How to Search Better:
Google tricks

Google's default search behaviour is normally pretty good, but there are ways of tailoring it so you get a very precise kind of search.

Synonym search (~)

Put a tilde in front of words when you’d like to search for things with the same meaning, not just the precise same word. Google’s search algorithms are smart enough to come up with synonyms for a very large number of words, so searching for ‘~food ~facts’ will come up with pages covering nutrition and other related words.


The plus and minus tricks are not dissimilar to boolean searches, where keywords such as and, not, and or are included to control what results are returned. Real boolean searching is not particularly common, but Google does understand ‘OR’ (in capitals), coming back with pages which relate to either the first part of the search OR the second. In normal use you might as well run two separate searches yourself, but this is available if you need it.


You can get Google to define a word or a phrase very simply. Just type ‘define:’ followed by your text, and if Google has found definitions of that then you’ll be given a complete list taken from around the web. As well as just searching for actual definitions, the difference between this result and a normal search result is that the definitions list is designed to give all the information in the results page, not just snippets and links to other pages.


The colon trick applies to other searches as well. Type ‘movie: frankly my dear’ and you’ll be shown numerous links to Gone With The Wind web pages. You’ll also see pages which mention that phrase in passing but are about other movies, but that serendipity is part of the joy of web surfing.


This is more useful for web masters. Putting ‘link:’ in front of a web domain, making sure there’s no space between them, for example ‘’, will show you pages that link to that site. If there is a space after the ‘link:’ it’ll just include ‘link’ as a regular keyword in the search.


You can search in just one site, as long as it has been indexed by Google at some point. Type your search term with whatever tricks you want to include, then follow it with ‘site:’ and the domain, remembering not to use any spaces. Your search results will all come from only that site. On the other hand, if you’d like to exclude a site from your search, add a minus in front of the site: text, as in

Number range (..)

If you want to search for something using some kind of numeric range, then include the start and end numbers, separated by two full stops (periods for the Americans out there) and with no spaces. If the number range should have a unit of measure, for example kg or miles, don’t forget to include it. Searching for ‘Zeppelin albums 1970..1972’ comes back with Led Zeppelin albums recorded during that period. (It also includes pages which mention those years in relation to Led Zeppelin albums, whatever year they were released, so be aware that this, and all the other tricks we discuss here, are not infallible.

How to Search Better

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Taking control

Google Tricks

Natural language searching



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Google Calculator

Looking for web site optimisation tips instead? Read the Be Found pages.

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