By clicking on Search Tools,
I get more options. I’m going to click on size.
Now I get:
There’s one picture that fits my criteria in the bottom left. What separates that picture from the rest? Something that I can choose in my settings…Color! There’s a lot of green in the picture. Let’s see, if I go to Color:
And choose the Green box. I get:
There we go! Just what I was looking for.
Using Search Operators for Link Building
Hunting for link prospects without utilizing advanced search operators usually means that you’re wasting hours, possibly days, of digging through SERPs for the right opportunities. Above we went through the available search operators and what they do, but now I’m going to go through some of them again under the context of link building.
- “” Operator: [“keyword”] – As we know, the quotes around your query means that google will search for pages that have the “keyword” exactly how you type it in. For example, [“environmental blogs”] will search for pages related to “environmental blogs” instead of environmental AND blogs
- Site: Operator[keyword site:example.com] – This will search a website for a particular word. So if you are wondering whether a particular website accepts guest posts, you can use [“guest post” site:huffingtonpost.com]
[keyword site: co.uk] – This will search for your keyword on websites that end in co.uk. This is especially helpful because link building opportunities from places that end with a co.uk or .gov domain could be getting buried by your regular returns. This filters your results so you can look for link building opportunities from places you would never look for. All it takes is for you to search for your keyword again with the “site:” operator to expand your reach immensely. For example, [environmental guest blogs site:.co.uk].
- -Minus Operator: [keyword -keyword2] – The exclusion operator excludes pages that are related to a specific keyword. For example, [environmental blog post -petition] will return for pages related to environmental blog posts but excludes pages related to petition.
- OR Operator: [keyword1 OR keyword2] – Searches for pages relevant to keyword1 or keyword to. For pages related to both you need to remove the OR. With link building you can search for more guest blogging opportunities, for example [environmental issues “guest blog” OR “guest post”].
- * Operator: [keyword1 * keyword2] – If you’re looking for information about the term you can use the wildcard and Google will return various possibilities. So if we’re looking for notable environmental related websites, we can use [top * environmental websites]
- ` Operator: [~keyword] – The “~” returns results related to a keyword. This is extremely useful when searching for related topics or for looking through the different syntaxes websites use for “guest blogging” [-environmental -”guest blog”]
Example Link Building Search Operators
The following terms are very useful when looking for pages to submit your content:
*[link:example.com] or [linkdomain:example.com] – Brings up a set of pages that link to a URL.
*[inurl:keyword] – Searches for a term in the URL. [environmental blog inurl:submit]
*[intitle:keyword] – searches for a term in the title of the post. [environmental blog intitle:submit]
*[intext:keyword] – searches for a term in the text of the post. [environmental blog intext:submit]
*[inanchor:keyword] – searches for a term in the anchor of the page. [environmental blog inanchor:submit]
*Note: these search operators will ONLY search for the next term. So [intext:environmental blog] will only search for “environmental” in the text of the page, not blog. So you can either use the the quotations. “environmental blog” or use all in the operator. [allintitle:],[allinurl], [allintitle], [allintext:]. [allinanchor:]. These will search for ALL terms after the operator. so you can’t use any operators after them.
Looking for guest blog opportunities for an SEO professional. [seo professional “guest blogger” OR “guest blogger wanted”]
Find blogs in the UK related to web design. [intitle:”web design” inurl:blog site:co.uk]
Find environmental blog pages that allow you to submit something, but not comments. [environmental blog intext:submit -comment]
When using search operators there are some common mistakes that one can run into. Here are a few.
- 1. Using too many exclusions, instead of additions.
- .Say we want to search about giants in mythology. So we search for [giants] and find. That we only get pages about sports teams. To exclude them all we would need to add -sports, -football, -newyork, -baseball . Instead of just searching for [mythical giants]
- 2. Thinking that multiple searches means you’re not using operators correctly/
- . Trial and error is key in most things and using operators is no different. After you thought about a search, jump in and try something, if you aren’t getting what you want, that just means you’re one step closer and you have a whole page of returns you know you must now exclude.
- 3. Spaces = AND.
- . Searching for [John Landis] means Google will search for pages with John And Therefore, if you want to look for pages that include Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, you CAN’T type in [Finding Nemo OR The Incredibles]. With this command, Google will look for pages with: Finding AND “Nemo OR The” AND Incredibles. Instead you have to type in [“Finding Nemo” OR “The Incredibles”].
- 4. Thinking capitalization matters.
- . It only matters if you use the operators OR and AND. Otherwise they have no influence over the search.
- 5. Using too many operators.
- . Start your searches without too many operators. It’s better to start broad and narrow down your search.
Using search operators together is the best way to narrow your results to exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t be discouraged if your first searches aren’t returning what you’re looking for. Keep testing new operators until you uncover search terms that result in exactly what you’re looking for!
By using search operators, you can be sure that you are using the most advanced tool in information locating to the utmost potential. Whether it be for education, research, outreach, or job hunting. Using Google’s Search Operators provide you with the tools to find exactly what you are looking for.
For examples of some keyword operators in action, visit Gryffin’s Search Operators Tool!