How to Use Google and Other Search Engines

Improve your search results by using Get-It-Done Guy’s tips for Google search.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #246

How to Use Google and Other Search Engines

Search engines! I just love search engines! No, I don't. I hate search engines. I think they're going to destroy the world much, much better than a Doomsday device or Zombie army ever could.

Sadly, I'm serious. How to use Google was once so easy: I'd type in a search term, hit Search, and learn something. But now, they personalize results. They give you content similar to what you've clicked before. Instead of new, mind-expanding content, up pops the same old stuff you've seen before, but with slightly new wording. This means you end up with a really skewed idea of what the world is like. You re-confirm your existing conspiracy theories, instead of getting new ones.

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The deeper problem is that no search engine can optimize search results so we always get what we want because sometimes, we want broad information, lots of different choices, and don't want to see 10 entries for the same site, like when we’re searching for a product. Other times, we want deep, accurate information and would be happy to get 10 results that point to a single web site that's the world’s authority on one-handed basket weaving techniques.

To keep our minds open, our information deep, and our choices broad, we need to learn to search better. Today's tips are about how to use Google (or pretty much any search engine) better.

Try a Non-Personalized Search

When you're searching for information and you want to broaden your mind, try a non-personalized search. You pretty much can't turn off personalized search entirely, but check your search engine settings page to see if there's a setting to turn off personalized search.

If you use Google, you can append "&pws=0" to the end of a query and that turns off your personalized search. There are also various plug-ins that will help you turn off personalized search. All you have to do is, er, Google "how do I turn off personalized search" to find the most up-to-date instructions.

See also: Tech Talkers tips on how to use Google like a pro

Search on Specific Sites

Sometimes you may know the site you want to search on. When I refer to a previous episode, I like to include a link to that episode. But who can remember 250 individual URLs? One of my favorite episodes was the one on saying "No" to your boss. The original title was How to Say an Honest 'No.' Now it's Saying No to Difficult Requests. But the URL is Saying-no-With-Honesty-Respect-and-Style.aspx. This is chaos! Utter chaos, I say! Who was the genius who put this together, anyway? … Oh, right…

To search just a specific site, use the site: keyword.

How do I find the right episode? Well, I know it's on the Get-it-Done Guy site. To search within a specific site, use the site: keyword functionality. At the end of your search query, add a space, then s-i-t-e-colon and the URL of the site you want to search. Both Google and Bing will then return only search results for that site.

Your most common use for this will be searching the Get-it-Done Guy site or other Quick and Dirty Tips sites for specific tips. But there are other ways to use this.

When you want to search for a specific book to buy at your local independent bookstore, just type the book title, author's name, and site:yourbookstore and you'll get the book listing from their site, so your money stays in your community.

Search by Date

After you search with Google, at the top of your search results is a menu called "Search Tools." That menu lets you narrow your search results by date range.

Whenever I'm searching for technical information, this menu is my BFF (that means "best friend forever," for anyone who is over 25. Or male). If I want to find out how to burn a DVD on my Mac, I could just Google "create dvd mac." But that gives me articles going back years, and those answers no longer apply.

Get just the current, relevant results by clicking search tools and choosing to show results that are new in the last few weeks or months.

Exclude Unwanted Results

If you get a page of results dominated by BigBoxStore.com, and you're still angry over that rather unfortunate incident involving the hamster, the weed sacker, and the life-size Oprah Winfrey cardboard cutout that happened last time you shopped there, add -bigboxstore as a separate word at the end of your search. That will omit all search results that have bigboxstore in them.

Put Quotes Around Multiword Searches

When you search for a multiword term like Oreo ice cream cake, you may get results that include the words “Oreo,” “ice cream,” and “cake,” scattered throughout a single web page. When you want to make sure all the words appear together, put them in quotes: "Oreo ice cream cake" and you'll find only the pages with those words next to each other.

Use AND and OR

Sometimes you'll find a page that only has some of the words you're searching for. You search for "Oreo ice cream cake" and 30 pages down in the search results, you're getting pages that only contain "Oreo." If you only want pages that are guaranteed to include all your search terms, but you don't care if they're next to each other, separate the words with the word "AND" in capital letters: Oreo AND cake. That search will find only pages that have both the words Oreo and cake.

You can also use the word OR (capitalized) to search for pages that contain one term or the other. If you decide you're going to learn to do circus acrobatics, and you want to learn about both trapeze and silks, just search for "circus trapeze OR silks." You'll end up with great inspiration for performances at your next birthday party.

Search engines may have vastly restricted our world while simultaneously giving us the illusion of greater choice. But we can fight back! Use search tools wisely to narrow down your search results to what you find meaningful, not what the search engine wants you to read.

This is Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook and email questions to getitdone@quickanddirtytips.com 

I help people design, implement, and deliver change on an organizational or individual level. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.