You Google, we Google, everybody Googles – but is your Googling as good as it could be? From working out the right tip in a restaurant to presenting your own website in the most search-friendly light, Google's various services offer a whole world of information. Here are 50 ways in which you can squeeze every last bit of usefulness out of the big G.
- You might also want to check out: Google Drive and Docs tips: 20 expert tricks and shortcuts
Use operators for precise searching
Google does a pretty good job of guessing what you're looking for, but if you want to make the results as precise as possible you should use operators to tell Google exactly what you want.
Putting a phrase in quotation marks searches for that exact text, whereas adding a minus sign excludes the word, and using OR gives Google a choice, such as World Cup location 2014 OR 2022. Boolean operators such as AND or OR should be in upper case.
It turns out that Google is very good at filling in the blanks, so if you're trying to remember the lyrics to a song or get a list of the things a famous inventor created, just add an asterisk in the bit of your query you want Google to answer.
For example, "Thomas Edison Invented" followed by an asterisk will search for the inventor's many ideas, while "Thunderbolts And Lightning" followed by an asterisk will bring up Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
Ask normal questions
In the early days of search, performing even the simplest query involved lots of usage of AND, OR and quotation marks. Now, though, Google's natural language search is very impressive. You don't need to type "distance Glasgow London", "Ghost Pepper Spice Level" or "Leader Labour Party UK" to get answers. Just ask "How far is it to London?", "How spicy is a ghost pepper?" or "Who is the leader of the Labour party?"
Google's natural language processing is particularly useful if you're performing a voice search, as it means you feel a little less silly talking to Google in public.
Tell Google where to look
By default Google searches its entire index, but you can change that with a few simple commands. If you want to restrict your search to a particular website or domain, "site:" does that – so for example "site:techradar.com" restricts searches to Techradar.com while "site:uk" limits the search to UK domains. "source:" does the same for news sources while "intitle:" looks only at web page titles, and "inurl:" restricts searches to the actual page addresses.
Combining these commands with normal search operators – AND, OR, site: and so on – enables you to craft very precise search queries.
Shorten a URL
Google likes very long and descriptive website addresses as they make it easier to classify pages, but they're a real pain in the backside if you want to share the address in a document or in something you're going to print. A URL shortener such as Goo.gl replaces long page or site addresses with something much easier to handle.
Goo.gl also offers link tracking: it enables you to track the short link's performance to see how many people clicked on it, where they came from and what they were using.
Reverse search an image
Google's image search enables you to set all kinds of criteria from the image size to whether you're allowed to use it commercially, but one of its smartest features is hidden behind an icon – if you've already got something pretty close to the image you're looking for, you can carry out a reverse image search that uses your photo as the search criteria.
Performing a reverse search couldn't be simpler. Go to Image Search, tap the icon of the camera and either paste the photo's URL or click on Upload An Image.
Find files, including secret ones
The "filetype:" operator looks for particular kinds of files and "site:" can restrict searches to particular domains. Use both, add "confidential" and you can look for, say, Excel spreadsheets in the UK with the word "confidential" in them. This tip comes to you courtesy of the NSA.
More practically, using the filetype command to look for PDFs can help uncover product manuals and various official documents, while restricting searches to particular kinds of media files makes searching for music or video much simpler.
Find interesting things about travel destinations
Google is increasingly tying its various services together in search results, so for example if you Google "google" you'll get a range of information including the company profile, news stories, recent Google+ posts, Google's Twitter feed and so on.
When you search for places that means you can get more information than just a dry Wikipedia entry. Search "CITYNAME attractions" for thumbnails showing points of interest, and pop into Maps, enter an address and then tap Search Nearby to look for specific things near that address such as pubs, places to eat or other essentials.
Search within specific numbers
If you're looking for something within a numeric range, such as products between two prices or events between two dates, you can restrict Google's search to a specific number range by using two dots, such as: "1914..1918" or "$250..$350".
This one can be a little flaky if the term you're searching for is ambiguous, though. While searching for "cars £2000..£5000" works fine and returns useful car-buying advice, searching for "microwave £50..£100" gives you loads of results about radiation.
