Google Search is the world’s most popular search engine with more than 4 billion active users which translates to about 3/4 of the desktop search engine market share. So of course you’ve heard of Google Search before and you are probably using it every now and then even if you don’t go to the Google.com homepage. Using Google Search is a no-brainer to begin with. While both Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge do not use Google Search by default, Google Chrome remains as the number 1 used Web browser on the planet and typing a simple query on the Chrome address bar will execute a Google Search (providing you are sticking with the default settings). Don’t forget about mobile too where Android users can search from a variety of places including the Google app and Google widget found on many home screens and launchers. Google Search is so omnipresent and integrated in an average Web user’s lives that they tend to forget or be completely unaware of some of the search engine’s hidden tricks and that includes “Smart Commands”.
About Smart Commands
Smart commands is the informal term given to a “spiced up” Google search query where it is coated with extra punctuation, symbols and other special parameters. It is referred to Google officially as “Search Operators”.
Smart Commands and their relation to Google Advanced Search
Memorizing these smart commands is a good and faster alternative to using Google’s Advanced Search feature located at https://www.google.com/advanced_search. Heading there first is great for beginners because you don’t have to play around with any symbols or the like; just fill up the appropriate fields and refer to the help tips on the right side to get an idea. At the time of writing, all of the text fields under “Find pages with…” influences the structure of the Google search query. Some of the fields under “Then narrow your results by…” also influence the structure while most others simply affect which settings and filters are applied. There are currently no smart commands that can alter the search settings so you have to resort to the Advanced Search if you want to execute highly customized queries in one go.
So give the Advanced Search a try and fill up a few text boxes here and there. This will give you an idea of what a Google search query with smart commands looks like. Depending on what you are looking for and how you filled up the fields, you might be surprised at all the more obscure results showing up on the home page. Once you have familiarized yourself with Advanced Search, you can then proceed to playing around the smart commands on any Google search bar.
Advantage of Using Smart Commands
As mentioned earlier, if you memorized the smart commands, you don’t have to go to the Advanced Search page. Even though the Advanced Search is a couple of clicks away from the homepage (or a Google Search away), it still disrupts the momentum if you want to search for something very specific and very quickly before you might even forget what to search. With smart commands, you can not only find something very specific in one go but you can also conduct the search in more places including browsers with Google set as the default search engine and any other mobile apps that use Google by default. If your job requires a lot of researching, knowledge of these smart commands is vital if you want to do your job very efficiently.
Getting to know the Smart Commands
The plus (+) symbol is probably the most known out of the smart commands although its functionality isn’t the same as it was years back. Previously, adding a plus to a word meant that the word must be present in the search results while the rest of the words are not as prioritized.
Now it serves as both a prefix and a suffix. Using it as a prefix instructs Google to find any Google+ pages related to the word. Using it as a suffix is more limited as it simply helps you search for blood types.
The minus (-) symbol hasn’t changed its functionality since it was first introduced. Adding this symbol to a word excludes it from the search results. So if you want to find the best smartphones that are not manufactured by Samsung, you can try typing: “best smartphones –Samsung” (without quotes). Of course this could exclude articles that might have the word “Samsung” for other purposes such as comparison so you might want to play around with this a bit more. Also remember, you can exclude multiple words and even phrases from a list of results.
The quotes (“) symbol is another popular symbol amongst Google Search enthusiasts. Like the standard uses of quotation marks, you have to surround a phrase with these symbols. Google treats the phrase as a whole which means you are likely to find better results when looking for “peanut butter sandwich” recipes than using it without the search since peanut and butter are two different things.
The asterisk (*) is a lesser-known symbol that programmers can possibly guess what it is used for. It has the function of a “wildcard” where anything with an * can mean any word. It is best used with the quotations symbols to really zero in on what you are looking for. For instance, you can try searching for “easy * chicken recipes” to return pages like “Easy fried chicken recipes” or “Easy baked chicken recipes”. Repositioning the asterisk can affect the results too.
The “at” sign (@) helps you search for social tags. Thanks to the wide popularity of social sites like Twitter, Internet users and the media started to use the @ symbol as a prefix for usernames and handles. So if you want to look for social profiles related to the popular YouTube commentator PewDiePie, you would simply type @Pewdiepie. Adding any other words to the query cancels out the smart command so this prefix is limited to search for entities you know the exact username of.
