20 Surprising Things You Can Do With Google Search
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Googling has become second nature to most of us, with many people consulting the search engine dozens of times per day.
The company’s flagship product is powered by a plethora of algorithms designed to dole out the most relevant results for anything we type in the search box. But sometimes, it takes special syntax and a little digging to find exactly what you’re looking for. To wrangle Google search, you must first understand how precise you can get with the tool, then learn what to type in or what settings to adjust to achieve that level of precision.
Google search is a major resource for discovery, with a Trends page that shows you what related searches others have entered and how interest has waxed and waned over time. Search also has plenty of bells and whistles to help you complete certain tasks, such as currency conversations and package tracking, to save you a few clicks to a third-party’s website.
Click through the slideshow to become more fluent in Google’s language and learn what the search engine can do for you.
Related video: How to Get Your Website Ranked on Google News
Emphasize certain words and block others.
Most people understand that the words they enter into Google search will match the results Google serves up. But did you know that you can take it further, putting a plus sign (+) in front of one of your search terms to add emphasis? In other words, Google’s default setting is to give results that might not include every word of your query. Adding a plus tells the search engine, “This word is essential.”
Beyond marking certain words as important, you can also add words to your query that you want to exclude from the results by adding a minus (-) in front of them.
For example, if you’re attending a conference this year, such as CES, and you want to find content online about last year’s event, you could search “CES +2018 -2019” to pinpoint your search.
Add quotation marks around phrases or word strings.
If you’re looking for something specific, such as a book, it might help to put its full name (title, etc.) in quotes. The signifies to Google that you want results with those words in that order, not results with any or all of those words in them.
You can also use this to find certain categories of information (i.e. “debuting in March” TV shows). Any websites or publications that have compiled this information and used this phrase will come up. Or if you remember a certain phrase from something you’ve read but don't know where it came from, this tactic might help you resurface it more quickly.
Search for a phrase even if you don’t know all the words.
So you overheard a song in a loud coffee shop, Shazam couldn’t identify it but you still really want to know what is was. If you caught some of the words, consider Googling the words you did register in a string and wherever there’s a word you’re unsure about, replace it with an asterisk.
Try it with “All I want for * is you.” This query will inevitably surface Mariah Carey’s hit, “All I want For Christmas Is You.”
This could also work for quotes generally, if you’re confident of at least a few of the words and the order in which they were spoken.
Do two searches at once.
You read that right. If you have two ideas about how to phrase a search, or just two things you’re interested in finding more info about, you can search for both with the word “OR” between them. An example might be “online marketing tools OR digital marketing software.” This works for individual words or phrases. If you want to search using specific phrases, again, put each one in quotation marks for best results.
You can use “AND” instead of “OR” if you want two words or phrases included in your search, as opposed to one or the other.
Specify which website you want results from.
Say you’re looking for crowdfunding tips on Entrepreneur.com. A search such as “site:entrepreneur.com crowdfunding” will make sure that only Entrepreneur.com results come up. Another example might be that you want to find information about a company’s CEO. You might search that company’s website for that individual’s name or “CEO.”
Note: Your query cannot have a space between the colon and the beginning of the site name, or this shortcut won’t work. You can search specific sections of sites, though, provided the partial URL matches actual URLs on the site you’re targeting -- “site:entrepreneur.com/video crowdfunding” is a valid query that will pull up video posts. Also, keep “site” lowercase.
Find a new site to browse.
Perhaps you’ve done an exhaustive search for a product or some information on a website you’d thought would have what you needed. Surely there are other sites out there that could give you what you’re looking for. In these cases, Google can tell you what websites are comparable to the one you’ve been sifting through. Search “related:URL” with or without additional keywords to find results from similar sites. (Again, use lowercase for text preceding the colon, and no space between the colon and the URL.)
Search for personal results.
If you’re logged into a Google account and you search something like “my trips,” “my flights” or “my reservations,” Google will generate a table of that information for you at the top of your search results list. This can save you a couple of steps, as opposed to opening your Gmail and searching an airline or restaurant name, for instance.
Track a package.
Skip some steps and track a package right from Google. If you have the tracking number handy, just Google it. If Google doesn’t recognize it as a tracking number, try Googling “track package,” then typing or pasting the number into the field that comes up. You may not need to click “Find Carrier” if the search returns options.
A shortcut to this is highlighting and right-clicking (or holding down “control” as you click if you’re using a Mac) a tracking number, e.g. in your email.
While many carriers email you the tracking number with a convenient button or link, this is still a useful feature if you just have the number.
Find a page that links to your website.
