Fine-Tune Your Query with More Keywords

You search Google by constructing a query composed of one or more keywords. The keywords you enter are compared to Google’s index of web documents; the more keywords found on a web page, the better the match.

It goes without saying that you should include keywords that best describe what you’re looking for. That means you should use as many keywords as you need—the more the better, in fact.

You see, one of the most common mistakes made by casual searchers is to use too few keywords. These searchers don’t enter enough information to adequately describe what they’re searching for.

You’ll get better, more targeted results by using multiple keywords. The more words you use, the better idea Google has of what you’re looking for. Think of it as describing something to a friend—the more descriptive you are (that is, the more words you use), the better the picture your friend has of what you’re talking about.

Search for Either One Word or Another

You might have realized this instinctively, but it’s important to know that Google automatically assumes the word “and” between all the words in your query. That is, if you enter two words, Google assumes you’re looking for pages that include both those words—word one and word two. It doesn’t return pages that include only one of the words.

You can expand your search by looking for web pages that include either one word or another, but not necessarily both. To do this, you need to alter the default Google query by using the OR operator between the two words.

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Include Stop Words

Remember when I said you could improve the accuracy of a search by including more keywords? That advice doesn’t include small common words, such as “and,” “the,” “where,” “how,” “what,” and “or” (in all lowercase). These are called stop words, and Google automatically ignores them when you include them in a query. (For that matter, Google also ignores single digits and single letters, such as the letter “a”.)

When you include a stop word in a query, it does nothing but slow down the search, which is why Google excises them. As an example, Google takes the query how a transmission works, removes the words “how” and “a,” and creates the new, shorter query transmission works.

Exclude Irrelevant Words

Just as you sometimes want to search for pages that include a stop word that Google normally ignores, you may also want to refine your results by excluding all pages that include a specific word. This lets you skip those pages that include a misleading or irrelevant word that might otherwise be common to your search.

This is particularly problematic when it comes to homonyms—words with multiple meanings. For example, the word “bass” can refer to a fish, a male singer, a stringed instrument, a brand of beer, and a brand of footwear. If you search only for bass, you get results that include all of these variations.

Fortunately, Google lets you exclude words from your search by using the – operator; any word in your query preceded by – is automatically excluded from the search results. (Remember to always include a space before the -, and none after.)

Search for Similar Words

Sometimes you’re not completely sure you’re thinking of the right word to describe what you’re looking for. Maybe somebody else describes this item using different words than you would; maybe there are lots of different ways to describe the item.

In this instance, it helps to search not only for a single keyword, but for words that are similar to that keyword. To this end, Google lets you search for similar words by using the ~ operator. Just include the ~ character before the word in question, and Google searches for all pages that include that word and all appropriate synonyms.

Search for Similar Pages

Along the same lines, sometimes you find a web page that includes some of the information you’re looking for but not all of it. The best way to proceed in this instance is to look for other web pages similar to this one, which you can do with Google’s related: operator.

Search for an Exact Phrase

Sometimes what you’re searching for isn’t described by list keywords; instead, it’s an exact phrase. And when you’re searching for an exact phrase, you don’t get the best results simply by entering all the words in the phrase as your query. Google might return results including the phrase, but it will also return results that include all those words—but not necessarily in that exact order.

So when you want to search for an exact phrase, you need to enclose the phrase in quotation marks. This tells Google to search for the precise keywords in the prescribed order.

For example, if you’re searching for anything related to the movie Star Wars, you could enter star wars as your query. You’d probably get acceptable results, but know that these results will include all pages that include both the words “star” and “wars,” even if they don’t appear adjacent to one another. In other words, your results will include a lot of pages that aren’t about the movie.