Search engines are pretty good at finding what you’re looking for these days, but sometimes they still come up short. For those occasions, there are a few little-known tricks that come in handy. So here are some tips for better googling (as it’s the most popular search engine), but many will work on other search engines too.


1. Exact phrase Exact search

Exact search Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian The simplest and most effective way to search for something specific is to use quote marks around a phrase or name to search for those exact words in that exact order. For instance, searching for Joe Bloggs will show results with both Joe and Bloggs but not necessarily placed sequentially. Searching for “Joe Bloggs” will surface only those that specifically have the name Joe Bloggs somewhere on the page. The exact or explicit phrase search is handy for excluding more common but less relevant results.

2. Exclude terms

“Joe Bloggs” -jeans
Facebook Twitter Pinterest
“Joe Bloggs” -jeans Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
If an exact phrase doesn’t get you what you need, you can specifically exclude certain words using the minus symbol.

A search for “Joe Bloggs” -jeans will find results for Joe Bloggs, but it will exclude those results for the Joe Bloggs brand of jeans.

OR search for things that could be one thing or another, but you don’t need both terms to exist on a single page. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Default text searches find results with all the words of the query. Using the OR term, you can search for one or another term, not just all the terms. OR searches can be useful for finding things that you’re not sure which term will be used from a known list.

4. Synonym search

Searching using synonyms helps cover all bases. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Sometimes it’s useful to search for a less specific term. If you’re not sure which term will be used, you can use a synonym search. Searching for plumbing ~university will bring up results for plumbing from colleges and universities, for example.

5. Search within a site Google site search

Use Google to search a particular site. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The search engines of most websites are poor. You can search using Google instead by using the site or domain limiter.