Google Search Tips

The following is a combined list of top tips for taming Google that have been recommended by people who attended my recent Google workshops.

  1. Use the filetype: command or the file format option on the Advanced Search screen to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that filetype:ppt and filetype:xls will not pick up the newer .pptx and xlsx formats so you will need to incorporate both into your strategy, for example
    filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx

    However, Google usually separates out the different filetypes rather than combining them and sorting by relevance so it is better to run separate searches for different filetypes.
  2. intext: Google's automatic synonym search can be helpful in looking for alternative terms but if you want a term to be included in your search exactly as you have typed it in then prefix the word with intext: .

  3. Use the minus sign immediately before a term to exclude pages that contain it. The minus sign can also be used with commands to exclude, for example, a specific site (-site:nameofsite.com) or a file format (-filetype:ppt) from your results.
  4. Include the site: command in your strategy or use the domain/site box on the advanced search screen to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:nhs.uk
  5. Change the order in which you enter your search terms. This will change the order in which your results are displayed.
  6. Repeat important terms. As with changing the order of your search terms, this can sometimes significantly alter the order in which the results are displayed.
  7. Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/). Although there are serious limitations to Google Scholar and the advanced search options are unreliable it can be very useful in tracking down the details of a half remembered reference. The specialist databases do not always retrieve the references in these cases whereas Google Scholar often does.
  8. Google Scholar for citations. Although Google Scholar is not comprehensive and sometimes inaccurate not everyone can afford the more reliable but expensive databases. Users have also reported that Google Scholar is often better for open access publications. (Note: although it does not cover all subjects and has its own quality issues it is worth looking at Microsoft Academic Search at http://academic.research.microsoft.com/ as an additional resource).
  9. Use the additional search options in the menu above your results.
    The options change depending on the type of search (general web search, images, news, books) but they are key to narrowing down your search.
  10. Country versions of Google. The country versions of Google give priority to the country's local content, although it might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for industries, companies and people that are active in a particular country. Use Google followed by the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.de/ for Google Germany http://www.google.no/ for Google Norway.

  11. Try Google.com as well as Google.co.uk
    Apart from presenting your search results in a different order and sometimes different content Google.com is where Google tries out new features. As well as seeing pages that may not be highly ranked in Google.co.uk you will get an idea of the future direction of Google search.
  12. Limit by date.
    Use the date options to limit your results to the last day, week, month, year or within a custom date range. This tends to work best with blogs and news sources although Google is getting better at identifying dates generally. To see the date option click on ‘Search tools' in the menu above your search results, and then on the “Any time” option in the menu that then appears.

  13. Verbatim.
    The essential tool for taming Google. Google automatically looks for variations of your terms and using double quote marks around terms or phrases does not always work. In addition Google no longer looks for all of your terms in a document. If you want Google to run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on ‘Search tools' in the menu above your results, then click on the arrow next to ‘All results' and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.
  14. Google Art Project http://www.googleartproject.com/
    This is a collaboration between Google and over 150 galleries from across the world. You can take a virtual tour of a gallery and zoom in on a painting to see the brushstrokes. You can view paintings and drawings by gallery or by artist. Warning: highly addictive!
  15. Search by image
    Click on the camera icon in the image search bar to upload a photo or link to an image on the web. Google will then try and find similar images. This search feature does not seem to work as well as it used to, but it is still worth a go if you want to find different versions of an image.

  16. Numeric range.
    Use this for anything to do with numbers - years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Use the boxes on the Advanced Search screen or just type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. For example: world oil demand forecasts 2015..2030
  17. Google Reading level
    This changes the type of results that you see. Run your search and from the menu above the results select ‘Search tools', ‘All results' and from the drop menu ‘Reading level'. Options for switching between basic, intermediate and advanced reading levels should then appear just above the results. Click on the Advanced option to see results biased towards research. Google does not give much away as to how it calculates the reading level and it has nothing to do with the reading age that publishers assign to publications. It seems to involve an analysis of sentence structure, the length of sentences, the length of the document and whether scientific or industry specific terminology appears in the page.
  18. Compare
    This is not actually a Google command but if you type in a search such as compare carrots with cabbage Google will create a table comparing the properties of the two items. Google has been known to get some of the data wrong, though, so it's worth double checking the figures before you use them .

Last updated April 8, 2014

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/  Copyright © 2013 Karen Blakeman

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