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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