How to Google Like an SEO Pro | The Power of Search Operators

Google is more than just a platform we use to drive traffic. It’s also one of the most important tools digital marketers and SEOs have at their fingertips. Whether I’m prospecting links or researching for my next piece of content, Google is vital to all I do. But just doing broad searches rarely delivers the results I want. That’s where search engine operators come in.

If you are wondering what a search operator is, check out the definition below.

“Google search operators are special characters and commands (sometimes called “advanced operators”) that extend the capabilities of regular text searches. Search operators can be useful for everything from content research to technical SEO audits.” (Moz)

While this may seem very technical, it’s pretty easy as well as helpful for any business looking to find very specific content or sites online. Check out the video below to learn more!

Video Transcript:

So, why should we use search engine operators? Well, there are a lot of reasons. One main reason is prospecting for links. When we’re prospecting to find new links online, search engine operators really help us find those sites that make sense and are contextual to what we’re trying to achieve and accomplish.

Another great use is for researching content. When we want to find sites that maybe we can link to or other tips and ideas for our content, search engine operators can help us find better pieces of content that make a little bit more sense. So, thanks to search engine operators, we can narrow down the results and get more of what we’re looking for.

What is a Search Engine Operator?

Google search engine operators, are special characters and commands that extend the capabilities of regular text search. They are useful from everything like I talked about, from content research to technical SEO audits. Now, this exact definition comes from our friends over at Moz, which if you follow anything in the SEO world, you’re probably aware of Moz.

There are two basic types of search operators. There are basic search operators, and these are ones that modify standard text searches, and then, we also have advanced search operators, which are typically used to narrow down searches and drill deeper into the search results. Let’s take a look at how these actually work and see how they really restrict our results.

These are not all of the basic search operators, but these are the ones that you may actually find helpful. Now, the first one’s pretty self-explanatory. When you put quotes around a specific keyword, it’s forcing Google to use an exact match on that keyword, and it prevents any synonyms showing up if you’re using a single word. So, let’s take a look at what this looks like. We’re going to use the example we have here, “SEO help”, using our quotations. Now, this is going to force Google to look for results that are very specific to this word that have this word, SEO help, right there, number one, SEO help. SEO help. Help SEO. SEO help in here. SEO help. As you can see, it’s forcing and restricting the search for this exact match.

The next one we’re going to look at is OR. Now, there are two ways to use OR. You can either do a capital OR, or you can use the pipe. It’s identical in both ways. This is going to force Google to search for a logical OR, so good OR evil. All right? So, there are two different ways you can achieve this, and let’s take a look at that. You’re going to type good OR evil. You’re seeing evil. You’re seeing good. You’re seeing evil. You’re seeing the two different results. It’s not AND evil, so it’s not going to show us both good and evil. It’s going to show us one or the other. We can also restrict this the exact same way by using a pipe, and you can see, the exact same results are showing up. This is a really good way if you want to find compare and contrast. You want to find articles about one thing as well as the others. That way, you could do a compare and contrast article. It’s a really quick way to constrict the search results into exactly what you’re looking for.

The next one is the minus sign. Now, we put this in front of the term that we’re using to exclude that term from the results. So, if I wanted to look for Hack My, but not anything that involved the word Growth, I would put -, and it will subtract anything that has Growth in it and only show Hack My and then whatever after. So, let’s take a look at that one. Here you go. Hack My -Growth. Hack My Life. Hack My Life. Hack My Life. Hack My Life. Hack My Age. Hack My Life. Hack My Study. You can see it’s not like we might have shown up for that, but if we did Hack My Growth, then we’re going to show up. Right? As you can see, adding that minus sign is going to subtract that from the results and really narrow our results to get what we’re really looking for. And that covers our basic search operators.

The next type is the advanced search operators. Now, these are going to be even more targeted. These are definitely something that we use a lot when we go into linkability. So, we’ve got a couple of versions. We have intitle:, inurl:, intext:, filetype:, and related:. Again, these aren’t all of them, but these are the ones that you might use the most. When you use intitle:, it is exactly what you think it is. It searches only for the terms that are within that specific page title, so using exact match quotes. Right? Inurl:, this is again looking for words or phrases in quotes and a document, so right here, it’s only like a year, so you can knock this down to just the year 2016. But if you had multiple terms, you again would want to use quotes. Intext:, this is going to be searching for words or phrases that appear in the body of the document.

