When you're after a fact, a file or a picture, Google is everyone's automatic choice. The search engine is a very powerful tool, but often we don't know how to use it to its full potential – making things much harder for ourselves.

These tips will help you to master the art of search syntax and find what you're looking for quickly every time.

1. Use quotation marks

Google searches for all the keywords entered in the box, but they need not be in the same order, and you will get results on an either/or basis too. To narrow down returns to those that include an exact phrase, enclose it in quotation marks.

2. Remove results

Some words and phrases have multiple meanings that can lead to you getting inaccurate results. You can remove results in a certain area by including a negative keyword preceded by a minus sign.

For example, a search on disc could return results about CDs, DVDs and spinal injuries. Searching for disc-spine removes results associated with the back bone.

3. Word definitions

Google can quickly find definitions of words on the web, even those that aren't in an official dictionary. For example define: cromulent returns a definition of fine, acceptable or normal as well as citations of its fictional origins in The Simpsons.

4. Synonyms

Sometimes the result you're after isn't triggered by the keyword that you're using because the destination page doesn't include it. Instead, the site may use words with similar meaning or synonyms to describe what you're after.

You can include these results in a search by putting a tilde (the character) in front of the word in question. So a search including shop might provide returns including businesses described as stores.

5. Pictorial assistance

If you need to find out what an object looks like, use the image search to find results quicker. You can also search for foreign language words and phrases as a fast way to find out what something means – stick velo in and you'll quickly see that it's a bike, for example.

If you want to search just for people's portraits, run your search as normal and then edit the URL of the results page to include &imgtype=face after the search term. This will change the results on a search for lily from pictures of flowers to photos of girls named Lily.

6. Search a single site

Some sites include a Google search plug-in that enables you to search the whole web or just a particular domain. You can harness this power from a standard Google search, too.

To confine your results to a specific site, just add site: and its URL to your search terms. For example hard drive site:www. pcplus.co.uk returns pages on the PC Plus site that refer to hard drives.

7. Remove affiliate links

When searching for products and services, filter out the annoying engine optimised results and affiliate links by excluding the main affiliate networks. You could do this by adding operators like -site:shopping.com, but you'd need to do it for every network.

A much simpler option is to use Give Me Back My Google, which automatically adds all the relevant operators before sending your search to Google.

Givebackmygoogle

GMBMG: Banish those annoying affiliate links by using Give Me Back My Google

8. Time zones

Save yourself the bother of working out what time zone friends, colleagues and relatives are in and then counting forwards or backwards to calculate the time there: Google does it all for you in one step.

Enter Time in Sydney in the search bar to see the current time there. This works with any city of your choice, of course.

9. Calculation

Windows' calculator takes several clicks to launch, which can sometimes be a pain if you need to work something out fast. If you've already got your browser open, you might find that Google is a faster option.

Just enter your sum in the search box and click Search for the result. You can use all simple calculator functions and work out percentages with phrases like 15 per cent of £135 or square roots using sqrt.

10. Multiple conversions

Google also provides unit conversions. Try entering 23C in F for a Celcius to Farenheit conversion. You can do similar conversions between miles and Km, or any other commonly used unit.

You can even convert MB and GB to bytes. You can also convert all major currencies in this way. It's also possible to ask Google for the answer to life, the universe and everything (42, of course).

11. Specific filetypes

Only looking for PDF documents? Narrow down your search with the operator filetype:pdf. This ensures that your results only include PDFs, which you can then open in the browser using Google's PDF reader. You can use the same trick to find DOC, XLS, PPT, JPEG and numerous other filetypes.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

First published in PC Plus Issue 283

Liked this? Then check out 50 websites you'll wonder how you lived without

Sign up for TechRadar's free Weird Week in Tech newsletter
Get the oddest tech stories of the week, plus the most popular news and reviews delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register

Follow TechRadar on Twitter