Do you want relevant search results without all the noise? Stephan Spencer, author of The Art of SEO, offers some advanced search engine hacks to help you find what you're looking for.
The good news about the internet is that it’s put the world’s information at our fingertips. For a little while, this was a Very Good Thing.
But then advertisers, marketers, bad actors, and silly people have turned the Internet into information wreckage. Once, search gave good answers. Now, it gives you nine Amazon links, three Walmart links, and weaponized propaganda. Oh, Joy.
I recently interviewed Stephan Spencer, co-author of the 997-page book The Art of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Stephan knows how to cut through the wreckage to reveal the shining nuggets of wisdom lying beneath. He shared a few tips with me.
Once, search gave good answers. Now, it gives you nine Amazon links, three Walmart links, and weaponized propaganda. Oh, Joy.
Nobody knows about wreckage better than Thomas, a 17-year old cyborg who is dating his toaster. He’s very frustrated. They’ve had a fight, and he doesn’t know what to do. Being half machine, he’s great with logic, but doesn’t understand emotion. So he wants to turn to the internet for the answers.
But what does he search for? And how does he get the best result?
Search suggestions point the way
Use soovle.com. Start with Soovle. It kind of rhymes with “Google” ... only not really. Soovle.com isn’t a search engine. It’s a search engine of search engines. You start to type a query, and it gets suggestions for what to search for from a dozen other search engines. Then you just click on a suggestion to follow it.
Thomas gets as far as “toaster emotion” and one of the suggestions that pops up is “toaster emotional support.” Which sounds promising. When he clicks on it, however, it gives him search results that include inspiring toasters and emotional support animals. But nothing about offering a toaster emotional support.
Use quotes for phrases. Normally, search finds any web page that contains all the words in your query, even if those words are scattered around the page. And if one of the words is missing, a page might still be included if the other words are present.
You can search for an exact phrase by putting the phrase in quotes. When you use quotes, the only pages you’ll get are pages that match those exact words, in that order. Searching for "toaster emotion" gives much better results: a Facebook user named “Toaster Emotion” and a Futurama episode where Professor Farnsworth teaches a toaster to feel love. This could be the answer!
Search engines are also time machines
Cached search. Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t actually have any good advice to offer. He figures that maybe there are general, non-toaster relationship principles he could learn from. He searches for “making up from a fight” and discovers a very promising page entitled “Making Up From a Fight with Your Kitchen Appliances.” Bingo! He clicks the link and…
Page not found.
When a search result looks promising, but the page no longer exists, you can still see it! Click the back button. Then click the green down-arrow next to the search result. Select the word Cached and Google will show you the page as it was when Google indexed it, even if the page doesn’t exist any more.
When a search result looks promising, but the page no longer exists, you can still see it!
The article he finds tells him that his best course of action is to woo his toaster with attractive refrigerator magnets (toasters are also magnetic). But to do that, he needs magnets that won’t interfere with the toaster’s functioning.
This will require some sleuthing! First, he has to get the toaster’s model number. But it’s not considered polite to ask a toaster for their model number.
You can search for specific images
Image search. Fortunately, he has plenty of selfies they’ve taken together. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that’s a really long search query. But Google and Bing have image searches that make it easy. Click the camera icon by the search bar and upload an image. Google will show you results that resemble that image.
Thomas uploads a picture of the toaster and with a bit of sleuthing gets a model number. But now he needs the technical specs.
Search for specific file types to narrow your search. He quickly types the model number into a search engine … and ends up getting 247 Best Buy links, 193 Amazon links, and 294 WalMart links. (Let’s hear it for a thriving, competitive economy in which it’s possible to survive as a small businessperson. Ha ha! Just kidding.) Every single link is a purchase link, and none of them lead to the manual.
If you know you’re looking for a document, try adding Filetype:PDF or Filetype:DOCX to your query.
Some search terms are so broad they’ll find ads and articles and reviews and all kinds of stuff you don’t actually want. But if you know you’re looking for a document, try adding Filetype:PDF or Filetype:DOCX to your query. Only actual documents will be included in the result. With a simple Filetype:PDF, Thomas quickly locates the technical specs.
You can search specific sites
Search on a specific site. Now, it’s just a matter of finding magnets. Thomas enters “heart magnets” into a search engine. He gets lots of ads from the regular billion-dollar tech monopolies, but he really wants to buy from a warm and loving craft artist. So he limits his search to just Etsy, which is a mere $4.98B tech monopoly. He adds site:etsy.com to the beginning of his search query, and before you know it, he has a list of Etsy artists who have wonderful romantic magnets to save his love life.
Unfortunately, by the time he receives the magnets and rushes to the kitchen to give them to the toaster, he’s too late. The toaster is making googly-eyes at the refrigerator and gives Thomas the cold shoulder. For a 17-year-old to get the cold shoulder from an appliance whose basic functionality is heating things up … it’s a lot.
But Thomas is nothing if not resilient. Through his tears, he vows that it’s time to explore his human side instead. Since he’s applying for college, he runs over to a search engine and enters “good colleges for meeting people if you’re a cyborg with an IQ of 400.” As you can imagine, MIT tops the search result. He’s so excited that he’s scheduling a tour of a dorm called “East Campus” even as we speak.
Although search engines do indeed try to “organize the world’s information,” they aren’t always making that “organized information” easy to find. And let’s face it: there’s no reason they should. The harder it is for us to find our answers, the more ads they show us, and the more money they make.
With good use of the search tools that they do provide, however, you can do a decent job of narrowing down your searches to the point where they’re useful.
I encourage you to check out my interview with Stephan Spencer. You can listen to our full interview, get many more tips, and download some free promos from Stephan at getyourselfoptimized.com/getitdone.
If you want to get things done like a pro, check out Get-it-Done Groups, which will give you accountability, Do-it Days, productivity tools, and community support. Learn more at GetItDoneGroups.com.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!