In many of my previous articles, I’ve stated the importance of choosing the right material in your learning. But even if you make the best choices possible, you will always have questions your material doesn’t cover. Most often, it will be very useful to find the answers as soon as possible. To achieve that, there is a skill that none else even comes close to: knowing how to google.
If you know how to use Google effectively, you will be able to figure out those answers quickly. You will even be able to tackle problems you don’t know anything about. If you don’t, though, it can get really frustrating.
You might be thinking, “what is this about? Of course, I know how to google, it’s simple after all”. Well, you’d be surprised. This study from the Illinois Wesleyan University found that fewer than 25% of students can perform a “reasonably well-executed search”.
Although the study is from 2011, and I believe people have gotten better year after year, there is still a large number of people that can’t find the information they seek on Google efficiently and effectively. Like most things, using Google is a skill you can learn and practice. It also is a skill with huge relevance to your life, no matter what it is you are doing or learning.
How to google
One of my biggest competitive advantages, either among friends or coworkers, has always been my googling skills. For many years, I’ve almost always been able to discover the solution to any problem I’ve been facing using Google, even when it had nothing to do with my areas of expertise.
To bring some examples to the table, I used Google to set up The Italian Challenge I’m currently undertaking. I’ve used Google to discover various courses or other types of material throughout the years, and it’s also been my constant companion in learning how to code, among other things.
The techniques I use to google effectively can be split into 2 categories: general tips and concepts, and specific operators (think symbols) that change the behavior of Google searches. I’ve gathered a list of the most effective techniques you can use below.
General Googling tips
Keep it simple
The biggest mistake I see people commit is getting too specific with their search queries. Searching “where can I find a small statue in Athens made out of marble and clay” may provide some results, but “buy small statue Athens” will provide many more results for you to go through and find what you need.
Remember that, although there are other people out there with the same questions, not everyone phrases them the same way. Start with simple and more generic queries to get more relevant results.
Gradually make more complex queries
There is always the chance that a generic query won’t provide you with what you are looking for. After starting with a simple query, gradually make it more complex to narrow down the results. Don’t go from simple to too complex at once, as the intermittent stages may provide you the desired result. For example, when searching relevant to changing a flat tire, a progression could look like this:
- Simple: “flat tire”
- Next query: “change a flat tire”
- Next query: “how to change a flat tire”
- Complex query: “how to change a flat tire at night” or “how to change a flat tire without a jack” or whatever your exact situation is
Write answers, not questions
Apart from the common “how-to” format, most websites provide their content in a declarative form, and not as a question. Try to phrase your query the way an answer would be, instead of just asking the question. For instance, don’t use “Where can I find a Mexican restaurant that offers takeaway?”. Instead, use “Mexican restaurant nearby” or “takeaway Mexican”.
Use different queries for the same search
It’s common to not find what you are searching in Google with the first try. Often what you need to do is change the entire phrasing of your query. As an example “my hair is falling” could be better phrased as “hair loss” when querying Google. If you can’t find the result you are looking for, don’t get disappointed. Instead, keep trying different queries, trying to improve the relevance of the results you get back each time.
Terminology is important
In many disciplines, using the correct terminology can make the difference in eventually finding what you are looking for. I, personally, have many times spent hours googling, until I discovered the right terminology for what I was searching. As soon as I used the correct term, it usually took just that 1 search to find what I had been looking for.
Drawing an example from computer-related issues, “I have a problem installing Windows” should be replaced with “Troubleshooting Windows installation”. The word troubleshooting is a common terminology in fixing computer-related problems.
Use the Google tabs
Many of you will know this already, but, below the Google search bar, there are tabs, namely “All”, “Images”, “Videos, “News”, etc. Use those when searching for specific types of content.
Also underneath the Search bar, there is a tab called “Tools”. There, for instance, you can filter the results by publication time (e.g. last 24 hours). If you are searching for images, there are many more options, like size or image color.
Google Advanced Search
In case you don’t want to memorize the following operators, you can use Google’s Advanced Search, which allows you to set a variety of variables when searching. You can find it here.
Google Search Operators
Using quotes (“”)
When you want to force Google to search for a specific term, you can enclose the word you want with “quotes”. That is very useful when your query contains rare terms, which often tend to be ignored. Also, when you want Google to treat a phrase as a whole, instead of separate words, you can then enclose the whole phrase in quotes. That will force Google to provide you with results that include the phrase exactly as is.
Exclude words with the minus sign (-)
Sometimes you may be using a query that returns results that have nothing to do with what you’re searching for. If those results share a common keyword, you can instruct Google to exclude it from the results by using the minus sign in front of the word. For example, if you want to get results about the city Barcelona, searching “Barcelona” returns results dominated by football-related ones. But if you search “Barcelona -football”, then you get results that mostly have to do with the city itself.
Include words with the plus sign (+)
Often in your queries, words that are very common, like “the”, “and”, are being ignored by Google in order to provide a bigger set of results. You can add the plus sign in front of the word you need to be included, and it will be factored into your search.
Search for related terms with the tilde (~)
If you add a tilde (~) in front of a search term in Google, the results you get will also contain synonyms (or related terms) of that word. For example, “~college” will return results also including the word “university”, or any other related term.
Search a specific range of numbers with 2 dots (..)
Using 2 dots you can search in a range of numbers. For example, “1..10 Ways to Beat Procrastination” will search for all queries like “3 Ways to Beat Procrastination” or “7 Ways to Beat Procrastination”. You get the idea. This is not particularly useful in cases like that one, but it is my go-to technique when I search for results that come from a specific year range. If, for instance, you want results from 2011 to 2013, use “2011..2013” in your search query.
Get results from a specific site with the “site:” operator
When you need results from a specific site, let’s say Facebook, you can include “site:facebook.com” in your query. That will force Google to return results from that particular site only. This is great for cases when you search a niche site that doesn’t have a search function, or when you can’t seem to find what you need from the target site’s internal search.
Find related sites with the “related:” operator
Let’s say you’ve discovered a great site on the subject you are interested in, but it has become a little bit boring, or you just want to find more like it. You can use “related:www.thesite.com” to find sites similar to the one you’re referencing.
Find specific filetypes with the “filetype:” operator
You can also specify a specific file type you want your results to be in. I often include “filetype:pdf” in my queries when searching for e-books, effectively cutting out all irrelevant results.
While these are the operators most commonly used, there are even more available. Read this comprehensive list of search operators to find out about all the available query options. Also, make sure to check out this amazing infographic on Google searching by HackCollege to see the above operators in action in more specific examples.
Being able to google effectively is a really important and universal skill, which we often tend to ignore. It’s also a skill you can start practicing today, as your average day probably already includes a significant amount of Google searches. Utilize what you’ve learned in this article to improve your googling, and you will be more efficient and effective in discovering the answers you seek, as soon as possible.
Call to Action
Learning how to google will definitely impact your life in a multitude of ways. I’d love to hear about that, as well as any questions or suggestions you may have. Post on the Facebook group, or contact me directly!
If you’ve made it this far, that’s great! Before you go, I wanted to give you another great article on using Google efficiently, this time from lifehack.org. Make sure to check it out, and also check out any related posts you find interesting below!