Sunday, September 15, 2013


Google Search Strings:

Google supports powerful operators which can be special characters or words that modify the search query. In this section we’ll look at the basic–not to be confused with weak–operators which include the OR operator and the special character operators:

  • OR word or “|” character
  • Double Quotation Marks (” “)
  • Plus sign (+)
  • Minus sign (-)
  • Tilde (~) character
  • Asterisk (*) character
  • Double Periods (..)
  • Parenthesis (())

As I’m explaining these, I’ll be tempted to use advanced operators (which I’ll describe later) to improve them, but I can’t until we get to that chapter. So, as you are reading, know that there are often better ways to do what I’m showing you and you’ll soon learn how.
The OR Operator

When you build your search with multiple keywords, Google searches for these as logical ANDs. This means that all of the keywords must be satisfied. For example, search query [red blue] means pages with both red and blue will be selected. But what if you wanted to search for either of the words? Do this by placing an OR between the words like this: [red OR blue]. The OR operator must be in caps; a lower case OR will be considered one of the stop words and ignored. Better yet, if you want to save a keystroke and not take the chance of keying it in lowercase, you can use the pipe character “|” instead of the word OR. These are both valid OR queries:

OR sets the either or condition between the element preceding it and the element following it. It does not perform an OR between multiple words on either side of it (unless they are a phrase or group, which you’ll read about in a moment). So, the following query does notsearch for either “red couch” or “blue sofa”. What it does instead is search for “red” and “sofa” and either “couch” or “blue.” You’ll end up with pages that have “red”, “couch” and “sofa” or “red”, “blue” and “sofa”–not what you are looking for.
 So, how would you request either “red couch” or “blue sofa”? By using phrases, up next…

Double Quotation Marks for Exact Phrase Search

When you enter multiple keywords, Google searches for all of those keywords. It gives precedence to finding the keywords together just as they are keyed, and those in close proximity, but it will also pull up pages having the keywords anywhere in the page.
But, you can search for only the exact set of keywords, in the order you keyed them, by enclosing them in quotation marks. The words within the quotes are called a phrase. In addition, enclosing the search terms in quotation marks will stop word stemming (finding variations of the word, not to be confused with synonyms). For this reason, you could use quotation marks to enclose a single word simply to find that exact word without Google word-stemming it.

Here is an example of using a phrase to better find pages with Crater lake Lodge in them:
[Crater Lake Lodge] 151,000 pages, not all about the Crater Lake Lodge
["Crater Lake Lodge"] 6,550 pages virtually all referencing the Crater Lake Lodge
Getting back to the “red couch” or “blue sofa” query we did earlier, you can now do that with this query that uses phrases:

Using the “+” Sign to Force a Search on a Word

Google ignores certain “common words” (called stop words) because they appear too frequently in pages and would thus pull up too many pages that would not satisfy the search request properly. Using the “+” sign will force Google to treat the word following it (without a space in between) as a valid search term.
Frankly, there are not many situations that using this does any more than enclosing a word or words in quotation marks. For example, Google tells you that if searching for Star Wars Episode I you should use [Star Wars Episode +I]. Well, it would be better as ["Star Wars" "Episode I"]. This way you won’t get someone who wrote “I sure love that episode of Star Wars, the second one.” (I created two phrases in my search in case there was any punctuation between Star and Episode.)
 There are valid situations in which you will need the “+” sign, and you’ll know it when you come across it.

Omitting Pages with Certain Keywords by using the “-” Sign

This special character is much more useful than the “+” sign. It tells Google to omit pages that have a particular word or phrase in it. Often words have multiple meanings and you end up with results that include pages that have nothing remotely to do with what you were interested in.
For example, let’s say that you were interested in learning about alternative energy, with the exclusion of solar energy since you already know about that. The following would satisfy that search:

Powerful Synonym Search with the “~” Sign

Now this is a great search operator! By placing a “~” sign (called a tilde) right in front of a word (no space in between), you are instructing Google to search not only for the word following the tilde, but also its synonyms. Without doing this in certain types of searches you will miss many valuable sites. Let’s say that you want to find sites that offer a primer on alternative energy. You know that the word “primer” is not the only way to say “an introduction to” or “the basics of” but you don’t want to try to think up all the synonyms and build a massive OR query. So, you use the tilde like this:

You should execute this query by clicking the link to study the results. Looking at just the first page, you’ll see pages that use the words, “tips,” “basics,” “review” and “introduction.” Although not “primer”, the sites appear to be what we are looking for. Using just one word like “primer” would have missed many sites of interest.

Wildcard Search with the Asterisk

You can use the asterisk “*” as a wildcard in your search query. It’s not the type of wildcard people are used to. It’s really more of a placeholder for a single word. It means that wherever there is an asterisk, the search will accept any word.
This works well if you know a phrase but forgot one of the words. For example, let’s say you know there is a story called Little somethingg Riding Hood, but for the life of you, you cannot remember what that missing word is. You can search for it like this:
Oh yeah, it was Little Red Riding Hood!
Use multiple asterisks for multiple wildcard words. For example, the following looks for pages that have the words “brown” and “cow” with three words in between them:
I don’t think this is extremely useful. A traditional wildcard would have been better. But, it’s there if you need it.

Grouping with Parenthesis
Another very powerful operator is the parenthesis characters, used for grouping. It means that the operator (including the always assumed invisible AND operator) is to perform its operation on the group within the parenthesis. This is is primarily used with the OR operator.
Let’s say that you wanted to search for pages that were about silver orgold coins. You could do ["silver coins" | "gold coins"] but using grouping is better if the query becomes more complicated. The following search query looks for pages that deal with silver, gold or platinum dimes or quarters. This would be too unwieldy with just OR’s.

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