Shave time off your Web searches by using operators

Focus your search results automatically by including characters and words that put a finer point on your queries.

Nobody wants to spend time scrolling through thousands of search results to find the page that contains the information they're looking for. In fact, few people bother looking beyond the first page of 10 results, choosing instead to recraft their search phrase and try again. But with the help of a few search operators, you can increase substantially the chances that you'll find what you're looking for on your first search try. (Note: not all of these work in every search engine.)

Restating the Obvious Operators
I'll wager you know all about using the plus sign (+) to search for two terms appearing together, the minus sign (-) to find pages that contain one term but not another, the asterisk (*) wildcard to search for a term along with any other word, and quotes ("blah de blah") to find an exact phrase. Here's another search character you might find handy: Place a tilde (~) directly in front of your search term to find pages with words similar to the term in question. So searching ~inexpensive laptop will return pages that have the term "cheap laptop," "affordable laptop," and "low-cost laptop" as well.

Many of my favorite Web sites have terrible site-search boxes. I usually have a much better chance of finding what I'm looking for on the site by going to Google or another search engine, and entering my search term along with site:www.thesitename.com (or .org, .edu, etc.) Here are some of my other favorite search limiters:

define:word to return a definition;
link:url to find pages that contain a link to a specific site or page;
inurl:searchterm (or allinurl:searchterm) to retrieve pages whose URL contains a specific word or phrase;
intitle:searchterm (or allintitle:searchterm the find pages with the word or phrase in their title; and,
info:url (or id:url) to get information about the page.

Javascript Bonus: Curious about when the page you're on was last updated? Just type javascript:alert(document.lastModified) in the address bar and press Enter to see the date and time in a pop-up window.

More Search Helpers
If you're looking for a weather report, simply enter weather place or zip code and press Enter to see the temperature, conditions, and forecast for that locale. To keep adult-oriented content out of the results, use safesearch: searchterm. And to see pages similar to another page, type related: url.

Tomorrow: Five quick-and-easy Microsoft Excel formatting tricks.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

    ARTICLE DISCUSSION

    Conversation powered by Livefyre

    Don't Miss
    Hot Products
    Trending on CNET

    Hot on CNET

    CNET's giving away a 3D printer

    Enter for a chance to win* the Makerbot Replicator 3D Printer and all the supplies you need to get started.