Twitter also popularized the hashtag which is basically a clickable tag that lets you find other posts with the same tag. Facebook and a number of social sites like Instagram adopted this as well so searching for #hashtags on Google conveniently covers all sites that use them.
The dollar sign ($) is pretty self-explanatory and could very well be a smart command that people use without knowing it simply because it makes the search look more natural when you are looking for prices. Just remember that iPhone 6 $300 and iPhone 6 300 dollars can return different results.
The double periods (..) symbol might be the least useful of the symbols but might come in handy when you are looking for something in a specific price range. So if you want to buy a camera that costs from $100 to $200 you would simply type a search like “best camera” $100..$200 . Any numbers that fall in that range will be shown in bold.
“OR” in the programming world is often referred to as a “Boolean Operator” and a counterpart to “AND” which is actually no longer considered a smart command in Google Search. “OR” however retains its functionality which is to have Google display results containing one word or the other. Useful for finding articles that contain a certain word or a synonym of that word.
The “info:” prefix is technically not an advanced search as you are limited to using it with a website domain and it will always return a single result. It serves as a lookup tool where you can get more information about a website such as its cache along with related links to the site. All you have to do is just try it by adding the word “info:” to any domain such as google.com.
Unlike the “info:” prefix, you can use the “site:” prefix with regular search terms and other operators. It is used to filter the search results to a certain domain which can come in handy if the website itself doesn’t have its own search facility yet it is indexed in Google.
The “related:” prefix simply looks for sites that are similar to the domain you add. It can also be interpreted as the opposite of the “site:” prefix as it excludes results coming from that domain. You can also add other keywords to as well to filter the results.
This is a special smart command where you have to enter a URL after the prefix to find the most recent cached version of the site stored in Google servers.
Google Private Results
The “my” word is a very powerful command that lets you view various personal information related to Google’s other products if you are signed into Google and accessed the main site via “https” (not “http”). Note that you shouldn’t use quotation marks when executing these commands.
This special search phrase will search your Gmail inbox for any emails that resemble a billing. For instance, emails with the word “invoice” as part of the subject header are likely to show up in the results.
“my packages” searches your Gmail inbox for any emails related to delivery and the neat thing is that it isn’t just limited to online retailers in the US. You can see the store information, a summary of the items and a direct link to the email so you can see the full receipt.
Any Gmail emails containing flight information will show up on the Google search results the same way they do with packages and bills.
This search phrase shows Gmail emails that contain not only hotel reservations but also restaurant reservations.
Rather than relying on Gmail, “my events” relies on Google Calendar. It displays some of the next major events on your calendar in “Agenda” form.
Typing “my photos” with a certain criteria on the Google Search bar is a really cool way to show a filtered set of photos uploaded to your Google Photos account. You must add criteria for this to work and it’s pretty smart when it comes to natural language. Phrases like “my photos from 2015” and “my photos in New York” (providing you have photos taken in New York) will show the relevant results.
Other Neat Smart Commands
Google Search also acts as a nifty Web app capable of doing simple things like performing basic calculations, conversions and other neat things.
Performing Mathematical Calculations
Just imagine the Google Search bar is a scientific calculator where you can post a continuous string of numbers and operators including some advanced stuff like parenthesis usage. Click that iconic magnifying glass and not only you get a result but you also get to see a mini calculator which you can play around with. It’s pretty neat and from there you will know that there is more to just calculations too. Trigonometric functions are a go here and even include graphs. If you want to bring up this calculator Web app before you want to enter an equation, just type “calculator” in the search box.
Performing Unit Conversions
From measurements to temperatures to currencies, Google Search has all of those grounds covered and it works pretty naturally for the most part. Typing “5 tablespoons to teaspoons” will give you the desired result. All it takes is a bit of trial and error and given how quickly results are displayed, that shouldn’t be a problem.
In previous versions of Google Search, you would have to type “define:” followed by the word you want to look up. That still works today but at present, it is only optional. Searching for the word by itself should bring up the definition along with links to other cool things like translations.
These are just some of the cool things you can do from the comfort of a simple Google Search bar. With Google investing so much into artificial intelligence these days, you can expect this search bar to be more useful and powerful. Google even has a dedicated blog for their search service located at https://search.googleblog.com/. Best to check that out to discover other cool things you can do!
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