Leveraging Google Advanced Search and Search Operators
Searching Google for information, products, and to find answers to questions has become second nature to most of us – it’s even becoming common-place to search using your voice with assistant apps and smart speaker products. Google’s search results are constantly improving and they consistently provide increasingly relevant results based on searcher intent, but sometimes it is still necessary to get a little geeky with your search queries to find exactly what you’re looking for. Below is an overview of some of the search operators and other advanced features you may not know about to power up your Google searches.
You may not have ever noticed, but Google offers an “Advanced search” screen, currently available under the “Settings” drop-down:
This screen gives you an easy to understand user interface that allows you to take advantage of a number of powerful search features. You may want to spend some time getting familiar with it and testing out the search options. Here are some of our favorites:
Search for “this exact word or phrase” – putting a search phrase into this box will make sure to search Google’s index for your exact search query – this is handy if you are trying to find instances of a specific sentence, or if the exact order of words and specific wording of your query is important. A shortcut to searching for an exact phrase is to surround your search query with quotes. You can also add words to the search phrase outside of the quotes to get even more specific results – for example:
An exact search query is useful for finding instances of duplicate content – either on your own website, or on other websites around the web.
Search with “none of these words” – another useful tool, this feature allows you to explicitly exclude search results that include a word you don’t want to see. A shortcut to searching with certain words excluded from your query results is to include a dash in front of words you would like to exclude:
Advanced search also gives you access to a number of other powerful tools, including the ability to narrow your search by:
- last updated (search for recent results only)
- specific website
- where the search term appears on the website page
- file type
- … and more!
One of the most commonly used search operators for SEO is the shortcut for searching a specific website: “site:domainname.com” – using this search operator you can review all of the pages Google has indexed for a specific website, and see how the pages will display in search results. Also, Google has hinted in the past the the order the pages are displayed can be roughly correlated with how they’ve ranked the importance of the various pages on your website.
You can also combine more than one search operator in the same query. For example, it is fairly common that we will want to see all of the pages from a specific domain, but we want to explicitly exclude results from one of the sub-domains – this query will show all pages on the hubspot.com domain that don’t contain the word “blog” (their blog is found on the blog.hubspot.com sub-domain):
Another powerful and under-utilized advanced search feature is the ability to search by the last updated date. If you’ve ever found yourself wishing that the search results you’re being shown could be limited to only articles or pages from a recent time period, this is the feature for you. You also don’t have to use the Advanced Search screen to use this feature – from any search query, you can click the “Tools” button on the top bar, and then choose a specific timeframe from the “Any time” drop-down:
The “Link” Search Operator
While officially discontinued in 2017, it is still possible to see some results when using a “link:” search operator (e.g. link:blueskiesmktg.com). This can be useful to find websites that are linking to a specific domain. Use it to find links to your own websites, or to better understand who is linking to your competitors! While it sometimes still works, this operator isn’t officially supported, so you may be better off using a 3rd party tool like SEMrush if you’d like to see a more robust link profile for a specific domain.
Search Cached Pages
Another commonly used search operator for web professionals is the “cache:domainname.com” search – if you are trying to view a page that isn’t currently available from the web host, you can check to see if Google has a cached version available from their latest crawl. If you include the entire page URL, Google will pull up their cache of the page automatically – for example: cache:https://blueskiesmktg.com/copywriting/.
Another way to view a cached page is to click the green arrow next to the page URL in search results and select “Cached”:
Practical Uses of Search Operators
One of the most practical examples of how to effectively use search operators is in finding guest posting opportunities. Writing guest posts on relevant blogs and publications in your industry is a good way to earn natural brand mentions and website backlinks. In order to find open opportunities to write for publications in your industry you can utilize a number of search operators together. A query like luxury vacation (“write for us” OR “guest post” OR “become a contributor” OR “guest post”) will find websites related to luxury vacations that potentially accept guest posts:
Bonus: Reverse Image Search
This is a fun advanced search feature that a lot of people are unaware of – did you know you can search Google for other instances of a photo or image? Want to find other websites that have used the same stock photo? Want to check for websites that have used your image without permission? The reverse image search is useful in a number of scenarios. You initiate a reverse image search by navigating to Google Images and clicking the “Search by image” icon:
This allows you to either paste the direct URL of an image, or upload an image to be searched. Google will return any other instances of the same image they’ve found while crawling the web.
Hopefully you now have a bit more knowledge about the true power of Google search, and a few new ideas of how to utilize Google’s advanced search and search operators in your everyday life. Curious about all of the search operators currently possible in Google? Moz has a really easy to browse page with the full list.