Every Google Search Operator You’ll Ever Need

shutterstock_132552677I consider myself a bit of a Boolean geek. I fell in love with Boolean search in college, but it wasn’t until I got hold of Lexis-Nexis after college that I realized the power of search. When Google came around many moons later, I was disappointed that I couldn’t use the same Boolean operators that I could elsewhere — Google wants the experience to be as simple as possible, and, let’s face it, Boolean search strings can be pretty overwhelming. But then again, so can long Google search strings.

As it turns out, Google uses many of the same search operators that other Boolean systems do; it just changes the terms around in places. It also has a few search operators that are very poorly documented (and possibly on their way out the Google door, like the + and ~ operators).

So, to help us all out, I’ve compiled as thorough as possible comparison of Google and “traditional” Boolean notation, as represented by the Cision search tool we use here at HB. If you have any questions, comments or additions, please share them below!

OPERATOR or TERM

DESCRIPTION

GOOGLE SEARCH EXAMPLES

BOOLEAN (CISION) SEARCH EXAMPLES

string

A search string is a word or phrase. Phrases are included in quotes. “Stop words” are short words that are either ignored by Google (e.g., and, or, the, etc.) or ones that can be mistaken for operators. You can force the search engine to find them by enclosing them in quotes. Searches are generally not case sensitive, though Cision and Lexis-Nexis support case-sensitive searches (see below).

Hart-Boillot

HB

“HB Agency”

Hart-Boillot

HB

“HB Agency”

AND

(or space)

Search results must include all terms connected by the AND operator. In Google Search, the AND is implied by a space (unless the space is inside quotes).

“Kevin Hart” “HB Agency”

PR “HB Agency”

“Kevin Hart” AND “HB Agency”

PR AND “HB Agency”

OR

(or |)

Search results can include any terms connected by the OR operator. Google recognizes either OR or the | pipe symbol.

“Kevin Hard” OR “Nicolas Boillot”

Hart-Boillot | HB

“Kevin Hard” OR “Nicolas Boillot”

Hart-Boillot OR HB

NOT

(or )

(or AND NOT)

Search results must not include any of the terms that follow the NOT operator. In Google Search, precede any term you want to exclude with a minus sign (-). Use “AND NOT” in Cision to be safe.

“alternative energy” -nuclear

publicity -“public relations”

“alternative energy” AND NOT nuclear

publicity AND NOT “public relations”

( )

order of execution and grouping

Parentheses should be used to group or nest search terms together and ensure the proper order of execution (just like in math).

(Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | (day date)) -prnewswire

(Monday OR Tuesday OR Wednesday OR Thursday OR Friday OR Saturday OR Sunday OR (day AND date)) AND NOT prnewswire

PROXIMITY

(or NEAR)

(or W/#)

(or AROUND(#))

Proximity operators search for words or phrases that occur near one another. They operate very differently depending on the system. NEAR doesn’t typically take a parameter, but W/# is followed by a number (#) indicating how many characters can separate the two terms. Google’s completely unknown and unsupported AROUND(#) takes a number indicating how many words can separate the terms.

“HB Agency” AROUND(5) “public relations”

Cision does not currently support proximity searches in the Advanced search, but I believe Lexis-Nexis takes the w/# notation. It also accepts w/s (within the sentence) and w/p (within the paragraph).

WILDCARD

(or *)

(or .)

(or ?)

The asterisk (*) is used in most engines to represent zero or more characters, and can appear by itself or at the end of an initial string. In Google, the * represents one word. The period (.) or the question mark (?) is used in many engines to indicate only 1 character. Both Google Search and Cision support the *, though in Google Search the * represents 1 word.

The quick * fox ran over the *

Four score ** ago

test | text

test | testing | tester

The quick * fox ran over the *

Four score * * ago

te?t

test*

SEARCH SPECIFIC SITE

(or site:)

In Google, you can focus your search on a single site or domain.

site:www.hbagency.com “Mark O’Toole”

site:.gov insurance

n/a

FIND PAGES THAT LINK TO A URL

(or link:)

In Google, you can find pages that link to a certain page.

link:www.hbagency.com

n/a

FIND RELATED PAGES

(or related:)

In Google, you can find which other pages Google thinks are related to a particular URL.

related:www.hbagency.com

n/a

SEARCH TITLES ONLY 

(or title:)

In Cision, by default you are searching both titles and the full text. You can search only in titles using the title: modifier.

n/a

title:”HB Agency”

SEARCH FULL TEXT ONLY

(or fulltext:)

In Cision, by default you are searching both titles and the full text. You can search only in full text using the fulltext: modifier.

n/a

fulltext:”HB Agency”

CASE SENSITIVE SEARCH

(or title_cs:)

(or fulltext_cs:)

In Cision, you can perform case sensitive searches by adding _cs to either the title: or fulltext: search modifier.

n/a

fulltext_cs:”HB Agency”

title_cs:”HB Agency”

SEARCH A NUMERIC RANGE

(or ..)

In Google, two dots can be used between two numbers to indicate a range.

camera $50..$100

 n/a

Uncivil Discourse & Killed Services: You Get What You Pay For

Click anywhere on the "Google Graveyard" image above to lay flowers on the grave of your favorite deceased Google product

Click anywhere on the “Google Graveyard” image above to lay flowers on the grave of your favorite deceased Google product

Online civil discourse has gone down the crapper, Google’s messing with marketers and journalists, and the “social graph” rules Facebook and search alike. What’s a PR pro to do? Start spending some money on the important stuff.

Google’s making the (blog) headlines lately by killing Google Reader and apparently ignoring Google Alerts, leading journalists and marketing pros alike to throw their hands up in disgust and give up.

