O'Reilly logo

Google Power Search by Stephan Spencer

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Chapter 1. Refining Your Searches

If your search yields millions of search results, then your search query is too broad. Rather than skim over many pages of search results, use these search refinement tips to provide more focused results:

  • Multiple words: Avoid making one-word queries.

  • Case insensitivity: There’s no need to capitalize.

  • Superfluous words: Drop overly common words.

  • Exact phrases: Put quotes around phrases.

  • Word order: Arrange your words in the order you think they would appear in the documents you’re looking for.

  • Singular versus plural: Use plural if you think the word will appear in that form in the documents you’re looking for.

  • Wildcard: * can substitute for a whole word in a multiword search.

  • Number range: .. between numbers will match on numbers within that range.

  • Punctuation: A hyphenated search word will also yield pages with the un-hyphenated version. Not so with apostrophes.

  • Accents: Don’t incorporate accents into search words if you don’t think they’ll appear in the documents you’re looking for.

  • Boolean logic: Use OR and - to fine-tune your search.

  • Stemming: Google may also match on variations of your search word; to turn this off, use double quotation marks to define an exact word or phrase.

  • Synonyms: ~ in front of a word will also match on other words that Google considers to be synonymous or related.

Multiple Words

The first key to refining a search is to use a multiple-word query. A one-word search query isn’t going to give you a targeted a search result. As a simple example, searching for ohio car buyer statistics instead of statistics will obviously yield a smaller and more specific set of search results. Start with the shortest relevant search query, see what results you get, then refine it by adding more words and operators after that if the results are too broad.

Case Insensitivity

Searches are case insensitive for the most part, so capitalizing the word Ohio in the above example is unnecessary, as it would return the same results. Note that search operators such as site: must not be capitalized (operators are explained in more detail later in the book) but OR should be capitalized if you mean to use it as a Boolean operator rather than a keyword.

Superfluous Words

Overly common words like the, an, of, in, where, who, and is are known as stop words. Google usually omits these words from a query unless it detects some kind of special case scenario, such as if they are part of a common phrase, a name of a place, the title of a book, etc.

Avoid formulating your query as a question. A search like how many female consumers in ohio buy cars? is not an effective query. Questions invariably contain superfluous words that probably won’t appear in the text of the documents you are searching for (such as the word many). Thus, a large number of useful documents will have been eliminated.

Exact Phrases

If you’re looking for a phrase rather than a collection of words interspersed in the document, put quotes around your search query. Enclosing a query in quotes ensures that Google will match those words only if they occur within an exact phrase. Otherwise, Google will return pages where the words appear in any order, anywhere on the page. For example, a market research query returns many more (but less useful) results than “market research” would.

You can include multiple phrases in the same query, such as “market research” consultants “new zealand”; such a query would match on documents that contain the word consultants in front of or behind the phrase market research, but giving preference to pages where consultants appears after market research.

Don’t make a query out of a whole phrase if you aren’t sure about the word order. In the example of “market research” consultants “new zealand” you might be tempted to simply put one set of quotes around the whole set of words (like so: “market research consultants new zealand”). This would return a nearly empty result set because it’s not a likely order of words used in natural language.

Word Order

It’s important to consider the order of the words you use in your search query, because it can affect not only the number of results, but the relative rankings of those results as well. Pages where those words/phrases appear in the order given in your search query will appear higher in the results.

Singular Versus Plural

Consider whether the pages you seek are more likely to contain the singular form or the plural form of a given keyword, and then use that form in your search query. For example, a search for car buyers females statistics does not return nearly as good a set of results as car buyers female statistics.


The asterisk acts as a wildcard character and allows you to omit one or more words in a search phrase. This is useful in multiple ways. You can substitute a word or name that you can’t remember or which has multiple spellings. You can also use the asterisk in market research where you want to concentrate on specific keywords that are frequently used as part of phrases, such as ohio * cars, in which the asterisk would represent many useful words like used, new, wrecked, classic, or specific properties (red, convertible, etc.) or brands (Honda, Ford, etc.). If you wish to learn more about marketing your own books, you’d be better off with a search for marketing * books than marketing books, as the latter would return more results discussing books about marketing.

