If you think you know how to search online you might be wrong. Anyone can search on Google but relatively few know how to use Google search operators, also called advanced operators or Boolean operators.
Ordinary keyword searches often produce unwanted, irrelevant results; advanced operators deliver more precise results. They improve efficiency and save time by finding more accurate results faster. They’re useful for content research, media monitoring and technical SEO audits.
“By using search operators, you can slash the time you spend on Google and get better results. And the best part: It’s not difficult at all,” says digital marketing guru Neil Patel.
“Crafting original content in 2017 requires wading into the sea of content that’s already been created, and Google remains the most complete map of that sea. Advanced search operators are invaluable research tools for content marketers,” agrees Peter J. Meyers, marketing scientist at Moz.
Numerous Benefits of Advanced Search Operators
All the major platforms including Google, Bing LinkedIn and most social media platforms enable advanced search operators.
PR and marketing teams can apply advanced operators to media monitoring services. Without the operators, companies can miss mentions of their brands and other keywords and be overwhelmed by large numbers of irrelevant mentions. The problem of extraneous mentions is especially challenging for companies with names and search terms identical to an unrelated term, such as a company in an unrelated industry.
Some media monitoring services, such as Glean.info, let clients apply filters based on geographic location, language, social media platforms and other factors. Glean.info and a few other media listening services can specify initial caps, as in Orange, the French mobile phone service, or all caps as in acronyms. That’s particularly useful if your acronym is also a common word. A Boolean query is mandatory for acronyms because most three or four-letter acronyms stand for multiple organizations.
Here’s a summary of the most common and useful search operators.
Quotation marks. Placing quotation marks around a word or phrase tells the search engine to only return results that exactly match the word or phrase. Top results for a search of video marketing show the words video and marketing but not video marketing together. That’s not the desired results. “Video marketing” in quotes returns more appropriate results.
And. Placing AND between search terms prompts search results with both words in any order.
The minus sign. Placing a short dash (-) in front of a word excludes it from search results. That’s a useful technique to eliminate irrelevant results. You can place the minus sign before more than one word or phrase.
The plus sign. Placing plus sign (+) makes sure that the word is included in results. That can be especially valuable when searching for a niche topic.
The wildcard operator. The asterisk is the wildcard. If you place it before a term, you’ll get all the variations of the word. For example: admin* returns: administrator, administration, administer, administered, etc. “The asterisk is a time saver for search engines that recognize it because it saves you from creating long OR statements and having to think of every way a particular word can be expressed,” explains Boolean search expert Glen Cathey.
Or. The OR operator tells the search engine to return either keyword. You can also use the pipe symbol. (|). Results could include one, both or all terms. Google doesn’t require placing or statements in parentheses, but other platforms, such as LinkedIn do. “As a best practice, I tell people to always use parentheses around OR statements as a matter of good search syntax, Cathy advises.
Combining Search Operators
You can combine search operators to further define results. For instance, you can exclude entire phrases with the exact match and exclusion operators. Simply place the phrase in quotes and place a short dash immediately before it. Search results for the query: Tesla –”model 3″ would omit that particular model. You can also combine the OR operator with words in quotes.
The ability to specify proximity of words in a Boolean search or frequency of keywords in an article is another helpful search operator available in some media monitoring services including Glean.info.
Bottom Line: Advanced search operators are invaluable for searching the web. Almost anyone can benefit from using the search terms, including content creators researching background information. The appropriate use of advanced search operators also greatly improves search results from media monitoring services. Because of the vast amount of information online, the operators are essential for generating accurate results and eliminating irrelevant mentions.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.