All the while, Google is plowing ahead with its plans to replace Evernote (good luck getting any love for this product from marketers or PR people, Google) as the networked note taking leader and to update its search algorithms to place even more emphasis on Google+ by making authorship (as defined in your Google+ profile) and your social graph even more important to make it to the top of people’s search engine results pages.

Meanwhile, our own ability to be civil has been tested by two high-profile cases (the firing of two people over in-person and online comments and the ongoing Steubenville rape case) involving the misuse of social media (and much, much worse) and its repercussions. I read many of the tweets and Facebook updates involved, and it depressed me. Let’s face it: social media is going to Hell in a bandwagon — one that many marketers are just now jumping on.

As I spent time researching and reading up on both of these stories — sifting through both opinion and fact — I harkened back to a wonderful conversation that Neville Hobson had with Ike Pigott on FIR #694 about the devaluation of opinion (and the proper research that needs to back it up).

If I Wanted Your Opinion I’d Ask for It on YouTube

"YouTube video Brandweer Nederweert" by mauritsonline

“YouTube video Brandweer Nederweert” by mauritsonline

Ike argues on the podcast that as it becomes easier and easier to share opinions, the overall value of opinion is dropping. Add to that the difficulty of sifting through the incredible amount of content that gets generated at ever increasing rates and the cost of researching facts is rising.

The pessimist in me would argue that the Internet is turning into one big YouTube comment thread. And the optimist in me isn’t far behind.

Google has been one very powerful tool in the battle of fact vs. fiction. But it has not been infallible: it remains a reflection of the will (or at least the wherefore) of the masses, who have not always been right. Most of the time, it works out: if, for example, I don’t have my AP Stylebook at hand, I’ll occasionally rely on comparing the number of Google entries for two alternate spellings of a word to decide which one to use, but I have less faith in that than I do in Wikipedia as the last word on anything outside of tech.

But today’s Google search has evolved beyond simply measuring the will of the masses. Today, in addition to scoring search results on signs of external validity, such as inbound links, Google is putting more and more emphasis on your social graph. The results you see in Google search today are increasingly tied not to any objective measure of validity, but to completely subjective measures, such as how close of a relationship you have with the content author. 

This is a terrifying situation for me. If you don’t understand why, let me point you to a TED talk by Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble:


In short, the fishbowl is fun to watch for a little while, but you don’t want to live there.

The Good News(?) Part 1: Less Acrimony Among “Friends”?

Is there any good news in all of this? Well, one could argue that, if we’re surrounded only by friends and people who think like us online, there will be fewer disagreements. But that’s incredibly naive: the occasional stray non-conforming message will still make it through Facebook’s “PageRank” algorithm and Google’s “Panda” engine, and when it does, it will be all the more jarring.

The Good News(?) Part 2: Author Rank to Save the Day?

"Writer's Digest Book Shipment" by angelshupe

“Writer’s Digest Book Shipment” by angelshupe

There is one more hope for all of this: Google’s Author Rank may just save the day. Marketers are scrambling to figure out how to best prepare for the emergence of Author Rank, which places more emphasis on authorship than on the site an article appears on. If Author Rank can still keep things objective, and not rely too heavily on the social graph, I may change my opinion of Google. Until then, I’m treading cautiously and always exploring alternatives.

Biting the Hand that Feeds You

One final note on this horrible Google mess, one inspired by a comment from Fresh Grounder Ruth Bazinet: I don’t think Google had any idea how much some of the biggest influencers of online opinion (myself not included) depend on both Google Reader and Google Alerts. All of the negative publicity just may backfire. Take, for example, Evernote’s recent revelation that downloads of their product have jumped since the announcement of Google Keep. Was spite perhaps partially responsible for the spike? As Mike Loukides pointed out, it’s a matter of “stability as a service,” and Google applications and services don’t have a great track record there.

The Internet is not a civil place. But it is an interesting and useful place, and as long as I have good search tools and good filter tools, I don’t care if what you say is wrong or disagreeable. When these tools start breaking down, I get cranky. But, as they say, you get what you pay for. We’ve largely relied on free versions of these tools and services, and I think it may be time to pony up the dough and put our money where or minds are.

Social and Search

Photo by Gerlos

Last week I was invited back to a panel at the ninth “Marketing to the High-End Bride” event, held at the newly-opened W Hotel in Boston — you can hear the audio and see some photos on the WeddingProf site. At the event, I finally got to meet Scott Smigler of Exclusive Concepts. I really enjoyed our conversation — both on the stage (where we disagreed about ghost writing but agreed on most everything else) and after the event. Scott’s organizing an upcoming event for SEMPO Boston, and asked what I thought about the intersection between search and social these days. Here’s my response — I hope to be able to share my perspective at the event — I’ll let you know as soon as it’s organized.

In Fresh Ground’s opinion, there are two approaches to social media: proactive and reactive. Proactive social media is content-driven, reactive social media is conversation-driven.

Either way, search is often a second thought — most practitioners take a “if you build it they will find it” attitude when it comes to social media and search. They figure that either way — by virtue of good content, frequent updates and a large community — search will just happen. This is partly true, but there’s still a disconnect between these two fields that can only be bridged through analytics and metrics: understanding the direct relationship between social, search and web traffic.

I think most social media people don’t think about the other way around — that search can drive social. This negative bias was reinforced recently when Facebook overtook Google in terms of site traffic sources. We perhaps need to be reminded that it’s still a two-way street, and that a stronger emphasis on search can still be very rewarding.

What do you think about this intersection?