Find customer service numbers
Are you fed up with companies hiding their customer service numbers in very small print in obscure corners of their websites to put you off calling them? Allow Google to help: just type "XXX customer service" where XXX is the name of the firm you want to call.
There isn't a similar option for customer service emails, but a query such as "XXX complaints email" usually turns up the correct answer. The exception is if you're looking for help with Google itself – for that, head to support.google.com.
Define a word or term
Google does its best to guess your intent when you enter search criteria, but you can always nudge it in the right direction with a search operator. That's definitely worth doing if you want Google to tell you the dictionary definition of a word: prefix it with "define" and Google will tell you what it means. You'll also see additional options including translation, word origin and alternative definitions from other sources, and if you click on those options you'll also see a graph showing the popularity of that word or phrase over time. You won't be surprised to discover that the word "Google" wasn't popular in the 1800s.
Perform a calculation
If you type Calculator into the search box Google will display its calculator widget, but that isn't the only way to perform calculations – you can search using natural language terms such as "how much is 14% of £327?" or just type the calculation in the search box using traditional computer operators such as the plus sign for addition or the asterisk for multiplication.
You aren't just limited to basic arithmetic, either – Google's calculator can recognise and graph complex equations including trigonometric, exponential and logarithmic equations. If you're on a desktop and your browser supports WebGL, it can create 3D graphs too.
Filter image searches
When you search using Google Image Search it often displays more options at the top, especially if the criteria was ambiguous. For example, it knows that "heather" can be a flower, a name or a colour, so it offers thumbnails to choose one of those options. But you can refine things much further with the Search Tools drop-down, which enables you to filter by size, colour, type, creation date and usage rights. You can also disable SafeSearch if you don't need your search results to be family-friendly.
Convert currency and units
You can convert currencies and weights and measures from the search box – just type "convert" followed by what you want to convert from and to. That might be "convert 320 F to C", US to imperial fuel consumption, miles per hour to knots or cups to millilitres. The converter knows about angles, currencies, data rates, electrical terms, flow rate, force, frequencies, radiation, horsepower, volume, weight, length, time periods and even unit-less numbering such as baker's dozens and of course, googols – and you can combine measurements with time to produce bitrates, speeds and so on.
Google doesn't make it obvious, but you can restrict your search results to apps; in the list of search filters at the top of the screen, click on More > Apps. The search results prioritise results from the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store, because that's what most people are likely to be searching for, but it can tell you about Windows apps, BlackBerry apps and Symbian apps if you ask it to. To do this, simply include the name of the platform alongside the name of the app you're looking for.
Check your flight, or the weather
Travellers are heavy Google users, and as you might expect it's developed some useful tools just for them. If you search for a flight number or just "airline X to Y", where X is the place a flight is coming from and Y the place it's going, Google will tell you when it's leaving (or when it left) and when it'll arrive, and what terminal. There's also a handy weather widget that you can use to plan your travel trousers: just type "X weather" (where X is the place) to see the temperature, precipitation and wind expected in the next seven days.
Personalise your search
If you let it, Google can record your search history and provide access to it on any device. There are several benefits to doing so – you'll get more relevant results because Google knows more about you, you'll get better search predictions, and you can search your history for stuff you've looked for previously. Google even organises it into categories such as shopping, news, images and travel. The downside, of course, is that it also records anything dodgy or embarrassing you might have looked for.
Check your spelling
Google's spell checker is much smarter than the average computer-based effort – how many word processing programs do you know that would spot that when you typed "crusammthemum" you meant "chrysanthemum"?
Google does, and its massive dictionary means that not only does it usually know what you were trying to type, but it can often predict the next terms you'll type too. You'll see such search suggestions on almost every search, but there are exceptions: Google won't include terms in its suggestions if doing so might offend. If something offensive slips through the net, Google hopes you'll report it.
Customise your search settings
Google enables you to customise your search results in several ways. You can use SafeSearch to filter explicit results (and lock it so the kids can't go in to your search settings and switch it off again), turn Google's instant results off, increase the number of results you get per page and make selected search results open in a new window when you click on them. You can access all of these options by clicking on the gear icon at the top right of the screen, which enables you to toggle SafeSearch, perform an advanced search or change your search defaults.