Asterisks can be used as a substitute only for an entire word—not for a part of a word.

The asterisk is even more helpful when used within an exact phrase search. For example, “standards * marketing” would match pages that match for the phrases standards for marketing, standards in marketing, as well as standards and marketing, to name a few.

When you put numbers between the *, Google will display the product of those two numbers. This is an exception to the wildcard use case.

Number Range

Your Google search can span a numerical range; you indicate the range by using two dots between two numbers, which could be years, dollar amounts, or any other numerical value.

For example, a search for confidential business plan 2008..2011 will find documents that mention 2008 or 2009 or 2010 or 2011. The query confidential business plan $2000000..$5000000 will match documents that mention dollar figures anywhere in the range of $2 million to $5 million, even if commas are present in the numbers.

As a shortcut, you can leave off the high end and Google will assume infinity. For example, 100.. will match on any number greater than or equal to 100. Use 0..100 to match numbers less than or equal to 100.

Note that currency symbols such as $ change the nature of a number. A search for Nikon 400 will yield different results than Nikon $400.


Other than these special characters (wildcard and range indicators), most punctuation gets ignored. An important exception is the hyphen. A search query of on-site consulting will be interpreted as onsite consulting OR on-site consulting OR on site consulting. The hyphen indicates a strong relationship between two words; the underscore symbol also connects two words under most conditions.

Another important exception is the apostrophe, which is matched exactly if contained within the word. So, marketer’s toolkit will return different results from marketers’ toolkit, but the latter will be equivalent to marketers toolkit (i.e., without the apostrophe).


Accents are yet another exception. A search for internet cafés manhattan will yield a markedly different set of results than internet cafes manhattan. For search terms and phrases that include accents, always perform your search with and without the accent to ensure a complete set of results.

Boolean Logic

You may find that you want to match on both the singular and plural forms of a word. In that case, you can use the OR search operator, as in “direct marketing consultant OR consultants”. Note that the OR should be capitalized to distinguish it from or as a keyword.

You may be wondering if, since there is an OR operator, there is an AND operator as well. Indeed there is. However, it is not necessary to specify it, because it is automatically implied. So don’t bother with it.

Google also offers an exclusion operator, but it’s not called NOT. It’s the minus sign (-). It works as you might expect, eliminating from the search results the subsequent word or quote-encapsulated exact phrase. For example, confidential “business plan” OR “marketing plan” -template will not return pages in the results if they mention the word template, thus effectively eliminating the sample templates from the results and displaying a much higher percentage of actual business plans and marketing plans. (As an example of a query with a phrase negated instead of a single word, consider “marketing plan” -“business plan”.)

The OR operator can be abbreviated as a pipe symbol (|). Thus, the previous search query can be fed to Google as confidential (“business plan” | “marketing plan”) -template.

Google has exceptions for all of these operators. For instance, if the word “or” is part of a phrase, Google will probably detect it as such and not treat the “or” as an operator. Similarly, the + symbol can be part of a common word or term (such as the C++ programming language or the Notepad++ text editor), or as an addition operator when it appears between two numbers; Google will display their sum. When the – is used between two words as a hyphen, Google will not treat it as a “not” operator; it will treat the two words as one hyphenated term.


Sometimes, Google automatically matches on variations of a word. This is called stemming. Google does this by matching words that are based on the same stem as the keyword entered as a search term.

So, for the query electronics distributing market research, Google will match pages that don’t mention the word distributing but instead a variation on the stem distribute: e.g., the keywords distributor, distributors, and distribution.

You can disable the automatic stemming of a word by putting quotes around it. For instance, electronics “distributing” market research will not match on distribution, distributors, distributor, and so on.


You can expand your search beyond stemming to incorporate various synonyms too, using the tilde (~) operator. For instance, market research data ~grocery will also include pages in the results that mention foods, shopping or supermarkets, rather than grocery.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required