Google search operators also referred to as commands, are there to make our experience with the search engine more effective. With so many results on the World Wide Web, taking advantage of those special parameters will make our life easier. To begin with, we will start with the basics.
What are Google Search Operators?
When referring to Google Search Operators, we are talking about special commands and characters we can enter (in the search box) when doing a regular search in Google. They help to limit the results to more relevant and quality entries.
Both basic and advanced operators are helpful for various digital marketing and SEO goals. They include, but not limited to:
- finding link building targets
- coming up with content ideas
- identifying important onsite and technical issues.
Now, let us guide you through the world of search operators. Here we go!
Types of Google Search Commands
Conditionally, we can divide the different search parameters into two main categories:
- Basic Google search operators
- Advanced Google search operators
The first category includes commands such as:
- “” (quotes)
- – (minus)
- * (Asterisk)
and a few more
The second category includes advanced operators, such as:
and so on.
They will significantly change the regular results we normally get and usually require additional parameters or a URL to be added to fully define the final command.
We’ve also included a third category that covers the now deprecated commands that used to work in the past, but Google stopped supporting them.
In this chapter, we will also mention a few operators that can do a good job, but only when they work. There are some unreliable directives which don’t work 100% of the time, unlike the rest.
Let’s look at the basic but still effective Google operators.
1. Basic Search Operators
1.1. “” [Quotes]
One of the simplest and most popular commands that makes it possible to get results for the whole phrase inside the quotes. An exact match in the exact order we defined.
Tip: If we use it for a single word, this will exclude any synonyms and related words which would normally appear. Additionally, with the quotes command, we can search for either the plural or singular form of a word.
Example: “lionel messi”
Now, let’s compare the difference from a regular search:
Almost twice as many.
What’s more, the quote operator (“”) does a great job when combined with some of the other commands to get even better-defined results.
Let’s move on to the next one.
1.2. OR [with capital letters]
The main purpose of the command is to limit the search either to X or Y, or both. It has the same function as another operator- | (pipe).
They both will find web results about either one or all the keywords inserted. Basically, it tells the search engine that we are looking for either query or that they can be interchanged.
We can use both OR and | (Pipe) to get identical results:
1.3. – (Minus)
The – (minus) operator is used when we want to exclude specific phrases (or more than one) from our search command.
This is a really handy operator when we want to dig deeper into a specific topic but don’t want to go too broad. We can use the – (minus) to limit the results to get more concrete and useful entries.
With this command, we want to learn about all the other Google algorithm updates except the Penguin one.
1.4. * (Asterisk)
The asterisk symbol acts as a wildcard and will match any word or phrase. In other words, it will tell Google: “Please, fill in the blank with whatever is available on the web”.
It’s useful for finding different quotes and phrases. Usually, it works best when combined with other commands, such as quotes.
This search will return with the best-paid football agents, footballers, comedians, and so on in the world.
2. Advanced Search Operators
Now, when we found how some of the basic commands work, let’s get to the next level. Here are a few operators that will help to narrow down the search engine results even more.
A powerful command that limits the results to a specific URL we request. It will return only results from the specified domain.
Also, it’s important to mention that the site: operator displays only the indexed pages in Google. The ones that are “open” to the search engine to crawl, index and ultimately show in the search engine result pages (a.k.a. The SERP).
We can use it for our own website to see the difference between all the pages we have on it (for example created in WordPress) and the ones that are showing in the Google search results.
Often we will find that important pages are not available for some reason.
On the other hand, we could sometimes identify pages that we don’t want in the index, like staging or test URLs that provide no value for users and search engines.
Here is one such page with no value on UEFA’s website-
2.2. intitle: + allintitle:
These operators allow you to request pages from the Google index that contain a specific word or set of words in the title of the page.
This command will serve only pages that mention SEO in their titles.
Here it’s important to mention that the keywords we put after the main command (intitle:) work like a standard Google search and the results will also include synonyms and related terms.
Allintitle: allows us to include more words to search for in the pages’ titles.
2.3. inurl: + allinurl:
These operators are similar to the intitle: and allintitle: with the difference being that we only want pages that have the requested terms in their URLs. Again, we can use inurl: if looking for a single word contained in the address of the webpage or allinurl: for a phrase with or more words.