See a site even if it's offline
There are few things more frustrating than trying to visit a site only for it to timeout because something's gone wrong with its server. Google can ease the pain of that, because whenever it visits a page it takes a snapshot of that page, known as a cache. In search results, click on the green down arrow to the right of the site's URL and select Cached to see that snapshot.
It doesn't work magic – if you're trying to access online banking and the server isn't responding, Google's cache won't let you manage your cash – but it does make unreachable sites readable.
Search by shouting
You can start a search by using your voice in Android, iOS or in the Chrome browser by saying "OK Google" and then telling it what you want to search for.
To enable that feature you'll need to turn it on in the Google app (Android and iOS) or in Chrome's settings, and in the case of iOS you'll have to launch the Google App too as Apple would rather you stuck with its own Siri. Unless you're using a Chromebook, the OK Google feature in Chrome only works if you're on the Google homepage or if you've just opened a new browser tab.
Find movie times
Finding the times films are showing near you is as simple as typing "movie times" into the search box – you'll see thumbnails of films currently on release in your area as well as links to the cinema websites. If you make your search more specific you'll see details of individual showings, so for example we've just typed "movie times odeon glasgow" to discover that Minions, Ant-Man and Jurassic World are all on in our local multiplex tonight.
Fancy a random wander around the world? If you use Google's "inurl:" operator with common webcam page filenames or "intitle:" for common webcam page titles, you can do just that. For example, "intitle:live view / - axis" looks for certain kinds of security cameras, while "inurl:view/index.shtml" searches for common kinds of webcam. As you might imagine the quality and interestingness of the cameras you'll find varies dramatically, but it's fun pretending to be an all-seeing overlord.
See Google's Easter Eggs
If you search for Google in 1998 you'll see Google as it was when it first launched. It's not the only Google Easter egg: searching for 'do the harlem shake' in YouTube makes the screen dance while 'do a barrel roll' will spin the screen around in Chrome or Firefox. In maps, getting directions from Fort Augustus to Urquhart Castle in Scotland enables you to travel by Loch Ness Monster, and a trip from Snowdon to the Brecon Beacons in Wales gives you the option of travelling by dragon.
Find images you're allowed to use
The widespread belief that if an image is on the internet it must be okay to use is completely wrong and could land you in financial peril – using copyrighted images can result in a fine. Google Image Search enables you to avoid that: click on Search Tools > Usage Rights and you can search for creative commons-labelled images that can be reused for non-commercial or commercial use. The results you'll get from those searches come overwhelmingly from Wikimedia Commons and Flickr, but finding them and browsing them in Google is much quicker than going to the source.
Add Google to your own site
Google would love you to add its search to your own site, because that's another place it can display ads – and if you sign up for AdSense, you can get a cut of that ad revenue too. Don't get too excited at the dollar signs flashing in front of your eyes, though – you need a lot of visitors to make even a small amount of money. But money isn't the only reason to add search. It can help your visitors, and its statistics and logs can help you understand what people are looking for. Cse.google.com has everything you need.
Make sure Google indexes your own site
You don't need to do a thing to get your site indexed by Google, as its crawlers will reach you eventually. However, you can help speed up the process by using Google's Submit Your Content section. In addition to submitting the site address you can use Rich Snippets to help describe your content, and you can use the webmaster tools linked from that page to identify server problems and submit sitemaps to ensure that Google gets everything you want it to get.
Search in Klingon
Google isn't just for humans. It's available for Klingons too. If you'd like to carry out searches in Klingon, just visit https://www.google.co.uk/?hl=xx-klingon and you can boldly go where non-trekkers probably don't.
That isn't the only option: https://www.google.co.uk/?hl=xx-elmer gives you the interface and results in the style of Elmer Fudd, while https://www.google.co.uk/?hl=xx-bork mimics the legendary Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show to deliver an "Ee'm Feeling Loocky" button. When the novelty wears off, Google offers an on-screen "show Google in English" link to put things back to normal.
Translate from one language to another
Google Translate does an excellent job of turning text from one language to another, and while it's easy to create really mangled text by running the same thing through a bunch of different filters it does have practical uses, such as quickly translating entire pages to help you find information. Just pop totranslate.google.com and either paste the text, enter the URL or upload the document you want converted into another language. The results are instant, and surprisingly accurate.
