If you’re old enough to recall the times when people were still keen on books, you’ll remember the librarians – those skinny pale guys – whom we always admired for their ability to find exactly the book we were looking for. Well, it surely took some talent and skill to be able to find the way through the endless catalogue of the huge library.
Fast forward to the internet era and our pale librarians have gained back problems along the way because they’re sitting by the computers now. But let’s leave them for a moment – in today’s world the advanced search operator is your librarian, your little helper who can find things in the big unruly “library” called internet.
Although this walkthrough is mainly aimed at marketers and link builders, there are a lot of things that an everyday web user can try to make their search queries laser-targeted.
Most of the following advanced search operators will pertain to Google unless specifically pointed out otherwise.
If you search for a long keyphrase, this is likely to confuse the search engine. By enclosing your search query in quotes, you’re telling Google that you’re looking for a particular phrase. The next example is a good query for finding guest blog assignments:
"submit guest post" "your keyword"
Similar tactic can be used to perform a custom reverse lookup when searching for domain names owned by a certain person. Of course, using Whorush.com or Domaintools.com makes life much easier but these tools have deficiencies – their database is by no means exhaustive. Accurate? Ha, not always!
"Name Surname" "whois"
will return results from a range of public whois services and chances are you will be able to compile a good dossier on the person in question. If the name is too common, you can also try
"Postcode" "whois" or "Street address" "whois"
Please note that the “whois” bit has to be in quotes as well for this trick to work, otherwise Google will return results with a space, i.e. Who Is.
The quotes also provide a convenient replacement for the sadly-missed + operator. Google decided to kill it shortly prior to the launch of Google+ social network. Historically, with the + operator, you could force-include a keyword when you found Google omitting it from the search. Don’t worry, there’s a good alternative. This search
"technical" "specifications" "table"
will return the same result as if you were using the old plus operator. How is this different from the whole phrase included in quotes?
"technical specifications table"
This one will maintain the word sequence whereas the previous example will return documents that contain all the 3 words anywhere on the page. So, if you’re not sure about the syntax, use the quotes around each word.
Using these operators, you’re telling G that you want to see the pages that have the particular phrase within the Title attribute. This suddenly opens up a whole new picture of the niche that you thought you knew. By using intitle: you’re likely to discover sites (potential partners or competitors) that you never knew existed.
will show pages that have ‘Widget’ in its title. If there’s more than one word in the keyphrase, you can use this:
allintitle:very long keyphrase
intitle:blue intitle:widgets equals allintitle:blue widgets
You’re bound to love this one. That is if you get it to work. The other day it wasn’t returning any meaningful results. Luckily it came back on yesterday. If you notice the tilde is not working, delete the Google cookies, switch on your IP blocking software and try google.com (or google.co.uk if the .com version is what you’re using). So, after this much build up I better go and explain what the tilde does.
It is meant for discovering synonyms. In short,
will return all pages that contain car, automobile, vehicle, and so on. At the first glance, there’s not much for an SEO person to do with it. Wait a minute. I call tilde the desperate SEO’s friend. Are you working in a narrow niche (pronounced neesh not nytch and not neech) where you’ve exhausted all link prospecting opportunities? Tilde will allow you to refresh the scene!
This one’s quite sophisticated but it works really well:
allintitle:~car insurance -"car insurance"
will come back with results related to the term “car insurance” BUT not containing the actual term “car insurance”. How good is that? Unfortunately, you cannot use quotes with the tilde. I mean, allintitle:~”car insurance” wouldn’t work. Alas! If you’re looking at a single-word keyword, you can use this
which will show documents that contain the word “vehicle” but will exclude the ones that contain the word “car”. But, I mean, if you’re working with single-word terms, you’re probably an ultra-guru and don’t need this anyway 🙂
Another idea for using the tilde would be to get rid of a certain type of topics. Thus:
will come back with 8 billion pages related to motoring but not in any way related to motorsport.
This alters the search result in a similar way, only it looks for the keywords in the url string. This method is ideal for finding sites built using common scripts or finding sites that have got a particular section, like Forums, Blogs, Links pages etc.
"blue widgets" allinurl:recommended links
will find sites about blue widgets that have a links page. That’s a potential link opportunity for you. Whereas
"blue widgets" inurl:forums
will find relevant sites that host a forum section.
If you’re unsure about something, use an asterix for a wildcard. The * can be more than one word. It’s down to Google really. Give it a spin and see what comes up. For example, if you’ve developed a cool widget or tool, you can try to search for
free * calculator
to find websites that have a history of embedding third party widgets.
Another great use for a wildcard is discovering new verticals. For example, you’re dealing with specific loans and of course you cannot approach your direct competitors for backlinks. Instead, you can search for related sites that are not directly competing with what you’re doing.
allintitle:cheap * loans
will find thousands of websites that are dealing in hundreds of different loan types. I bet there are some sites that you can approach for partnerships.
