Everybody Googles, but not everybody is getting the most out of the big G. A few simple tips can focus your search, return more relevant results, track custom URLs and make searching much smarter.
The following article details 20 of our favourite ways to find Google's G spots.
- 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.