Tagged: Google special commands

Google Speed-Search Lesson #6 – Wildcards

Here’s part six of my Google Speed-Search series. In this lesson, we’ll use wildcards to speed up our searches.

A wildcard in Google is represented by an asterisk (*) and used instead of a single word. Consider this search:

"Mount Fuji is * high"

This phrase search forces Google to return web pages with the exact phrase above, but replacing the wildcard with any word. Here are some examples of what this search returns:

  • Mount Fuji is 3776 meters high
  • Mount Fuji is 12377 feet high
  • Mount Fuji is 3.8 km high
  • Mount Fuji is 3066 metres high

That last one proves you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet!

Using multiple wildcards

Each instance of the wildcard represents one word (numbers don’t count as shown above). Take a look at these examples with real Google results below each:

"ten * bottles sitting on the wall"

  • Ten green bottles sitting on the wall

"ten * * sitting on the wall"

  • Ten green bloggers sitting on the wall :shock:
  • Ten green bottles sitting on the wall

"ten * * * on the wall"

  • Ten green bottles hanging on the wall
  • Ten green bottles standing on the wall

"ten * * * * the wall"

  • Ten green bottles hanging on the wall
  • Ten years ago, I daresay, The Wall Street Journal…
  • …grew steadily for ten years until we hit the wall

A little creativity can find you what you’re looking for

The Google wildcard is one of my favorite speed-search tricks. You can use it to find song lyrics, such as…

"will * * * me * you * * me * I'm *" (Try this one in Google!)

Or even to find the unanswerable…

"the secret of life is *" ;-)

Next: Lesson #7 – Special Syntax

Google Speed-Search Lesson #5 – Case Sensitivity

Here’s part five of my Google Speed-Search series. This post answers the question, is a Google search case sensitive?

What difference does case make?

Some search engines will return different results depending on whether you use upper or lower case characters. So, for example, if you type apple you’d get results for the fruit or technology giant. If you typed APPLE however, you’d get results for the Association to Promote and Protect the Lubec Environment, or the band All Punks Please Leave Earth.

Is a case sensitive search useful?

You could argue that a case sensitive search, such as the “apple” example above, would be useful. You could cut out results for fruit and iPods if you were looking for sites about the Lubec Environment. Unfortunately, you’d be pulling your hair out when you forget to capitalize names and places. Imagine getting different results for “Tokyo” and “tokyo”, or “Albert Einstein” and “albert einstein”.   

Is Google sensitive to case in a search term?

No, fortunately not. Google is case insensitive. You can search for apple, APPLE, Apple, or even aPpLe and get the same results with each word.

Next: Google Speed-Search Lesson #6 – Wildcards

Google Speed-Search Lesson #4 – Stop Words

In this fourth part of my Google Speed-Search series, we’ll take a look at stop words - words that Google ignores.

What words does Google ignore? 

There doesn’t seem to be a public list of Google stop words available (although I did find this), but words like the, is, are, that, on, in and with are very likely to be ignored. Numbers and question words, too, seem to be considered as stop words.

Examples of searches with and without stop words

All these searches return (nearly) the same results:

Japanese Prime Minister

  • The Japanese Prime Minister
  • How is the Japanese Prime Minister?
  • Who is the Japanese Prime Minister?
  • Where is the Japanese Prime Minister?
  • Was the Japanese Prime Minister in on it?
  • Where is the Japanese Prime Minister from?
  • What was the Japanese Prime Minister on about?
  • Will this be from the Japanese Prime Minister?
  • Why and when to be the Japanese Prime Minister
  • Is this by the Japanese Prime Minister or is that?

If you’re the kind of person who types questions into Google, hopefully you can now see that using stop words is pointless (at least in these examples) and you’d be able to speed up your searches without them. For example, if you really want to know where the Japanese prime minister is from, you’d be better off searching with:

birthplace Japanese Prime Minister

How to include stop words in a Google search

What if you really need to include stop words in your search? Well, in the last lesson, I showed you how to exclude words from your search results using negation. We did that by adding a minus sign (-) to the front of the word we wanted to exclude. The opposite is called Explicit Inclusion, and we use a plus sign (+) to forcibly include words in our searches. For example:

+the cars

If you didn’t include the stop word, you’d get results about automobiles. Using Explicit Inclusion however, you get results for the American rock band from the 70′s, The Cars.

Is a phrase search better?

Usually, yes. In our example above, we are telling Google to return pages that contain the words the and cars, but not neccessarily together or in that order. To improve our results, we want to see those words back-to-back, so we’d be better off using a phrase search, i.e.:

"the cars"

A phrase search gives results contaiing the exact phrase searched for, including any stop words.

There are times when explicit inclusion is helpful though. A search for king will return pages for magazines, games and radio stations called King. A search for +the king will give you results for Elvis Presley, books, movies and burgers, instead.

Next: Google Speed-Search Lesson #5 - Case Sensitivity

Google Speed-Search Lesson #3 – Negation

This is the third part in my Google Speed-Search series. Here are the first two parts if you missed them:

Remove unwanted results with negation 

This lesson introduces negation, i.e. using a minus sign (-) to specify terms you don’t want to appear in your search results. This can be useful when your results are cluttered with unrelated websites. Consider these examples:

Note: There should be a space before the minus sign, but not after.

