What are Search Operators?

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What are Search Operators?

How often have you made a basic search in Google or Bing and had way too many results?

Perhaps many of them were not specific enough for your needs? 

Or perhaps the results are specific, but you need to drill down into them to find precisely what you’re looking for?

There are special search words you can use to refine your searches to list ONLY the type of results you want to see. These special search words are called operators.

So… what are search operators and how can you use them?

What Do Search Operators Do?

We are all actually very familiar with the concept of operators, even if we don’t know them as such. We all learned in elementary math class the following functions:

  • Addition (+)
  • Subtraction (-)
  • Division (÷)
  • and multiplication (×)

The symbols that represent each of these functions are operators. In mathematics, operators give us instructions so we can perform some sort of action on the numbers in a calculation.

Hence 2 + 2 = 4!

We know the symbol in this example means we have to add together the two numbers separated by the + operator.

Search operators work in precisely the same way.

We can pass specific operators into our search query to instruct search engines to perform some sort of function, to give us the precise results we want to see.

And just like in mathematical operators, we can combine search operators to produce more sophisticated functions in order to fine-tune a search query.

Google and Bing Search Operators

Google and Bing both accept search operators in search queries. They share several of the same ones in fact, but they also have some that are specific to themselves.

Below is a list of shared Google and Bing search operators along with the function that each performs:

Search Operators You Can Use in Google & Bing

“” Operator

This is perhaps the most basic search operator and one of the most useful.

You simply need to wrap your search query in quotation marks to return results that exactly match what you’re looking for.

So if you’re looking for a page specifically about best blogging tips you’d use it like this:

“best blogging tips”

Google Exact
Google Search: “best blogging tips”
Bing Exact
Bing Search: “best blogging tips”

Using the “” operator in both Bing and Google produces results that are far more closely related than a broader search without quotes.

– Operator

As with maths, we can use the – operator so we can exclude results containing phrases we want to exclude.

The – operator added to a search query tells Bing and Google results we don’t want to see and focus upon those we do.

For example, searching for the following term excludes results that are not relevant to us:

best blogging tips -experts

Google Exclude
Google Search: best blogging tips -experts
Bing Exclude
Bing Search: best blogging tips -experts

In the results from Google and Bing, we’ve excluded from our search any indexed pages from the search engine indexes that include the term “experts”.

* Operator

In computing terms the * is known as a wildcard operator. When used in search queries it is used as a substitute for any other word or phrase.

So for example, using our best blogging tips search phrase, we might modify our search query like this:

best * blogging tips

Google Wildcard
Google Search: best * blogging tips
Bing Wildcard
Bing Search: best * blogging tips

This changes the results of the search substantially, returning any pages that rank for the phrase best <something> blogging tips.

site:

The site: operator limits search results from a specific domain and all any of its subdomains.

So let’s say you know that you’d previously read an article on sidegains.com about search operators and have forgotten where you saw it on the site. 

You can use site: to return all results relating to search operators from sidegains.com like this:

site:sidegains.com search operators

Google Site
Google Search: site:sidegains.com search operators
Bing Site
Bing Search: site:sidegains.com search operators

You can see in both the Google and Bing examples above that the results are limited to just sidegains.com. Searching for the phrase search operators on it’s own makes it much more difficult for you to find the specific page you’d read on the SideGains site.

filetype:

The filetype: operator will only return results that have a specific filetype. I use this operator often to find free eBooks about my favorite subjects… to avoid signing up for newsletters!

So let’s say like me you want to find an eBook about blogging tips. You might submit a search looking for something like this:

filetype:pdf blogging tips

Google Filetype
Google Search: filetype:pdf blogging tips
Bing Filetype
Bing Search: filetype:pdf blogging tips

Using the filetype: operator for pdf files relevant to blogging tips, we’ve managed to fine-tune the results in both Bing and Google to rule out thousands of results we didn’t want.

If we’d searched only for blogging tips we would have seen all indexed pages relating to this search phrase and had to pick through them to find pdf eBook guides we’re interested in.

related:

The related: operator requests that searches should return results similar to a specific website. This is a very useful search operator in cases where you find an interesting site and want to find others like it.

It works like this:

related:bbc.co.uk

Google Related Search
Google Search: related:bbc.co.uk
Bing Related Search
Bing Search: related:bbc.co.uk

The results with the related: operator in this example shows that Bing and Google recognize that bbc.co.uk is a news site, and returns other sites that relate to it. As a result you can see the top results for this search are other news sites.

You should note though that related: only works on the top level domain and not individual pages. It also only works on larger sites, hence news sites are a good example for showing this.

intitle:

Intitle: instructs Bing and Google to look for pages that include a specific word or phrase in the page’s indexed title tag.

We can use this to search for pages we feel are likely to be relevant to what we want to find. I’ll use the best blogging tips phrase as an example:

intitle:best blogging tips

Google Intitle Search
Google Search: intitle:best blogging tips
Bing Intitle Search
Bing Search: intitle:best blogging tips

It’s a slightly more subtle query operator to use than making an exact match because we’re telling the search engine to look for something very specific within a particular element on a page. 

I find this especially useful for looking at competitor sites and pages.

The Real Power of Search Operators

The beauty and real power of search operators is that they can be combined so we can really drill down to a specific result set.

For example, look at the following in Google:

site:sidegains.com what are search operators

site:sidegains.com intitle:”what are search operators”

The first example returns many results, whereas the second returns far fewer. If you make a general search that returns thousands of results, combining search operators can filter out many of the pages you don’t want to see, so you are left with the most relevant ones.

There are many other search operators than I’ve presented to you in this post. However, the ones not in the above list are specific to either Bing or Google. The operators on this page can be used in both search engines.

Summary

  • Search operators are special commands that you can use in Google and Bing to refine the results of your searches.
  • You can combine search operators to produce very specific results.
  • Some operators can be used in both Google and Bing to produce the same effect.
  • Bing and Google both also have other basic and more advanced operators than the ones listed here. These are not usable in both search engines.
  • Search operators are useful for finding websites in the same niche as you so you can see what they are doing!

Thanks for visiting SideGains!

Paul

If you’d like to know anything else about this topic or can add to this discussion of what search operators are including how you use them, please drop me a comment below!

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