In case we want to be more specific, we can use the allinurl: command:
With this operator we are looking for specific file types only. The supported file types include: .PDF, .DOC, .TXT, .XLS, .PPT.
It can be well combined with the site: command, for example, when reviewing a competitor’s website.
3. More operators (Unreliable/deprecated commands)
Unfortunately, during the years, Google has deprecated some rarely used operators. What’s more, they usually don’t announce it publicly, until one of us SEOs finds out:
This one -symbol operator was used to display synonyms of the keywords that were included in the search query. These days, it’s not reliable, as synonyms are included by default during regular searches.
3.2. inanchor: + allinachor:
These two operators used to return a list with results where the webpages had inbound links with the selected anchor text. Similar to inurl: and allinurl: (and intitle: & allintitle:) it was possible to search for a single world anchor text or whole phrases.
allinanchor:onsite seo audit
Note: They do not serve relevant results anymore.
3.3. + (plus)
Its main purpose was to combine different search terms. For example, a search for:
messi + ronaldo
would return results for both. These days, Google uses it by default, so it’s not needed anymore. It’s interesting to mention that it was deprecated when Google+ was launched. Years later, the social platform was shut down as well.
The main usage of this search command was to bring pages which linked to the specified domain.
used to return the web pages linking to bbc.com. It was deprecated in 2017 and doesn’t return relevant results anymore.
4. How to take advantage of the Google Search Operators (+ Bonus)
1. Find insecure pages on your website (non-https)
In the era of secure https pages, there are still websites serving a certain number of pages or loading resources via http. This could be dangerous for users, and search engines are capable of punishing such issues (by downgrading organic rankings).
Luckily, we can easily find out if such non-desirable resources exist. Especially, if it comes to websites dealing with payments or personal data, this could result in losing search positions. Here is the command:
site:[site name] -inurl:https
This operator will examine all of the website’s pages that do not have the https directive in place.
And indeed, here is what we get if we click on any of the results:
2. Find duplicate content issues
Search operators could be used to identify if someone published content from our site without our approval (i.e. tried to steal it).
Unfortunately, at some point, almost every content creator will find himself in a similar situation. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to notice such attempts. You just need to grab part of your content and search for it in Google with quotes (to request only exact match results). Like this:
Okay, we are safe here, as the only result is from our own website. We can even exclude it, by adding the – (minus) operator after the text in quotes. In this case we would not want to see any results from the Search engine returned. Indeed, this is the case for that article:
Take into account that sometimes there could be results appearing from other websites, and still this is not something to worry about. For example, if you have republished your blogpost on other platforms such as Medium or Linkedin, then it’s fine to have more results with your exact match. However, if you find websites that are not associated with you in some way, then we have a problem.
Luckily, Google is pretty good at identifying the original resource and would rarely reward the copycat posts with any benefits. Still, it’s good to be aware if someone is trying to take advantage of your work.
3. Identifying odd/forgotten file types on a website
When publishing more and more content and pages, it becomes tough to follow everything that is happening on your website. That’s why, sometimes, you may forget about files uploaded in the past: PDF files, word documents, excel tables, etc.
Often, we may not like indexing such documents (especially if they include sensitive info or do not provide any value for users).
There is no need to worry because we can easily identify such files and take action if needed. For that purpose, we are going to use a combination of the site: command along with the filetype: operator.
4. Find content opportunities to write for
There are so many ways to find guest post opportunities, especially with Google search commands. Websites looking for content contributions from external authors often state this directly on their pages (and urls). For example, “write for us” , “become a contributor” and so on. We can get really creative here.
Here is a simple example of how to find such blogs in the home improvement niche:
Indeed, there are numerous combinations you can try to come up with blogs in your niche.
BONUS: Find resource pages to take advantage of linkbuilding opportunities or research
Lots of websites have dedicated resource sections where they share links to other pages with additional information about a certain topic.
Here is how to find them:
Here is how one typical resource page looks like:
In case we have a cool chess resource that’s worth it, we can pitch the webmaster of the website (with a well-crafted outreach email) and try to convince him/her of the value our resource would add for their audience.
We hope you enjoyed this list with Google Search operators and the ways they could make your life easier. With so many results and websites emerging every day, we have to make sure to take advantage of every little trick to save precious time.
What’s your favourite search command and what do you use it for in your day-to-day SEO activities? Let us know in the comments below, please.