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Search Operators

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The other week at a party I found myself in discussion with several random people about the simple task of searching in Google; I was incredibly surprised to discover how limited many people’s capabilities were in using a search engine. After all, search engines have become part of our daily lives with well over 3 billion searches entered a day in Google alone.

Now I’m well aware I probably take a lot for granted working in SEO, but when one person told me that they’d only just discovered the other week you could do a search solely in Google images I thought it might be worthwhile to write a post on some queries you can use to help improve your search. In this post I’ll take a look at what search operators are and the advantages of using them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of search operators and advanced techniques, but it's a good start.

But before we get stuck in, if you’d like a bit more information about how Google search works, check out Matt Cutts explaining it here.

Although in my opinion Google does a pretty fantastic job of serving up the best possible results, there are often times when you want to specify in great detail exactly what you are searching for. As such, search operators are a special set of keywords and symbols that you can use to give your searches increased power or versatility. By providing a search engine with additional parameters and information you can often narrow down a set of search results; this will save the need to scroll through pages and pages of results. It should be noted that search operators do vary by search engine, however there are a number of common ones which you can use in Google, Bing, Yahoo or even AskJeeves…if that’s your thing! I’ll be focusing solely on Google search operators seeing as they have over a 90% market share in the UK.

“search query” 

Using quotes will allow you to search for an exact word or set of words. You should really only use this if you’re looking for a precise word or phrase; it can be extremely advantageous if you’re searching for song lyrics though e.g. “imagine all the people”.


Site: search query 

This search operator allows you to search for information within a single website and one I use quite regularly for both SEO and personal searches. I find it can sometimes be even more effective than using a websites’ onsite search functionality. For example, if you wanted to find Simon's blog post about dynamic favicons on the Totally Communications website without navigating through the site, you could search the following:

You can also start to combine search operators if you want to get really granular; in this case, if there were multiple posts on the Totally Communications site about dynamic favicons you could also apply the exact “search query” after the site:


Adding a dash (-) before your search keyword/site will exclude all results that include that word. This can be quite handy for synonyms such as Jaguar the car brand and jaguar the animal:


If you include this in your search query then Google will restrict the results to pages containing that word in the URL. For example, if you wanted to find all the ‘news’ posts on the Totally Communications site you could do the following search:


separate numbers by two full stops (without any spaces) will return results that contain numbers in any given range for things like prices, dates and measurements.

From an SEO and a personal search perspective I find search operators can be extremely time-saving while also providing additional data. With the internet expanding at such breakneck speed, the ability to navigate to your desired content will become all the more useful.

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