Perform a shopping search
Replace the "www" in Google's address with "shopping" and you'll be taken to Google's Shopping Search, which does a really good job of helping you find a low price for all kinds of items. It's fast, simple to use and makes it easy to see what the total price of an item is, but it's important to note that unlike Google Search, the shopping function is dependent on retailers paying compensation to Google, so it isn't a universal search – firms that don't pay don't appear.
Get unlimited photo storage
The revamped photos.google.com offers free, genuinely unlimited photo storage for PC/Mac/Chromebook, iOS and Android. However, there is a catch: If you want to store photos with resolutions higher than 16 megapixels or video with a higher resolution than 1080p, that isn't covered by the free storage option – so if you've got the default 15GB of Google account storage, you'll fill that up pretty fast.
Stay within the limits, however, and you've got a great service with good apps (unless you're on Windows Phone, which doesn't have an app for the service yet).
Protect your Google account
If you use more than a handful of Google services you can end up storing lots of personal information, files and photos in your Google account – and if someone were to gain control of that account without your permission, they could do a lot of damage. That's why you should enable 2-Step Verification, which asks not just for a password but for a special code too. That code can be sent to your mobile, to a landline, stored on a USB security key or in Google's app, and it ensures that only you can ever access your account.
See all the Google services you use
Google's Dashboard enables you to see every Google service you're using – how many contacts you've uploaded, documents shared with you, calendars you're using and so on. It also allows you to enable or disable features such as Location History, Audio History and Search History. If you click on Connected Applications and Sites you can also see which sites and apps have access to your Google Account, and you can revoke access on a per-site or per-app basis.
Stop ads from tracking you
While you're in the Dashboard, click on the Manage Account link and look in the right hand side of the window – you should see a section headed Personal Info & Privacy. If you click on Ads Settings you can disable Google's personalisation, so advertising won't be based on anything but the very simplest criteria – so you shouldn't see an item you looked at once in an online shop chasing you around the web for a month. You can track both signed-in ads and signed-out ads from this screen.
Find out what time it is somewhere else
Telling the time is hardly the most demanding use of Google's talents, but it's handy if you're calling someone in another time zone and want to make sure you won't be calling in the middle of the night. To find out what time it is anywhere in the world, just type "time place" where "place" is the name of the town or area. You can also find out sunrise and sunset times by typing "sunrise" and "sunset" respectively, and once again you can make that search location-specific.
Discover a Bacon Number
The concept of six degrees of separation states that there are rarely more than six links separating any two people on Earth, and the concept of six degrees of Kevin Bacon is that there are never more than six links separating any celebrity from Kevin Bacon. Google can tell you the Bacon Number – how many degrees of separation – there are for any celeb: Just type "bacon number bono" or "bacon number David Beckham".
See stock prices
If you want to know the current price and movement of a company's stock, Google can tell you instantly; just type the company's code into the search box. For example, AAPL gives you Apple's share price, GOOG is Google's and LON:RBS is the Royal Bank of Scotland. If you don't know the code Google can usually work it out, so for example if you want to know the stock price of Panasonic on the Tokyo Stock Exchange you can just search for "panasonic stock tokyo".
Calculate how much you should tip
Sometimes the most useful features are the simplest, and this one can prevent those infuriating arguments that often occur when it's time to split the bill in a restaurant, or pay in a hair salon, or anywhere else you want to reward good service. Simply type "what is the tip for 100 dollars" (it doesn't work if you miss out the dollar bit) and you'll see a tip calculator that enables you to enter the amount, the number of people and the percentage you want to tip.
Find hashtagged images
Google Image Search enables you to search not just by title or attributes, but by hashtags too – so for example if you want to see the worst that humanity can offer, a Google image search for the passengershaming hashtag (don't forget to include the hash at the beginning) shows the photos of badly behaved, messy or just plain appalling passengers airline cabin crew have been sharing on social media.
You can use hashtags in plain old Google searches too. It's weighed heavily towards Google+ results but it covers some of Tumblr and Twitter too.
