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Solve the Impossible with Better Google Search Techniques


Daniel Russell, Research Scientist at Google - Photo courtesy of John TedescoWe’re always on the look out for those shareable gems that we know you’ll enjoy and find useful. This is definitely one of those items!

We came across John Tedesco’s blog post  sharing invaluable knowledge imparted on him and a crowd of others at the 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editor’s Conference.

Tedesco highlights one of the conference speakers, Daniel Russell (Research Scientist at Google) who shared more than 20 search techniques that as Tedesco points out, are “powerful but obscure, well-known but not fully understood.” Check out the list below. We definitely had an “Aha moment” on a few.

  1. Most of what you know about Boolean is wrong. Don’t bother typing AND in your search queries – Google treats it like any other word. But OR in all caps actually works. OR is great for finding synonyms and boilerplate language. Typing “Smith denied” OR “Smith claimed” OR “Smith argued” will find more pertinent websites about the controversy involving Smith.Avoid using NOT if you want to exclude a search term. Instead, type a minus sign in front of the word. So if you’re visiting San Antonio but don’t want to visit the Alamo, type: “San Antonio” –AlamoThat will search for the phrase “San Antonio” on web pages that don’t have the word “Alamo.” There’s no space between Alamo and the hyphen.
  2. Think about how somebody else would write about the topic. Search is all about someone else’s language. Think about synonyms and use OR operators. Google’s “related search” feature on the search page also offers suggestions.  “Part of the skill here is being fascinated about language,” Russell said. “You’ve got to think about equivalent terms.”
  3. Use language tools. Knowing which words to search for means understanding their meaning. Typing define [space] [search term] in Google search will offer dictionary definitions. “‘Define’ ‘space’ ‘word’ is your friend as a writer,” Russell said. “Trust me on this.”  You even get a definition if you type define pwned and other lingo. “That means we have words that aren’t in the dictionary,” Russell said. What if you know descriptions but not the actual word? Find one of the many reverse dictionaries online. Type the descriptions you know and you’ll get the matching words.
  4. Use quotes to search for phrases. Typing “San Antonio Spurs” will show you the websites with the phrase “San Antonio Spurs.” If you don’t use the quotes, Google will search for the terms “San,” “Antonio,” and “Spurs” individually and you might miss pages related to the basketball team.
  5. Force Google to include search terms. Sometimes Google tries to be helpful and it uses the word it thinks you’re searching for — not the word you’re actually searching for. And sometimes a website in the search results does not include all your search terms. How do you fix this? Typing intext:[keyword] might be Google’s least-known search operations, but it’s one of Russell’s favorites. It forces the search term to be in the body of the website. So if you type intext:”San Antonio” intext:Alamo it forces Google to show results with the phrase “San Antonio” and the word Alamo. You won’t get results that are missing either search term.
  6. Minus does not equal plus. Russell didn’t talk much about this but it’s worth noting. Since putting a minus sign in front of a word removes it from a search, many people, including me, incorrectly assumed that adding a plus sign in front of the word forced Google to include it.  Actually, that search operator simply stops Google from changing the word into a synonym or correcting the spelling. It’s still possible that Google will drop the word from some search results, so it’s different from intext:. (After Google+ was unveiled, Google dropped the plus sign operator and replaced it with double quotes. Typing “Alamo” is now the same as +Alamo.)That’s not to say the plus sign — now double quotes — is not a useful search operator. But note how it’s different from intext: If you want to force Google to include an exact word or phrase in all your search results, use intext: 
  7. “Control F” is your friend. Use this keyboard shortcut to find a word or phrase on any web page. It’s faster than reading the whole page for a specific word or phrase. “If you don’t know this, you’re roughly 12 percent slower in your searches,” Russell said.

For the full list of search techniques he shares, visit John Tedesco’s post at www.johntedesco.net.

– Online Learning Staff
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