Recently passing the 1 billion user mark, Google has come a long way since it was first founded back in 1998 and has become a byword for internet searches. But, beyond chucking a couple of words into the main search box, do you really know how to get the best out of it? We’ve done some research and put together a few tips on how to get Google to do even more of the work for you.
If you’ve got no intention of spending hours studying the ins and outs of every search option on Google then don’t worry. As long as you know the basics, then you should be able to save yourself a lot of time without having to delve too deeply.
Spelling – Even if you’re not the world’s best speller, it doesn’t matter as clever old Google will do the hard work for you. If you don’t spell a word correctly, Google will automatically switch to the most common spelling for the jumble of letter that you’ve typed in.
Web history – For many keen users of the Internet, the idea of anyone having access to their seach history may well be enough to bring them out in a cold sweat and cause them to hit the ‘delete history’ option at the first available opportunity. But, unless you have anything truly incriminating on your browsers’s cache, it’s wise not to be too hasty. Activating the Web history feature means that Google will spot trends in your web history and offer tailored results according to what you searched for and which sites you’ve visted before. This will also help you to find any good websites that you’ve previously stumbled upon but are now unable to find again.
If in doubt, keep in general – As with many things in life, the best advice is to keep things simple. If you’re looking for a computer shop that you know of, but you’re not exactly sure what’s it’s called, then you’re better off just typing computer shop and the town or road name, rather than trying to guess at the name. Chances are this will bring up what you’re looking for or give you a list of computer shops in that area and you can go from there, whereas misspelling (or ‘misremembering’) the name of the shop might not get you very far.
Web-friendly words – Try to use web-friendly words where possible, by thinking about how the information you’re looking for would be written on the web. If you use a word that’s correct but not the most commonly used term for what you’re looking for then you might not get as many results as you’d expect. So, searching for fish and chip shop in your area is likely to get you more results than if you typed in takeaway cod, while searching for celebrity gossip will get you better results than typing in news about famous people.
Keep it short – Start off using as few words as possible, then add words to refine your search if need be. If you add more words than you need to, then your results may prove to be too narrow and you might miss what you’re looking for.
No punctuation needed – If the use of apostrophes and commas isn’t your strong point, then don’t panic as Google doesn’t recognise punctionation marks so even if you do type them in, they’ll be ignored. Similarly, the search function isn’t case sensitive so there’s no need to worry about whether you should be using upper or lower case letters.
Moving on from the basics brings us to Fast Facts – a very useful aspect of the Google search offering but possibly the least well known. The idea is that you can type certain search criteria into the box and the results will be displayed instantly at the top of the page, as well as all the usual pages below which you can clock through to if you choose.
Conversions – Google will convert pretty much any unit of measurement – all you need to do is type in the unit and measurement, such as 5 km to miles, saving you from having to search for a conversion site and type the info in there.
Stock information – You can also seach for real-time stock information using ticker symbols – such as APPL for Apple – and click through to Google Finance for more detailed information.
Calculator – Number crunchers can also use Google to work out maths equations by typing them into the box – Google can cope with anything from simple sums like 2+2 to more complicated equations. It’s also easy to convert currency by just typing 10 dollars in british pounds, or whatever it is you want to convert.
Follow your team – Sports fans might also like to know that they can follow their favourite team. In the US, typing in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, or any of the teams from those leagues will bring up current info such as the next fixture date. This also works for some sports and leagues outside of the US, such as the Premier League in England. Another handy function, that will work internationally, is the the ability to find out what time it is anywhere around the globe simply by typing in time along with the city or country. Similarly, you can seach for sunrise and sunset, followed by the city name.
Dictionary – Possibly the most useful Fast Fact option is the dictionary function. Rather than digging out your copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, you can simply add define: in front of any word in the seach box and Google will automatically tell you the definition.
Track packages – There are also a few features that are currently US-only such as the ability to track parcels from UPS, FedEx and USPS by typing the tracking number into Google.
Earthquakes – US users can also type earthquake in the search box to bring up information from the U.S. Geological Survey showing the time, place and magnitude of recent earthquakes.
Now you’ve got the basics as well as some Fast Fact tips up your sleeve, but Google’s gargantuan search service doesn’t end there. There are lots of extra parameters that you can use in the search box to narrow down your search. It’s worth taking the time to see what’s available as it could end up saving you a lot of time in the long run.
Filetype – If you’re after a specific document then it’s worth knowing that you can search for PDFs, PPTs, or XLS files, by adding filetype: and the 3-letter file abbreviation after the title – for example searching for Declaration of Independence filetype:pdf will find you a handy, printable document of one of US history’s most important documents, saving you a trip to the local library or the National Archives.
Missing words or letters – If you’re searching for something that you don’t know all the words for then Google will help you to fill in the blanks. All you need to do is use asterisk (*) in place of any missing words or letters and the search engine will find the answer for you – a godsend for working out pesky song lyrics and completing especially challenging crosswords.
Exact quotes – If you do know exactly the words you’re looking for then putting them within quote marks will refine the search. For example typing a direct quote from a book “it was a bright cold day in april, and the clocks were striking thirteen” will only bring up pages where it’s written exactly the same, missing out sites where it’s misquoted. However, there is a danger of being too precise and accidentally excluding relevant results. For example, if you type “george orwell”, then your results may miss out pages where the author is referred to by just his surname.
