A guide to Google search operators
Google’s useful, intuitive search operators represent just one of the reasons why the engine is the most powerful internet search tool on the planet.
Search Operators help you tweak your search and gain access to much more specific results. Operators can be some of the sharpest tools in your SEO arsenal and should always be used when analysing a site.
You can play around with search operators in a user-friendly way by using the Google Advanced Search, which displays the correct annotation at the top of the page as you start to fill in form fields.
Alternatively, I’ve listed some of the best operators below along with tips on how to use them, should you want to take it to the next level.
Note: to use an operator you just do a normal Google search but with the operator in front of a domain or term, separated by a colon, like so:
[operator here]:[search term here]
Basic Search operators
The ‘site:’ operator is one of the oldest, and will return results from a given domain. In terms of SEO this is the most useful as you can use it to check how well your website is being indexed and even tailor the search to return pages on your site which contain a specific keyword or phrase.
Tip: Using the ‘site:’ operator on a regular basis will help you keep an eye on how many pages are indexed in Google. It’s worth noting that you can sometimes get more results if you search a URL without entering the ‘www’-prefix.
This one will return results which Google thinks are related to yours – it won’t match on a keyword or term but group sites by links. It’s a handy search tool if you are looking for a product or service and want to find a good deal.
Another one of the classic Google operators, this will show a selection of the links which point to a given site. It’s good for a basic view, but Google either doesn’t track all links to a site or just doesn’t like to show them. Yahoo has an alternative to this tool called Yahoo Site Explorer which will return the top 1000 links for any site.
This one will make sure that the term you search for only appears in the body of the article. This is especially useful for those terms which are spammed-up – pages which try to rank highly just by adapting the page title or URL will be filtered out with this operator. This one is great for refining your search if the normal search is only returning useless results.
This one will filter out pages which don’t have a term in the title. Again it will reduce the chance of you getting a page which ranks just for anchor text. If you are having trouble finding an organisation or just want to look for pages who title refers to a given term, this will help narrow down the search.
This one will search for all the URLs containing the term you typed in. The URL isn’t always the best place for search engines to look for search terms as you can’t always influence it when adding pages to your site. Content Management Systems such as WordPress have built-in functionality for customising a URL and it’s one of the many reasons WordPress is so adored by search engines and SEOers alike.
Similar to previous operators, this will return results where the term is tagged in anchor text. This would be most useful when you want results which are targeted to a specific keyword or phrase.
One thing search operators are useful for is helping to identify what Google actually looks for when it ranks a website.
For people working outside the context of a specialist search agency like theEword, SEO can involve a lot of guesswork, but by looking at a page through Google’s eyes using search operators, Webmaster Tools and Analytics, you can see what the search engine values and ranks your site for.