The Art of Googling

I often like to show people ‘how to Google’. For a lot of people, it has become both a convenience and a lifesaver, but still not many people seem to know Google has a lot of options that could help them even better. In this post I will try to explain a couple of these options that I regularly use.

Disclaimer: Any names of people and websites that occur in this article are just picked randomly. The only point of using them here is to demonstrate what Google can do, not what can be done to or found out about specific websites or people.

Focusing on a specific website

It can be quite useful to limit a search to only one specific website. I often find myself using Google for these kinds of search operations rather than the built-in search engine some websites offer. To do so, simply include site:<domain> in the search text. This would result in something like:

In the query above, the site uva.nl (including all its subdomains) will be searched for the words ‘tuition’ and ‘fee’. While a search like this would probably have lead us to the right page on the right website without the site operator anyway, there a lot of cases in which this is not necessarily the case. To demonstrate this, let’s introduce another great operator: namely filetype.

Searching for filetypes and extensions

Google made looking for files of a specific type really easy with the filetype operator. Again, its use is fairly simple, so let’s just do a quick demo:

Here, we combined the filetype operator with the site operator we used before. As you might already see, this query will return all files ending in “pdf” that are hosted on uva.nl. This means we now have a means to search the whole website of the University of Amsterdam for pdf documents (or any other type of documents, when specified), without even having to browse their website one single time. This is convenient as it means a so-called passive search can be conducted. In a passive search, only third parties, such as Google, are used for the search. This means the administrator(s) of the website the required information is hosted on will not have any means of knowing what’s going on. As someone looking for information, this is really nice. As a business, however, be advised that this kind of information can be searched for passively if it is indexed by Google.

One striking example showing the possible consequences of this simple and nice feature Google offers its users is the case of the Dutch police in 2014. In the end of that year, it became clear that tens of secret documents had been leaked as they were indexed by Google. It appeared a system administrator had put the documents on another server, which was then automatically crawled and indexed by Google. Had somebody used a query like the one above, it would be terribly easy to find the documents.

Looking for exact matches

Sometimes, your search terms are quite generic. What if you are looking for information about someone with the name ‘John Williams’, who you know works at the US Department of Defense (DoD). One might think of the following query:

While this query is limited to the website of the DoD’s website only, it looks for the terms ‘John’ and ‘Williams’ separately. This might yield more results, but might also mean you get too many results for what you are looking for specifically. Therefore, it is nice to be able to search for an exact match of the name ‘John Williams’. We can do so using quotation marks (” and ” symbols).

Now that we have put quotation marks around the name ‘John Williams’, Google will only return results that mention this name as a whole, without any other words in between. Of course we could now pinpoint our search even further by using the filetype operator like we did above, were there too many results.

While the example above is about a name, think about what else could be searched for. Ever looked for a specific error message after a crash of a program you were using? Put quotation marks around it to look for the exact message online. Looking for the name of a song? Put the words of one line between quotation marks and put the word ‘lyrics’ behind it (or whatever you need to further narrow down your search) and find the song your are looking for. Once you know about this technique, your Googling will get faster and faster.

Excluding words

Another search:

The above query is obvious, but many of the results will probably do some sort of a comparison between different phone brands. Let’s say you are sick of the whole ‘Apple vs. Android’ feud, and want to exclude any result that contains the word ‘android’. You can do so by using the dash-operator.

The dash (- symbol) operator tells Google to exclude whatever comes next to it. This means we can also exclude entire websites by combining this operator and the site operator we used before. If you don’t like the website cnet.com, for example, you can easily exclude it altogether:

Obviously, you can now also use any of the other operators. One example of a nice query would be the following:

Now try to figure out what it does exactly, and play around with it a bit. Replace ‘pdf’ by ‘doc’, ‘xls’, or ‘mp4’ and be amazed of what you can find out!

More operators

There are so many search operators I will not even try to name them all. Instead, have a look at a website like this where most of them are listed (by the way, I used the query site:google.com “filetype” operators myself in this case).

Have fun!

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