As the most used and highest performing search engine with more than a billion users, Google works hard to improve search results. However, the average user doesn’t know the search engine is specifically designed to handle complex searches for more relevant results using Search Operators.
With the release of the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, Google changed the way information is sorted to provide more relevant answers for users. This evolved Google’s ability to understand content to help ensure the best search results are generated.
Combining Search Operation (punctuation, symbols, and operators) sort deeper into Google’s indexed pages to deliver more specific results. Although you may have heard that punctuation is ignored by the search engine, there are certain ones that Google does recognize and uses to improve the search experience.
For marketers, using the creative search modifiers provides a more competitive edge to determine the landscape to access the amount of work that’s needed to pull off a successful SEO campaign.
Top 5 Search Operators for SEOs
Google has numerous search operators, but there are five that are most commonly used by SEO professionals to research keywords for a campaign to narrow search results. Not to mention, you’re able to dig into websites on a deeper level to access competition and a site’s current performance.
Search with Quotation Marks
Example: “potato chips,” “potato” chip, or “potato” “chips”
This tired and true method is still relevant for narrowing results, even in today’s world. With quotation marks, results will appear that include the exact words/phrase included in the quotation marks. This is a great way to see if your pages are being indexed by the words in your keyword strategy, as well as identifing competitors using the same keywords.
Example: site:yoursite.com or site:yoursite.com “keyword”
This operator will return all indexed pages on Google matching that URL. This allows you to see how many pages have been indexed to determine if Google is having difficulty indexing your site by comparing the number of published pages to those that are actually indexed.
The second option in the above example allows you to find certain keywords within a website. Google will display all pages that are indexed with those keywords, allowing you to determine the relevancy and strongest keywords in your campaign.
Intitle: “search term”
Example: intitle:“red meat”
With this search, you’re able to determine if a page’s title tag is optimized for your keyword and evaluate competitors’ title tags. You’ll see exactly who you’re up against and how you’re performing by comparing keywords.
This operator provides a snapshot of your site’s incoming links, but it won’t give you a full list of links. If you want a full list of your own links, head to Google Webmaster Tools, but if you want to take a peak at your competitors’ links, this operator will give you a glimpse to help your link building strategy.
This is a powerful operator that allows you to see a page’s title, meta description, and most recent cache of the URL. In addition, you’ll view pages that have similar content, pages linking to and from the URL, and pages with the URL in them. Then, use this information in your research for a rock solid SEO strategy.
Helpful Search Operators to Narrow Results
There are additional helpful search operators to narrow search results to evaluate your site and your competitors. As with any search operator, be sure to exclude any spaces or the results won’t be specific.
View sites that have similar URLs to help build your SEO strategy. Plus, you’re able to find new sites or publications that may aid your link building strategy.
Example: Boston Marathon OR 2014
Although these results may be a little broader, you’re able to search pages that include one of several words. With “OR” you’ll find results that have either one word/phrase or the other, instead of results catering to both.
This operation is very helpful to determining when Google last crawled your site and what it looked like at the time, allowing you to see how often your site is crawled and the difference in indexing relevance.
Example: Michael Jordan AND Basketball
“And” produces results that include both words/phrases. However, remember to capitalize the word “and” or Google may not think it’s an operator.
Symbols for Specific Results
Although Google typically doesn’t understand symbols and punctuation, such as “!,” there are certain ones that can be used to refine search results when included with a keyword. These include
- + Used for searching Google+ pages and even blood types.
- @ Search for social tags, like Twitter handles.
- $ Find prices for specific items.
- # Research popular hashtags and trending topics.
- – When used before a word or site, it will eliminate results for that specific word, which is helpful if a word has multiple meanings. When used between words, it shows Google the words are connected for more relevant results.
- _ Connecting words with an underscore allows you to see results for a pair of words that are linked to one another.
- .. Numbers can be separated by two periods to generate results that contain numbers, such as dates and measurements.
Additional URL Operators for SEO
Dive deeper into your site and those of your competitors with additional operators to generate more relevant results for specific URLs.
- Site:yoursite.com.folder— View indexing quickly and spot crawling errors.
- Site:sub.yoursite.com— Dig into sub domains to view tracking and development.
- Site:yoursite.com inurl:www— “inurl” provides results for specific text in indexed URLs anywhere on a page, including the folder, files, and page names. It’s generally more flexible that the sub domain search. Adding “-” before “inurl” will find results that aren’t listed on the “www,” which is beneficial for finding non-canonical URLs.
- Site:yoursite.com inurl:https— View secure webpages that Google has indexed.
- Site:yoursite.com file type:PDF— Search for specific pages on a website holding the file type.
- Inpostauthor:Their name— Search and track specific authors to monitor a competitor’s blog campaign.
- Allinurl:www.yoursite.com— Determine whether or not your site has been indexed by Google.
- Allinanchor:Keword— View webpages that link to other sites with a specific keyword as the anchor text.
- Allintitle:keyword— Find webpages that have a specific keyword in the title tag.
- Allintext:keyword— Search for webpages that contain a certain keyword.
You can also combine the operators above with many other previously listed operators, such as including OR and searching with quotation marks.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
Although search operators are fairly simple to use, there are common mistakes that will hurt your search results. For example, including spaces is equivalent to “and.” In addition, don’t use too many exclusions. Instead, use additions to find more specific results. While search operators are beneficial, avoid using too many at first. It’s better to start broad and then narrow your focus.
When using operators, don’t worry if you’re still getting multiple results. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re using them incorrectly. It takes a certain level of trial and error to find exactly what you’re looking for. But, when done correctly, you’ll have more information at your finger tips to boost your SEO strategy and linking building.
“”FAQ: All About the New Google ‘Hummingbird Algorithm’” Search Engine Land
“5 Search Query Operators Everywhere Should Know” Search Engine Journal
“Punctuation, Symbols & Operators in Search” Google
“25 Killer Combos for Google’s Site: Operator” MOZ Blog
“Google Guide: Making Searching Even Easier” Google Guide
“Top 10 Search Modifiers: Why they matter, what they are & how to use them” Search Engine Land
“1.17 Billion People use Google Search” Statista.com