Related sites – If you find a website that you like, then typing related: followed by the website URL should locate some relevant sites for you, saving you from repeatedly googling the same thing over and over. You can also search something within a specific site, or type of site, which is good news as many site’s own search functions are very clunky. To do this, just type site: followed by the type of site (such as .org .biz) or the site name. For example, site: org or site: washingtonpost.com followed by your search term.
Highlight essential words – Google will usually ignore words like ‘and’, but if they’re essential to your seach then you can highlight them by putting a + sign in front of them. Using + and – signs, you can also highlight specific words that you do or don’t want to feature in your results. For example you could search for a recipe for chicken caesar salad without anchovies by typing caesar salad recipe +chicken -anchovies.
Search within a range – You can look for numbers within a certain range by putting … between amounts, for example, Samsung Blu-ray player £100…£150. This is particularly handy if you’re on a limited budget and you don’t want to waste time searching through items that are way too expensive. You can also just type £100… to look for anything above that amount with no top limit.
Some of Google’s search options are dependent on your chosen location, making them region specific.
Zip/post code – for example US users can type in any zip code to found out what area it represents. A similar service can be used for UK postcodes, bringing up a location map, and this also works on most place names.
Movie listings – Simply typing in movie will bring up cinema listings and you can specifiy by city or film title. You can also search for local weather using either a US zip code or any world city, while just entering weather on its own will give you the weather report for your current location.
Flights – If you’re looking at booking a trip then you can type flights from or flights to along with your starting point and destination (e.g. flights from London to Las Vegas). Google will tell you which airlines fly your chosen route and how frequent the flights are. What’s more, typing a flight number into Google will give you an instant update of the flight’s status to save you from constantly having to check a flight’s arrival board.
As well looking up simple things like film screening times and the nearest pizza restaurant, Google is also a good starting point for proper research.
Books – If you’re after a book that’s out of copyright, then you can use the Book function (on the left side of your results screen) for tracking down complete texts for works that are in the public domain.
Timeline – The timeline function can be used for restricting a search to a certain time period – you can choose from Past 24 hours, Past week, Past month and Past year or you can even specify a custom range.
What’s happening now? – For stuff that’s going on right now, such as sports games or big news stories, you can click on the Realtime tab on the left to get an up-to-date account, which is automatically updated as more results appear, while clicking on the News tab at the top of the page will bring an automatically updated list of stories from all around the world.
Words meaning the same thing – You can include symonyms in your search results by placing the ~ sign in front of your search term. For example, best christmas ~gifts will return results for presents and tokens as well as ‘gifts’.
Choose your reading level – Google also lets you search by reading level – enabling you to choose from basic, intermediate and advanced so that your results are as simple or as detailed as you require them to be.
Population statistics – You can search basic demographics such as population or unemployment rate followed by the US country or state or by country. US results are provided by the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while European country data comes from Eurostat.
Search similar concepts – Another handy feature is Google’s Wonder Wheel. Clicking on this option on the left of the screen after you’ve typed in your search term will return similar concepts that have been searched by other users, displaying them on a spider diagram (or wonder wheel, as Google puts it). You can then click through to these and toggle between concepts for further reading. Each time you click on a new search term, a new wonder wheel appears with more related concepts.
Prescription drug info – If you’re in the US, you can also search for a prescription drug by its generic or brand name and you’ll get a summary with the option to click through for more information from the National Institutes of Health.
And the rest
We’ve already covered some of the features listed on the left of the results page, such as the News and Realtime options, but there are still a few more ways of narrowing your search. You can also streamline your results by Videos, Shopping, Blogs, Discussions and Patents.
Make use of search tools – The list of search tools on the bottom left of the results screen will also let you cherrypick your findings by looking only for sites with images or looking for related searches, while the dictionary function will display a definition of any word you type along with a few usage examples.
Translate foreign sites – Clicking on the Translated Foreign Pages will do pretty much what it says by choosing the best language in which to search and giving you your results translated back in English. Great for checking out news coverage from around the world.
Filter your image search – You probably already know that you can also search for images, but trawling through millions of pictures can be tedious. Google lets you refine your search by using the tool bar of the left side of the screen. As well as filtering by colour and image size, you can also whittle the selection down by only including photos including certain elements such as faces.
Advanved search – By clicking on the Advanced Search on the right of the main search box, you can type in a variety of the parameters outlined above in one handy place, rather than clicking on each separate option or using the shorthand in the search box.
Google searches aren’t just limited to your desktop anymore – you can also look for stuff when you’re out and about, using your mobile phone.
Use your camera – Obviously you can do the usual searching with words or you can make use of your handset’s camera. All you need to do is fire up the Google Goggles app on Android or select Goggles on the Google app for iPhone, take a snap of the item you want to search for, and wait for the results.
Use your voice – If you’re keen on non-typing methods, you can also using the voice function to speak your query.
Instant results – Google Instant, the desktop feature that brings up possible results while you’re still typing your query, is now available as a beta version on mobile devices, making things a little faster. To turn it on you’ll need to fire up Google in your phone’s browser and tap the link under the seach box.
Location service – You can also turn on the location service for Google which means that if you search for pizza, then you’ll get results for nearby pizza restaurants and takeaways.
Have you got any other Google search tips that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments box below.