How to Use the Undocumented Operator AROUND to improve Google Searches

The key to successful searches with Google or any other search engine is knowing how to narrow down the results to something manageable. Searches typically can show thousands or even millions of hits and useful references are often buried far down the list where they will never be seen.

One way that I have found to help find more relevant results is to use an undocumented operator in Google searches. When you want to use two search terms that you know appear close but not necessarily adjacent to one another, try the AROUND(n) operator. Here n is an integer that measures how close the terms occur to each other. For example, if you want to search pizza and restaurants, the query

     pizza AROUND(2) restaurant

will return pages with pizza and restaurant separated by two or fewer words. Note that AROUND must be written in all upper case and that the order of the search terms does not matter.  Search terms can also be phrases, provided the phrase is enclosed in quotes.

This type of search can be useful in a number of common cases. Suppose you want to search about a person named John Somebody. You can use the standard “John Somebody” construction but what  if his full name is John Phillip Somebody and he sometimes uses his middle initial and sometimes his full name and sometimes just his first and last name. Here is a search query that covers all possibilities:

    John AROUND(1) Somebody

Another use is to search for titles or phrases where you know several of the words but are not sure of the exact wording of the entire phrase.  This operator also helps with long documents when two words or phrases may occur far apart and have no relation to one another.

Google will still try to be “helpful” and turn up a lot of searches that don’t fit the search criteria. But they will be down the list.

The “near:” operator in Bing

Bing has a similar operator but it is called “near:” and does not have to be all caps. Note that it contains a colon. Also, the syntax is slightly different from the Google operator. For example, the first search given above would be written this way in Bing:

    pizza near:2 restaurant

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs a Windows blog called The PC Informant and also operates a computer education website.

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Comments

by Crusader41821 (not verified) on 19. October 2011 - 13:09  (81702)

I used this to search for my name, and came up with more results then just my name. I am on far to many websites.

by Library professional (not verified) on 27. April 2011 - 1:46  (70991)

A nice feature for Google, if it worked. I tried several searches; the results (number of hits) bore no relation to what one would expect.

by MikeDatabak (not verified) on 28. August 2011 - 15:41  (78508)

John AROUND(1) Somebody
pizza AROUND (1) restaurant
Don't know what you are doing wrong
It works for me

by Rumpole (not verified) on 27. April 2011 - 23:52  (71028)

Thanks Prof.
Maybe that explains why it's "undocumented"...

by bruno (not verified) on 6. April 2011 - 20:35  (69585)

Great tip. I thought Google doesn´t support proximity search.

by Bob on 4. April 2011 - 9:41  (69423)

Great google search tip - thanks. As you say, the AROUND operator appears to be undocumented by Google (except in an unofficial blog). So the query is: How many other useful google search operators are hidden from the googleguide list? Google alone knows...

by beergas (not verified) on 23. February 2011 - 17:52  (66978)

Good extra tips in Replies. Thanks people.

by bwoods on 23. February 2011 - 14:49  (66968)

Does Yahoo! have an equivalent?

by v.laurie on 23. February 2011 - 15:06  (66970)

I believe Yahoo is now powered by Bing underneath and the Bing operator near: seems to work in my very quick try with it.

by bwoods on 23. February 2011 - 15:09  (66971)

I just tried using it and it doesn't work.

by v.laurie on 23. February 2011 - 16:13  (66974)

I just tried comparing Bing and Yahoo search results and you are right. Near: doesn't really seem to help in Yahoo.

by notme (not verified) on 23. February 2011 - 18:33  (66980)

If yahoo uses Bing search results, just use Google. Not long ago Google proved that Bing was using Google search results. Of course Microsoft denies it.

by bwoods on 23. February 2011 - 15:06  (66969)

Apparently it doesn't. Here are some other advanced search operators for Yahoo!, though if you are interested:

* Words within square brackets — adding square brackets to your search makes the keyword match order dependent. So typing in ‘[Jack Black]‘ will return results such as ‘jack with black’ but not ‘black jack.’

* “inurl” — if you want to be sure that a specific term will appear in the site’s URL, use the “inurl:[query]” operator. For example: ‘inurl:iPod.’

* Site restriction — to restrict your search to pages within a specific domain, use the “site:[domain]” operator, followed by your query. For instance: ‘Site:Apple.com iPod.’

* “originurlextension” — to search on specific file types, add ‘originurlextension:[file format]‘ after your search query. For example: ‘nanotechnology originurlextension:swf’ OR ‘nanotechnology originurlextension:pdf.’

2. Package Tracking
Did you know that you can track your packages right in Yahoo! Search? Here’s how:

* For UPS, type in your tracking number: ’1z9999999999999999′
* For FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service, add the name before the tracking number. Hypothetically: ‘FedEx 999777333222′ or ‘USPS 03062400000176550683.’

by VirtualCharlie on 23. February 2011 - 14:40  (66967)

Two of my favorites are:
- (minus) before a word removes that word from searches.
I.E. car -race
returns cars but not race cars.

site: url will search just w/i that site.
I.E. Google site:techsupportalert.com
returns Google pages at techsupportalert.com

I didn't use quotes in my examples as quotes is another Google trick that returns the exact pattern.

by JCF (not verified) on 23. February 2011 - 11:49  (66963)

Of course, the "near" function was part of Alta Vista 15 years ago.

by garth on 22. February 2011 - 20:56  (66942)

Good tip thanks Vic:)

by Keith (not verified) on 23. February 2011 - 13:51  (66964)

You can also use the search term site: to narrow down results to a specific site. i.e. site:microsoft.com

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