Three Lesser Known Google Search Operators

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Here's a follow-up to the previous tip that discussed the undocumented AROUND operator. Although they are documented, there are three other Google operators that are not well known and in this tip, I’ll describe them. Make use of these and you can improve your search results.

The asterisk wildcard (*)

If you include * within a query, the asterisk is treated as a placeholder for any unknown term(s) and Google will try to find the best matches. Sometimes Google makes strange choices but on the whole this can be a useful operator. An example query might be:

    Windows * system restore

That will turn up references to System Restore in all the versions of Windows.

Search exactly as is with (+)

In an effort to add some context to searches, Google includes synonyms in its results. Although this will often improve searches, there can be times when you want to search on exactly what you enter. If you attach a + immediately before a word with no space in between, Google will match the word precisely as you typed it. Putting double quotes around a single word will do the same thing.

October 22, 2011 Addendum—Google has discontinued the (+) operator. Use double quotes to force an exact match for a single word.

Use a hyphen in searches

If you join two words with a hyphen, Google will know that you want searches where the two words are very closely related. There must be no spaces or there may be confusion with the minus operator that is used to exclude terms. For example, both [web site] and [website] would be caught by [web-site]. I use square brackets to indicate a search term but, of course, the brackets would be omitted in an actual search.

More information: Various search operators are described at this Google page.

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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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