Another way to use wildcards in SEO is to look for citation link opportunities. Want to know who mentions your competitors?
This simple query will show conversations involving your competitors and citation links that they’re getting. Now go and get some of those links for your site!
This operator restricts results to a domain. The level of restriction is up to you.
site:.co.uk will search within the whole .co.uk domain – I think that’s 10 million sites in total – quite a broad search really.
will look into a particular site. Convenient if you want to quickly locate something on a certain site.
will restrict the search even further by looking at the specified subdomain
There are many uses for this operator. Too many to name. I quite like it! Especially for link building. Let’s say you want to find some non-commercial sites with good content and curated link lists. Try some of these:
site:.ac.uk "other links"
site:.ac.uk "recommended links"
site:.ac.uk "favorite sites"
You can always replace the .ac.uk bit with .org.uk, .org, .edu and .gov and dilute the results by adding your target keyword to the search query like this:
site:.ac.uk "recommended links" "blue widgets"
Do you want to know how a page looked some time back in recent history? Do you want to know how often Google revisits your competitor’s landing page? Actually, I think the “last visit date” should become an industry standard metric for the new generation SEOs. Forget about PageRank for a moment. What’s the use of a PR6 link if the source site was last updated in 1995 and crawled a month ago? A fresh “last visit date” will tell you that the webmaster updates content frequently AND most importantly that Google thinks this content is good!
You can also do the same with some of your own pages if you suspect Google is lazy reindexing content on a page that has fresh content added on a regular basis. This could indicate internal linking issues or possibly problems with the content itself.
This one has never been too accurate but it is sometimes good fun to play with. The basis of this advanced search query is link triangulation that looks for pages that link to a page that links back to the initial page and so on.
You can identify an authority hub – big sites that are often quoting each other. Also find link networks and sites owned by the same individual. I suggest you try it and you’ll discover sites that you’d otherwise never have found.
Any historians around? What year did the Battle of Cressy take place? Numrange is one of the more obscure operators and I cannot remember myself using this for SEO purposes. However, I would love you to tell me that there is indeed a way to use it. The comments are open (hint hint). This query:
will list all battles that had been fought during those years. You can use this to search within any pool of numbers. Phone numbers, ISBN, etc.
Are you looking for a particular type of website? Want to find a site that’s been coded in Cold Fusion? Use this:
"your keyword" ext:cfm
You can replace cfm with any popular (or obscure) web extension like html, php, pdf… you name it. At the same time, Google is keeping another advanced search operator alive – it’s the filetype:. The urban legend says that the ext: is more accurate especially when it comes to more obscure file types. If you ask me, I haven’t noticed any difference between the two but just the same, I use the ext: simply because I’ve used to it.
It’s slightly different for Bing! There the filetype: operator looks at the content associated with the documents, whereas the ext: operator only looks at the document’s file extension.
Website owners can use these operators to monitor the indexing of the non-HTML content of their site.
will tell you whether the search engines have indexed all the lovely whitepapers that you’ve prepared for your visitors.
What I’ve personally used ext: for (both in Google and Bing) was looking for opportunities to promote an e-book. Which nicely brings us to the next topic.
This one’s working in Bing only. It shows you results of pages that link to a particular file type. I discovered it when I was promoting an e-book. I used it to find resources that provide their users with a direct link to pdf files. And this would be the query that you’d be using:
"dog breeds" Contains:pdf
If you want to go even more advanced with Google, you can build a short search query to tweak the results. Yes, you can achieve the same by pressing “Search Tools” button underneath the search box but if you want to gather data semi-automatically or indeed build an Excel spreadsheet with useful queries, these might come in handy:
This one’s for you, keyword researchers. Related keywords suggestions are a valuable source for keyword research. Normally, you get 8 results at the bottom of the results page. This query will give you at least 15 results at the top:
You can probably find more than 15 if you look at different date ranges. This string
will return results updated in the last hour. The next query will show related searches within the last hour:
Now replace h with d, w, m or y to get results updated within the last day, week, month or year respectively!
If you want to build a list of custom queries for link prospecting and guest blogging, the tool at SEOfrogs will do the hard work for you. It returns a list of suggested searches based on your keywords and preferences. Give it a try!
Tip: did you know that you can also use the majority of these advanced operators when setting up your Google Alerts? Here’s a good guide on Google Alerts written by @MattWoodwardUK for @sejournal
So, it’s back to you. What operators have you found useful in your SEO work or general research? Please share by adding comments below.
Arvid Linde is an independent SEO consultant, award-winning journalist, MSc in engineering, published author and a technology addict. More info on the about page.