Ice Age -movie

Despite Ice Age being a popular movie for kids, if you want information on the real ice age, you should remove the word “movie”.

Japanese cars -used

Searching for Japanese cars brings up a bunch of websites selling used cars. If you’re just interested in learning about Japanese cars, remove the word “used” from your results.

football -nfl -american

For English football, or soccer, do a search for results that don’t contain “NFL” or “American”.

"birthday cards" -free -ecard

Wrapping “birthday cards” in double quotes will make sure all the results contain exactly that phrase. Of course, if you’re looking to buy a traditional birthday card, you don’t want results containing “free” or “Ecard”.

Using negation, it’s easy to remove what you don’t want:

US President -"George Bush" ;-)

Next: Google Speed-Search Lesson #4 - Stop Words

Google Speed-Search Lesson #2 – Boolean

In Google Speed-Search Lesson #1, I showed you how to do phrase searches. In this lesson, we’ll look at basic Boolean, i.e. using uppercase AND and OR in our searches.

Let’s imagine you’re British and you want to find websites about Father Christmas, you might start with this:

Father Christmas

What you’re really telling Google is to search for any website that contains the words Father AND Christmas, not necessarily together, or even in that order. Fortunately, the results you get for this search just happen to have Father and Christmas together in the order you specified, such is the magic of Google’s ranking algorithms. 

Using a phrase search

However, as good as Google is, it gave us over 10 million results, which is just a few more than most people are prepared to look through. Let’s do our search properly, using a phrase search:

"Father Christmas"

That’s better. This time Google gives us 1.5 million results, and we can be sure they all have an exact match for our phrase.

Don’t forget that Google’s Boolean default is AND, so if you search for

"Father Christmas" "Santa Claus"

you’re going to get results that match “Father Christmas” AND “Santa Claus”. Not surprisingly, there are only 318,000 results that match both of these names.

Using Boolean OR

It’s more likely that you want to search for websites that match either “Father Christmas” or “Santa Claus”, in which case you have to explicitly tell Google that by including the Boolean OR in your search:

"Father Christmas" OR "Santa Claus"

Perfect. Now every result contains one or the other jolly little man. Now consider the following search:

"World Cup" (soccer OR football)

If you prefer, you can replace the OR with a pipe character:

"World Cup" (soccer | football)

Remember that this means “Give me results that match the terms “World Cup” and also contain either soccer or football“.

A more complex example with phrase and Boolean searches

Here’s one last example to show you how specific you can be with just phrase and Boolean searches:

Japan "English teacher" "((Nick OR Nicholas) (Ramsay OR Ramsey))"

This means the results must contain one of the following:

  • Japan, English teacher, Nick Ramsay
  • Japan, English teacher, Nick Ramsey
  • Japan, English teacher, Nicholas Ramsay
  • Japan, English teacher, Nicholas Ramsey

Try experimenting with phrase searches and Boolean searches. See if you can find any long, lost friends!

Next: Google Speed-Search Lesson #3 – Negation

Google Speed-Search Lesson #1 – Phrase Searches

Speed SearchingWhen I was in Secondary school, my math teacher gave us a peculiar exercise for homework. She wanted us to memorize the alphabet backwards before the next lesson. Not surprisingly, when that lesson came, there were only two of us in the class who had actually made the effort to remember our ABCs in reverse order. Thanks to that teacher, I have since been able to fire through a dictionary from either end, and find words faster than most other people. 

Speed up your searching with Google

Maybe you have no need for a dictionary these days, but you probably use Google enough to benefit from some speed-searching tricks. Wouldn’t it be great to speed up your Google searches, finding things in half the time? These days, search engines provide special commands that can help you do just that, and I’m going to show you how to use them in small, bite-sized chunks. I’ll start off with the simplest of tricks – the phrase search.

Using phrase searches to speed up your search

Let’s imagine you want to visit Himeji Castle, but don’t know if it’s worth seeing. Let’s Google

Himeji Castle

Okay, that gives you 259,000 results, and most of the results on the first page just give you some background information. What you really need is a review, so you might try…

Himeji Castle reviews

Now you’ve got results for the Himeji Castle Hotel, and links to reviews of the hotel. The reason for this is that Google is returning web pages that contains those words, but not necessarily together, or even in that order. Again, we really want a review of the castle itself, so let’s look for someone who has actually been there, using a phrase search, i.e. we wrap the phrase in double-quotes, like this…

"went to Himeji Castle"

Google now returns 1,290 results for web pages that contain exactly that phrase. Most of the results are useful because the authors have literally said that they went to Himeji Castle, and in most cases go on to tell you what they thought of it. Perfect.

Getting the most out of Google phrase searches

You can search with a combination of phrase searches and keywords, too, for example:

"Canon printer driver" Vista


"Nick Ramsay" "English teacher" Japan

If this is all new to you, give it a try. You might be able to find an old friend or fix one of those bugging computer problems!

Next: Google Speed-Search Lesson #2 – Boolean