Search Smarter

Improve your Google searches

If you turn to for the bulk of your Web searches, learning some of its lesser-known tricks is worthwhile. Simply by adjusting your preferences and using some special expressions, you can home in on the right results more quickly.

Set Your Preferences: In your Web browser, go to and click on the Preferences link to the right of the search field. Two options here can be particularly useful. In the Number Of Results section, use the pop-up menu to change the default Display 10 Results Per Page option to a nice large number (such as 100). Having more results on each page means less clicking.

Likewise, save yourself some typing by selecting the Provide Query Suggestions In The Search Box option in the Query Suggestions section. Google will now guess the rest of a search term as you enter it, providing common search terms and likely matches. (A pop-up list of suggested terms will appear; use the arrow keys to navigate the list, and press return to select a term.)

Once you’ve customized your settings, click on Save Preferences. Note that you must repeat this procedure in each browser you use—Mozilla Firefox ( ) and Apple’s Safari ( ), for example—but that the settings will apply not only when you search from the Google page, but also when you use your browser’s toolbar search field.

Get Specific with Quotes: Most people simply type one or more words into Google’s search field, press return, and then scan the results for something that looks like a match. But you can increase the chances that what you’re looking for appears among the first few hits by being more specific with your searches. For example, by default, Google looks for pages containing all the words you enter in the search field, in any order and in any location on the page. Suppose you remember reading the phrase “motion itself is impossible” in an article I wrote several years ago about an ancient Greek philosopher. If you do a Google search for motion itself is impossible, that article won’t show up in the first 1,000 matches, because so many pages contain all four of those words somewhere. However, enclose the phrase in quotation marks ("motion itself is impossible"), and my article about Zeno’s Paradoxes on Interesting Thing of the Day is the first hit. Whenever you want to find a phrase that includes common words, you can improve your odds by enclosing the phrase in quotation marks.

Leave Out What You Don’t Want: If you want Google to omit pages that contain a word, put a minus sign (-) in front of that word. For example, if you’re searching for information on Pluto the astronomical body, you might want to weed out mentions of Pluto the cartoon character. To do this, try a search like Pluto -Disney.

Find This OR That: Sometimes you don’t want Google to search for all the terms you enter, but rather to show you pages with any of the terms you enter. To broaden a search this way, you can type the word OR (in capital letters) between two words. Say you want to find a recipe that uses either of the two cheeses you have in your refrigerator. If you search for recipe emmentaler mimolette, you’ll find only pages that mention all three words—recipe, Emmentaler, and Mimolette. If you search for recipe emmentaler OR mimolette, Google returns results that contain the word recipe and either the word Emmentaler or the word Mimolette.

Find Similar Words: When searching the Web, you often know approximately what you’re looking for but are unsure exactly how something may be phrased on a particular site. For example, say you’re looking for a wearable Bluetooth audio device, but you don’t know whether to search for headphones, earphones, earbuds, headsets, or any of numerous other similar terms. In that case, place a tilde (~), which means “words like this” (in other words, synonyms or near synonyms) in front of the word you’re unsure of. Search for bluetooth ~headphones, and Google returns pages with the word Bluetooth as well as the word headphones and similar terms.

Learn More Google Tricks: To learn about more special Google search features, such as weather reports, airport flight information, package tracking, and movie show times, see Google’s Search Features page.

Senior Contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of numerous e-books about OS X.

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