The good thing about Google is that generally, you don't have to be too precise or bend over backwards to find things.
When you want something specific, though, or just can't find it the old-fashioned way, these tips will bring it right to your fingertips.
1. Add context
Simply typing in a search term is usually enough, but you can help Google along by adding a little more context to your query. The easiest way is with Boolean operators.
For instance, type fish+chips. The most common are + and – for adding and removing elements, but you can also use * as a wildcard, the tilde symbol (top left of your keyboard) for similar terms, and quotes to get only the "exact phrase you type". One that almost nobody uses is |, which means 'or'.
2. Search certain sites
Google doesn't have to look at the entire internet. By adding a 'site: clarification', you can point it to just one page (or, using an 'I' as well, multiple).
For instance, if you can't remember whether you read an article on our page or on our sister site TechRadar, you could ask it for microsoft site:pcplus.co.uk | site:techradar.com to bring up lists from both.
The order you get them in will depend on how much PageRank the individual articles have, but both of them will appear in the lists.
3. Check spellings
Google can also zero in to specific types of search, such as replacing your dictionary.
Do the search define:portmanteau and it'll pull definitions of the word from a number of different sources, including Wordnetwb, Wiktionary and Wikipedia. You can also use a regular Google search to check your spelling by typing in how you think a word goes.
If you have it wrong, the correct version will be listed at the top of the search results. Of course, it'll still do the search too.
4. Do sums
Google has a powerful calculation engine built in. Try a simple sum like 4*25 and it'll spit out 100 almost immediately.
That's not the clever part. Try 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius, or MMX in decimal and Google pulls the numbers and works it out. It's not guaranteed, of course – often you'll just get search results.
A few of the more advanced ones include the Faraday Constant, the mass of Earth and handling distances in Astronomical Units. However, for more powerful calculations of that sort, accessing many more databases, try Wolfram Alpha.
5. Ask direct questions
Simpler searches will pop up immediately, which can be very handy. Why mess around with time zones when you can just ask What is the time in San Francisco?
You can also look up similar live details, including the status of flights in the air, although to be on the safe side, it's best to go to the airline company's own page for live lookups.
6. Search by location
Location-aware search may still be limited, but you can get a head start by telling Google where to look. Say, for instance, that you want fish and chips.
There's no point simply typing fish and chips, unless you're interested in the history or cooking details, but add your postcode on the end of the search – in the case of our office, fish and chips ba12bw, and it'll highlight the nearest places, give you phone numbers, show you a map and even display some reviews.
7. Filter your results
Google is often smarter than it appears, given a nudge. In Google Images, try a word that could be misconstrued – a name such as Heather or Raven or Cliff . Down the left-hand side, you'll see a dedicated option to only show faces, stripping out any non-human entries.
The same panel can also only show clip art, photos or line drawings, ignore colour or monochrome as you prefer, and even focus solely on results meeting a particular colour palette.
By default, Cliff mostly shows, obviously, cliffs. Switch to faces, and it's Cliff Richard. Choose red, and it's a DVD called Red Cliff .
8. Browse by subject
The Wonder Wheel gives another way of browsing these options. It's also in the left-hand sidebar, but this time it produces a chart.
The original search provides the starting node, with paths jutting off in all directions. Click these and you move from node to node, getting further away from the original search, but hopefully in the right direction.
This is great for when you're not sure what you want, or you just want to explore.
9. Log your searches
As well as searches, Google can keep a log of the sites you've visited using a feature called Web History – try it out by visiting www.google.com/history.
This uses a toolbar to track your movements – not just on Google – bringing up a timeline of your actions and searching your archives online. You can also switch it to just monitor your searches.
Needless to say, if you're worried about the privacy implications of this, or that you might accidentally stumble onto the 'wrong' site, make sure you leave this one alone.
10. Sort by time
The explosion of blogs, Twitter and live news reporting means that Google now factors time into its searches.
Many searches will now display Twitter posts, videos and relevant news stories, but to be even more specific, look in the left-hand column to zero in by time.
