The world’s most popular search engine can do a lot more than just look up the latest NFL scores or find funny pictures of cats. There’s a vast array of advanced search tricks that anyone – but especially developers – can use to dig deep into data. In this article, we’ll take a look at ten different Google search hacks that those who work with code can use on a daily basis to find what they’re looking for.
Most of the time, Google can figure out what you’re asking, but once you get past basic searches you’re going to start hitting obstacles. Much of what most of us use Google for is relatively simple: for example, you need the nearest sushi restaurant, or you're looking for a dry cleaner, or you need to know what day the Fourth of July falls on.
When our queries for information get more complex, Google starts to stumble a little. This search engine, while incredibly sophisticated, is still just a giant computational machine. It only does what it’s programmed to do. That’s where advanced search hacks come into play, using operators, i.e., terms and punctuation that can make searching into more of an exact science rather than a "needle in the haystack" exercise. You can use these simple operators alone or combined to find more information than you would with a simple search.
Before we get started, it’s good to familiarize yourself with a few of the more basic Google search modifiers that you can use both by themselves or in tandem with others in order to make your searches more powerful. These include:
- Putting quotation marks around a phrase tells Google that you’re looking for those exact words, in that exact order, in that exact proximity: “cute puppies”
- Google recognizes Boolean search operators. If you want puppies and kittens, type puppies AND kittens. Either one? Puppies OR kittens. Want to exclude something? Puppies –kittens.
- Find similar things using the tilde symbol before your search term.
- Kick out results from certain domains: “low carb” –amazon
- Try a wildcard search and let Google fill in the blanks: three blind *
You need to schedule a meeting with someone, but they’re in Russia and you’re in Arizona? No problem. You can use Google to figure out what time it is in various time zones simply by typing in the country and the word “time”, as seen below:
You can also use Google to look up when future holidays are set to fall in the calendar, simply by typing the holiday and the year – “Labor Day 2015”. Looking for movie times? Just type the word “show times” and you’ll see a list of what’s showing in your area, along with trailers, ratings, and theaters.
If you want to know more about a current flight, type in the carrier plus the flight number and you’ll get instant flight tracking information.
Google officially recognizes several different types of files, and using the modifier “filetype” users can dig into results that they wouldn’t normally see in regular search results:
developer filetype:pdf “best practices”
There are a lot of types of files that Google doesn’t necessarily recognize as official, but you can still look for them nonetheless using the shortcuts found below (source: http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/Untangling_the_Web.pdf).
What if you want to find PDF files on perceptual computing, but you don’t want your search to include anything about the Kinect? You can do a bit of combination searching:
“perceptual computing” –Kinect filetype:PDF
Search within a site or URL
You can use Google to search within any site: site: http://software.intel.com/en-us/windows “Ultrabook development”. You can also see what a site used to look like by using the cache command: cache:http://software.intel.com/en-us/windows; this works great for sites that are temporarily unavailable. There are many more Google search modifiers you can use to search different aspects of a website, including:
- Intitle: look for information only within website page titles, i.e., intitle:Ultrabook
- Inurl: looks with the URL of a website, i.e., inurl:SDK
- Link: search for links to pages
- Inanchor: search only within a link’s anchor text on the page
Find related items
If you find a website you like, and you’d like to find more in the same genre, you can do this:
You can also use the tilde in front of a word to find related items:
Search within top-level domains
You can limit your search parameters to only look inside top-level domains:
This works for any top-level domain, including .edu, .org, .net, etc. Combine this with other modifiers to really make your searches interesting:
“best practices” site:gov inurl:developer
You get an email from a fellow developer across the world who has signed their name in their native language – and your email program doesn’t recognize it. You can copy and paste that item into http://translate.google.com/ to get an instant translation.
In addition, if you’re not sure what something looks like, not sure of a word spoken in another language, or if the person you’re emailing back and forth is a man or a woman due to unfamiliar spelling of their name, you can type this term into http://images.google.com/ to figure it out:
Convert and calculate
Google has an extremely sophisticated calculator that you can use for mathematical functions as well as conversions. Here are a few examples of this; you can simply type these right into the Google search field:
19.5 cm in inches
And so on. Google can also do much more complex problems and conversions; you can find out how to build your queries so Google knows what to do with them at the official Google Calculator help page.
All of the search modifiers in this article and many, many more can be found at the following easy-to-use portals:
- http://www.soople.com/: a master Google calculator and conversion guide
- http://www.faganfinder.com/google/: the definitive guide to everything Google can possibly do
- http://www.googleguide.com: sophisticated Google search guide for both novices and advanced users
- http://www.google.com/advanced_search: a quick shortcut to some of Google’s advanced search parameters
There’s a lot of very interesting searches you can come up with by putting common search modifiers together; it just takes some experimenting to see what will work. For example:
site:washpost.com ~college "test scores" -SATs 2011..2012
This search is looking within a particular site, for words related to the word “college”, searching for the exact phrase “test scores”, but not SAT-related information, dated between the years 2011 and 2012.
filetype:doc “perceptual computing” intitle: gestures *hand
You’re asking Google to bring back Word documents that have the phrase “perceptual computing” with words that are related to hand.
Make your searches more powerful
The search modifiers outlined in this article really are just scratching the surface of what Google is able to do. Many people don’t realize how much Google is truly capable of, and it can really save you a lot of time the more you are able to refine what you are looking for. What’s your favorite Google hack that has helped you solve an issue, track down an item, or just found something interesting? Please share in the comments.