Search operators: How to refine a search for targeted results

Ever search for something on the internet and get thousands of results that don’t really match what you're looking for? Did you know you can get more accurate results by using “search operators"? These are special words, characters and commands you add to search term(s) to give you more refined and targeted results.
So how do you search for a keyword? Try these operators, alone or in combination, to get the results you need in seconds!
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Boolean operators: The name may be unusual, but the search results are accurate!

Boolean operators

You may be wondering what a “Boolean” is – or how to pronounce it! Boolean operators were named in honor of 19th century British mathematician George Boole, the inventor of Boolean algebra. Based on his system of logic, a Boolean search combines keywords with three “operators” – AND, OR and NOT – to refine and organize searches. To help produce more accurate and relevant results, the symbols () and “” can also be used with the Boolean search terms. It is important to remember that the three operators must always be written in ALL CAPS to differentiate them from the search terms. Boolean search operators are commonly used in database searches and will work in internet search engines as well.

How Boolean search operators work

AND: If you want your search to contain more than one key word, you can add AND. Please note that AND is not strictly necessary – if you search for bacon eggs, by default the search engine will return the same results as a search for bacon AND eggs – namely, all listed results will contain both the word “bacon” and the word “eggs”. AND becomes useful in more complicated search phrases, like the example below.

OR: This operator lets you search for several terms simultaneously. If you are interested in either bacon or eggs, you can search for bacon OR eggs. All the search results will contain one or the other keyword, and maybe both.

NOT: If you want results about bacon but don’t want them to include eggs, you can use NOT to sift that term out: bacon NOT eggs.

Quotation marks: If you want your search results to include a specific phrase, put it in quotation marks like this: “bacon and eggs recipe”.

Parentheses: What if you want to combine several search terms – for example, you are looking for a breakfast recipe and you’d like it to contain bacon, eggs, or both? Typing breakfast recipe AND bacon OR eggs is confusing for the search engine, which doesn’t know how to prioritize the search terms. Parentheses make your search intention more clear – in this case by entering “breakfast recipe” AND (bacon OR eggs).

Google search operators

Looking for results in a specific language or on a specific website? Your easiest option is probably to go to Google’s Advanced Search page to tailor your search. However, Google and other search engines have also added to the Boolean system with other operators that you can simply type into the search bar to make your search much more granular. For example, if I wanted to search for the exact phrase “fish and chips”, limit my search to domains located in the United Kingdom and exclude bacon, my search phrase would look like this: “fish and chips” -bacon. The important thing to remember when using this technique is that there can’t be a space between your search operator (e.g. site:) and the term that it applies to.

Here is a list of ten Google search operators you may find useful:
Search operator Meaning Example
$ Search for a price
Siberian husky $700
- Exclude word(s) from search
dog -corgi -husky
“” Exact phrase
“Siberian Husky”
| Combine searches (works like Boolean operator OR) husky | corgi
site: Search in a specific domain or website corgi
in Type in between units to convert 25 cm in feet
filetype: Search for a specific type of file
corgi filetype:ppt
define: Search for the definition of a word define:canine
Search for words in a webpage's body text intext:corgi
inurl: Search for web pages with a certain word in the URL inurl:corgi

Do search operators work with other search engines besides Google?

Yes, they do! All the search operators in the table above will also work in the Bing search engine, for example. Boolean operators are not specific to any search engine. You may find, however, that certain operators return more refined results depending on the platform. For example, the + search operator, which can be used to find the exact match of a word or phrase (e.g. +corgi puppy), seems to work much better on Bing than Google.

We hope our post on search operators helps you find the search results you’re looking for more quickly!

Images: 1&1/GettyImages

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