How to Search Better:
Taking control of your searches

Learning the basics of how to talk to search engines means you can take control of your searches and get better results.


Know a particular phrase or set of words that narrows down what you’re after? One of the simplest tricks, and one which works in most search engines in use today, is to place quotes around a particular phrase. This tells the search engine that you only want results where that specific phrase occurs, not just anything with those words in any order and place. Search for ‘the best Mac game’, and you might get back pages which discuss why a particular Mac game is not the best; all the words you wanted, but in a rather different order. Search for “the best Mac game”, however, and you’re more likely to find pages discussing which is the best Mac game. However, be aware that if a page contained the phrase “the best game for the Mac” it wouldn’t match your search. Quoting is a useful search technique, but do use it with care.

Plus and minus

We all use more than one word at a time when searching. The trouble here is that most search engines won’t guarantee that every word will be found in each result. If there’s something that you definitely want in any result, put a plus character in front of it. For example, searching for ‘+Mac Tiger news’ will only come back with articles with “Mac” somewhere inside, whereas leaving that off would be as likely to gather news stories about wild animals. As you can see, used well, this can make a tremendous difference to your search results.

Just as adding a plus in front of a word demands that it must be in each result, putting a minus on front of a word tells the search engine to remove any results with that word. Including ‘-animal’ in the search will make sure no pages with that word are included. Be aware that you may exclude relevant pages with this if you pick your minus words unwisely.

Duplicating words and phrases

It is a pretty crude trick, but doubling up on a particularly important part of your search term can give it added weight in the eyes of the search engine. The results you get back will be noticably weighted in that direction. but note that it is generally pointless to add more than a second instance of a word.

Putting it all together

Each of these tricks will help you get better, more relevant search results. It goes further than this, of course; combining them will take your search powers to yet another level. Quoting multiple sets of phrases and including plus or minus to require or reject phrases or key words will get your search engine working harder with very little extra effort from you. Keep this in mind as we go over other tricks later on, as many can be grouped, included and excluded in this way.

How to Search Better

What are you looking for?

Taking control

Google Tricks

Natural language searching



Browser tabs

Google Calculator

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

Have you found the information on this site useful? If you like, you can make a small donation directly to my hosting bills! It would be deeply appreciated.