Maybe you have a blog or website and you’re wondering whether others are linking out to it. Short of looking at Google analytics or another traffic-monitoring source, you can find out who’s driving visitors to your site by searching your URL with the following syntax: “link:example.com” (any URL -- and with no space between the colon and URL). The URL can be a home page or a longer webpage URL.
Search for a specific type of file.
If you know you’re looking for a PDF, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation or another type of file that’s been uploaded to the web, you can search “filetype:PDF,” “filetype:xlsx,” “filetype:ppt” etc. It’s a quick way to find reports from agencies, examples of presentations on certain topics and more.
Set a timer.
If you often find yourself getting distracted online, consider setting a timer to keep you on track. Google “set timer for” and specify the amount of time, then click “start.” When your time is up, you’ll hear the beeping from the other tab.
Search within a time range.
There are two ways to do this. Search for something, then click “Tools” under the search bar. You can specify a period of time using the drop down that says “Any time” (that’s the default), from “past hour” to “past year,” or pick a custom range.
Or, you can specify a range of years generally using the following syntax: “2014..2016.” Google will then show you results from these years.
The “..” works for other numerical ranges, too, such as price.
Find a GIF or other narrow your image search.
Add some personality to that all-staff email. Google images has a drop-down filter that allows you to specify “face,” “photo,” “clip art,” “line drawing” or “animated.” There are also drop-downs for size, color, usage rights and, as with regular search, time (period within which someone uploaded the image).
Calculate currency conversions.
Simply search an amount of money with the currency or its symbol specified with “in,” “to,” “converted” or another term that suggests comparison (e.g. “$45 in euros”) and Google will present a currency conversion calculator at the top of the results page. You can toggle to change the type of currency. Google also displays a graph that shows the exchange rate over time.
Google Translate works similarly for language translations. You can also Google measurement conversions using Google search.
Check real-time stock info.
Enter a publicly traded company's ticker symbol (e.g. AAPL for Apple) for a current market summary, including stock price, change over time, market capitalization and more. You can toggle to see different graphs, including “1 day,” “5 day,” “1 month,” “3 month,” “1 year,” “5 year” and max of all time. Most update in real time, so if you stay on the page long enough you may see it change.
Check the status of a flight.
This is helpful for travelers, or if you’re anticipating someone’s arrival. Google the flight number, including airline, and at the top of the results page, Google will show you flight times and information about terminals and gates. Among these details you’ll see a horizontal line with a plane on it -- the plane moves along it during the flight to track progress between point A and point B.
Learn what others are searching for.
Visit Google Trends to learn what people around the world are Googling in real time. This site can help with SEO, as it reveals related searches and shows which is most common. It also provides insight into which topics are buzzy, for those who want to keep up or incorporate them into any content they’re creating (in a non-contrived way, of course). Take the guesswork out of figuring out what’s trendy and putting some numbers behind your claims.
You can filter by category (business, health, etc.) or country, as well as see how interest in the currently most-searched articles and topics has fluctuated over time.
For example, Google Trends reveals that searches for the word “backpacks” peaked around the end of July -- right before back-to-school. Related topics include a list of brands and among related queries is “cute mini backpacks.” You can even download a CSV spreadsheet file of the info if you’re so inclined.
If all of these tricks don’t get you what you need, try Advanced Search. (Simply enter “Google Advanced Search” to access the tool.)
The first field lets you type in a series of words, all of which you want to appear in your results. You can also specify an exact word or phrase, or that a query should yield results with “any of these words” or “none of these words.” It also lets you filter by language, region, site or domain, file type, usage rights and more. Plus, it allows you to turn on SafeSearch so results exclude sexually explicit content.
At the bottom of the page, under “You can also,” Google provides links to “find pages that are similar to, or link to, a URL,” “search pages you've visited,” “use operators in the search box” and “customize your search settings.”
Look back at caches.
Maybe you want to see a day-old version of a website if something changed or if you’re unable to access it for a brief period of time. Google stores old versions of pages, which you can access by searching “cache:example.com”. (Fill in your desired URL, make sure the word “cache” is lowercase and don’t include a space after the colon.)
Searching “cache:amazon.com” on Dec. 15 takes us to a Dec. 14 snapshot of the site’s homepage, with a header note that reads, “The current page could have changed in the meantime.”
Enjoy Easter eggs.
Google’s engineers have had a lot of fun programming the search engine with some jokes, many of which are pretty nerdy. One good one is, when you Google “recursion,” Google comes back with, “Did you mean: recursion,” a subtle joke about the dragon-eating-its-own-tail nature of the concept. Another great one, for a taste of nostalgia, is “Google in 1998.” (Click the link to see for yourself.)