This ranges from simply 'Latest' to 'Past 24 Hours', 'Past 2 Days' (good for factoring in time distances), or a 'Custom Range' for if you know when something happened. Simply typing a year into the search box rarely works.
11. Use the cache
If a site's down, it's not the end of the world. Google caches most of the pages in its search collection, and you can access them by entering, say, cache:pcplus.co.uk – although hopefully our site is up and running perfectly smoothly while you read this!
The cache tells you when the snapshot was taken, and gives you the option for a text-only view.
Importantly, though, when you click on a link, it goes outside the cache. You'll need to append the 'cache: tag' to each page in turn if you want to keep browsing.
12. Search for specific files
Trying to find a particular type of file? Google doesn't only look for HTML. Type what you're looking for and then append the 'filetype:tag' on the end. For instance, 'filetype:doc' will only bring up those types of file. This search supports PDF, Office formats, Shockwave Flash and a few more.
13. Optimise your search results
If a search isn't producing the right results for you, there are ways in which you can optimise it. In the left-hand sidebar, look for the option that says 'Related Searches'.
At the top of the search, you'll find a stack of other searches that have taken people to the pages you're looking at.
Searching for 'Inception', for instance, offers alternatives ranging from 'inception meaning' and 'inception 2010' to 'inception plot' and even 'christopher nolan'.
14. Personalise your search
The more you use Google, the more it learns about you. By logging in, it remembers what you've looked at and makes it easier to find things.
Of course, you might not want that, in which case you can log out. You'll also want to do this if you're ego-surfing or doing SEO work to make sure you're getting the same Google rankings that anyone else would.
15. Search by Timeline
The Timeline lets you zoom in on any time range and see news pulled from assorted sources, including books in Google Books, newspaper reports and web pages.
Searching for the Anglo-French Wars, for instance, brings up a timeline that runs from 1600-2010, stepping down into individual years, then months. This is a great way to track the progress of a story back through time.
16. Customise your search
The Google sidebar offers a number of useful customisation options, including stripping out shopping sites if you just want information, or vice versa if you're in the mood to buy. You can also prioritise sites you've visited, sites you've yet to see and much more.
17. See more results
It's said that most people only look at the first few results, but if you want more, you can crank up the number. Simply visit the preferences page and you can alter this so it displays up to 100 results, although this will obviously slow down the search.
18. Search safely
Everyone knows you can activate SafeSearch to cut out most of the nasty content online, but if you want to be a little safe, 'Search Preferences' also lets you lock SafeSearch on any PC. It only applies to the browser you're currently using, and you'll need a Google Account to do it.
19. Search by extension
It's amazing what you can find if you know what file extensions to look for. Feeling nosey? Do a search for inurl:view/view.shtml and you'll get nothing but webcam views from around the world. Think of it as oneway chat roulette.
20. Monitor social media
Not a Twitter or Facebook user, but want to see the latest stories being passed around? Google now acts as a targeted firehouse for update content. Do a search, then click on the 'Updates' option in the sidebar. Any new results are automatically displayed.
21. Follow trends
Even if you only run a simple blog or fan page, it's worth spending some time thinking about SEO. Google Trends lets you see what people are looking for around the world, revealing the most sought-after stories.
22. Look for title content
Google isn't restricted to searching page text. If you really want to be precise, look for content in the title via 'intitle: tag'. This can be used in a few other ways, such as looking for directories on an FTP server by searching for site:myftp. gov intitle:index of.
23. Add Google to your site
If you love Google, you can integrate searches into your own pages. Access the Custom Search Engine beta at www.google.com/cse. You can add sites and pages to its archive, and add the boxes wherever you like. It's $100 for an ad-free version.
24. Get advanced
If you're having difficulty forming a search, try the Advanced Search option at www.google. com/advanced_search. There are no tags or Boolean complications, but most of the same abilities in a very easy sheet. Click the option at the bottom for even more tips.
25. Get extra detail
Not getting enough information from Google's site descriptions? In the sidebar, look for the option 'Page previews'. This gives you shots of the sites you might be about to visit, as well as extending the site descriptions of the first couple of entries.
First published in PC Plus Issue 300
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