The filetypes:, now you can search for a specific type of file. Now, this would be like a PDF, a DOC, a Word file, an Excel file or a TXT. Something of that nature. You can add that filetype, and it would narrow those results. And related:, now this usually only works for larger domains, so if my domain doesn’t work, we’ll try something else, but as you can see, this helps us procure related sites to the one you’re looking at. Again, very helpful for both content and link research.

Let’s take a look at how these work. First off, we’re going to look at intitle:. All right. The first one we’re going to do is intitle:, so we want to make sure that this quotation is right. Okay, yeah. And then, we want to hit Search. Now, this is going to restrict everything in the search results we have to have SEO versus content in the title. If they don’t, we’re not going to see it. So, you can see every one of the articles that we’re pulling up has SEO in the title, and that’s a quick way to restrict your results. Intitle: is a very popular one and easy one because usually, the title is very descriptive of what that page is about, so this very good when you’re trying to restrict your results and find pages that are relevant, really quickly.

Let’s look at the next type. The next type is very similar, but instead of intitle:, we’re going to be looking at the URL. So, the exact URL string, and this means that the term we’re looking for, or the time or the date that we’re looking for is within the URL. Let’s take a look at this one. Let’s say I wanted to find some growth hacking tips from the year 2016. I would type growth hacking tips, and then I would go inurl:2016. That would hopefully restrict something down to 2016. As you notice here on the inurl: 2016. All of these URLs come from 2016. Again, a quick way to find a date or an article within a specific time range. Again, another very helpful way to find very targeted content, specific content, instead of maybe using the settings to where you can go up here and just say, “I want to know something from this year. What’s the most relevant article of this specific year on the term of growth hacking?”

Intext:, again, we’re kind of following the same theme, we’re going to be using the quotation marks to see converting leads into sales, and has it appeared inside the text of a specific piece of content that we’re looking for. So, let’s take a look at what this is going to look like. Again, we’re going to take our quotes here and make sure that we have the brackets right converting leads into sales, and then we’re going to search. Now, every piece of content in here is going to actually have this converting leads into sales. You can see it here in the meta description on some of these pages, some of these pages here because they’re pulling meta straight there. But all of these are being highlighted. Converting leads into sales. Converting leads into sales. Converting leads into sales. Again, another great way to find targeted information.

What else is helpful? You notice how even with the search operator, we’re still getting a rich snippet that is a part of the Knowledge Graph showing up here. So, again, when you’re doing content marketing research, you want to know that hey, I can use this term, and it could really help me. Maybe even possibly find a way into one of these valuable positions URL spots in the advanced search features here that Google has.

All right. Let’s take a look at the next one, filetype:. This is helpful if you’re looking maybe for a PDF or something that was kind of offered document, and we want to see if we can’t find a specific piece of content around a type or a filetype. So, in this case, we’re going to restrict it to PDF, so let’s see what we get. So, here I’m looking for a link-building eBook, and I want it to be a PDF. And as you can see, what Google has done is now showing me only PDFs. Here is a link to a PDF. A link to a PDF, but most of these search results are all PDFs. Very, very helpful when you’re looking for maybe a specific file type piece of content.

Okay. And let’s check out the last one. The last advanced search operator is related:, and again, this is helping us find related sites to the specific domain that we are asking it to look for. Let’s take a look at what this is going to return. Again, we’ll just type our search operator just like this. You don’t want any spaces. You want it all connected and hit Search. What this is doing, it’s saying, “Okay. Shelley Media Arts. The most related site to me is HubSpot.” Makes a lot of sense. We’re an inbound marketing agency. That’s what we do. We’ve got a lot of other inbound agencies here. They’re all related. So, if you want to find a site, maybe that’s in your area or related to your agency or your business, it’s a great way to do so. Again, your site needs to be big enough, have enough content indexed, and Google’s got to know enough about your site for that actually to work. But again, it’s very helpful for finding sites that are relative and related to yours.

As you can see, using search engine operators, you can restrict searches to find content that you’re looking for. This is again, very helpful when it comes to link building, creating content, and researching. Make sure you’re finding the types of partners you want to build links with as well as making sure that your content is rich and researched properly. If you’ve got any questions about search engine operators, please let us know. Comment on the video below. Comment on this post, and we would love to continue the conversation with you. And until next time, Happy Marketing.

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SMA Marketing Global Digital Marketing Agency Ryan Shelley Founder and CEO Headshot
Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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