Set a timer
Google will happily nudge you after a certain period of time – all you need to do is type "set timer" and the time period in the search bar. You'll then see a big countdown timer, and when the countdown hits zero there's a pleasantly retro alarm clock beep. You can mute the beep, but that defeats the purpose somewhat.
The same feature is available in the Google smartphone app, where it's more useful – being able to say "OK Google, set a timer for 15 minutes" can be very handy if you need to set a quick reminder.
Google Image Search has a really helpful tool that makes specific searches much quicker. If you click on the Search Tools button and look for Type in the toolbar below, you can restrict the search to particular kinds of images. Face is really handy if you're trying to find a headshot, while clipart is good for more cartoony images, banners and stock images. You can even search for images with transparent backgrounds by using the Color drop-down.
Find out more about movies
Google knows a lot about movies, and it's happy to share. If you search for Dark Knight Cast you'll see not just the actors' names, but their faces; search for Dark Knight Director and you'll see a picture and a potted biography. If the film is on general release, searching for Movie Showtimes – where "Movie" is the name of the film you'd like to see – will show you when it's on in your nearest cinemas as well as telling you a little bit about the film.
Get the stats
As you might expect from a firm that wants to organise all the world's information, Google knows a lot of facts. Want to know the UK's gross domestic product in 1992? Simply Google "UK GDP 1992". Want to know how many people live in a place? Google "population" and the place name. How many countries are there in the world? Just ask. The answer to life, the universe and everything? Google not only provides the answer, but does it in a really cute way too.
Find things near you
Google's massive investment in mapping data makes it a really useful travelling companion, especially if you're in an unfamiliar place or fancy trying somewhere different. If you head to Google Maps and type "X near Y", where X is what you want and Y is where you want it to be, you can find anything from coffee shops to gyms – and of course Maps can also give you reviews if relevant, as well as directions tailored to your mode of transport including walking and cycling.
Search through old newspapers
Google News has a fantastic feature that you might not know about: Viewable newspaper archives that in some cases go back hundreds of years. It's mainly but not exclusively American, and the search feature is surprisingly good – not only has Google scanned the old newspapers, but it's used optical character recognition on them too. That means you can carry out searches such as "deaths 1862" and get instant results. It's fascinating stuff, and you'll find it at https://news.google.com/newspapers.
Find something for dinner
Google makes it easy to find recipes and to check nutritional information for many foods – try "compare spaghetti vs noodles" to see it in action – but if you really want to use its power, the clever Cookin' With Google custom search enables you to type in a list of what you've got handy and find out what you can make. You can then refine those results, so for example you can restrict the search to vegan recipes, or Atkins, or gluten-free.
Search your own stuff
If you have a Google Account and don't disable personal search results, you can bring the power of Google's search to your own information – your browsing history, your calendar events and so on. In its mobile app, Google also offers some natural language searches including "my bills" and "my packages" if you've enabled Google Now; include the company name and it'll usually find exactly what you're looking for. It's particularly useful for searching Google Photos, as you can use terms such as "my photos from London in June".
Find hilarious cat GIFs
The "filetype:" operator is really useful in Google Image Search – for example, if you're looking for hilarious animations of cats, "cats filetype:GIF" returns nothing but GIF images. For more sensible searches you can look for JPG, PNG, BMP or SVG images, and you can also search for ICO icon files and images in the new ultra-efficient WEBP format too.
You'll see lots of further options in the image search results as well, enabling you to look for particular colours, to prioritise recent uploads and to find files it's okay to use on your own site.
Travel backwards in time with Street View
If you'd like to know how much a place has changed in the last few years, you can travel backwards in time using Street View. To pretend you're in Back to the Future, use Street View in the Google Maps site and look for the icon of a clock to the top left of the image. If the Google cars have been there multiple times, you'll be able to slide backwards through the different images Google's vehicles have taken.
As you'd expect, this works best in more popular destinations; the more remote or obscure the place, the less likely you'll have lots of views to look at.
Use Allintext for super-powered searching
If you know exactly what you're looking for, the "allintext:" operator is a magical thing – it says to Google: "I want only results that contain every single one of these words, and those words have to be in the body text of the page. I don't want you to look in the URL, page title or link text." Don't leave a space after the colon, but separate your words with spaces – so for example you might try "allintext:sony xperia overheating fix".