Top tips for Googling

Top tips for Googling

Google is the best known and most popular internet search engine, probably because it is so easy to use. However, the quality and usefulness of the results depends on what you type in the search box! Knowing how to enter your search in order to get the most relevant results is quite a skill. We have already talked about keywords and understanding the question now let's look at Google.

Beginners tips for improving your search results

Unless you specify otherwise, Google automatically searches for all the words you type in to appear anywhere in the webpage or document, not necessarily next to each other.

  • Search for a phrase - Use speech marks (“”) to search for words side by side, like Tony Blair 2005 election.
  • Search for alternative words - Add OR to search for alternative words for example, university OR college OR “higher education”.
  • Remove words from a search - Use a minus (-) symbol before the word to remove them from a search. For example Europe -EU will find anything mentioning Europe which does not refer to the EU.
  • Fill in blanks - Use an asterisk (*) to replace a whole word or number, like “Top * destinations in Spain” will return hits including “top 10 destinations in Spain” and “top holiday destinations in Spain”. 
Advanced Google searching and internet search strings

If you are confident with the basics of Google searching, the next level of search skills is using ‘search strings’. These are what advanced Internet searchers use to find exactly what they are looking for. A search string is comprised of a number of search commands which are typed in together.

Google have a full list of search commands. As an introduction, here are some of the main search commands you can use:

  • site:[website domain] Limits results to that web domain. For example headache will search for the word ‘headache’ on the NHS webpages, while“international aid” site:gov.* will search for the phrase ‘international aid’ appearing on any government website (including,,, and so on).
  • filetype:[file extension] Limits results to documents with certain file extensions. For example: filetype:pdf will return only pdfs, while filetype:ppt will return only PowerPoint presentations. Useful file extensions to know include: doc (Word), xls (Excel), ppt (PowerPoint), pdf (Adobe Acrobat), swf (Flash), mp3 and wma (music), mpg and wmv (video).
  • [number]..[number] Searches for all numbers in that range. It can be particularly effective for date searching, like “Luther King” 1963..1968 will find anything referring to Martin Luther King between those dates.
  • related:[web address] Finds similar pages to the web address you type in. For example: finds other search engines.
  • link:[web address] Returns webpages which link to that web address - often these will be pages on a similar topic.
  • ~[word] Instructs Google to search for that word and any synonyms. For example: ~university will find any result which includes the word university or similar words such as college.
  • Tip: Search commands work in reverse if you use a minus symbol. For example, to cut out all results from government websites, you might include -site:gov.* in your search, or to cut out Word documents from your results you might include: -filetype:doc.
Example Search String

For example, here is a search string you might use to find PowerPoint presentations about Martin Luther King’s speeches given between 1963 and 1967: “Luther King” ~speech 1963..1967 filetype:ppt.

This example consists of four components:

1) The phrase “Luther King”. 
2) The thesaurus word ‘speech’. 
3) The date range 1963 to 1967. 
4) The file type ‘ppt’.

Creative Commons Licence
SMILE by Imperial College, Loughborough University and the University of Worcester, modified by Marion Kelt Glasgow Caledonian University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.