Improving Your Google Searches with Advanced Queries
By Jason Briody – March 14, 2014
It's something none of us explicitly learned in school. Instead, we learned through doing. Each day over 5 billion searches are run in Google, and many of these are simple queries that require simple syntax. But beneath the surface, the little white search box that the world uses to find information on the internet has a few very powerful secrets up its sleeve.
Note: I have no affiliation with or financial interest in Google; I only focus on Google searching here because they lead all other search engines by a very large margin and I regularly see the advanced search capabilities not being used to their full potential.
When Simple Syntax Fails
You're probably familiar with the ever-present Google search box that appears when you visit Google.com or open a new Chrome tab:
Typically, most of us just type in what we're looking for in simple language, find what we need, and are done with it. Today, though, I'm looking for a very specific article that a colleague recently mentioned. Unfortunately, simply doing what comes naturally doesn't pull up what I'm looking for:
A number of relevant hits were returned, but not the specific article my colleague had mentioned. Thinking harder about it, she had said the specific article was a PDF and that it was hosted on some site ending with .org. My memory being what it is, though, I couldn't remember the name of the site. Adding more detail as keywords to my search, I type:
Again, the document I was looking for doesn't appear in at least the first five pages of results. Practically speaking, it may as well not exist for most of the internet-browsing public—honestly, who's looking five results pages deep on a regular basis?
OK, so all the information I have on the article I'm looking for is that it deals with iPhone components, is in PDF format, and is hosted on some dot-org site. My previous efforts haven't worked, so it's time for a more advanced form of query. Using advanced search operators, I type the following:
...and instantly find the document I'm looking for: a PDF on Pulitzer.org about how the United States lost out on iPhone work.
So what happened in the search above? The keywords iphone components were used. The site: operator filtered my results to only show websites ending in .org. And the filetype: operator filtered out anything that wasn’t in PDF format. Using the strict operators is far more precise than simply using keywords to find certain websites and specific filetypes, and this is shown in the success of the query above.
But filtering by file type or website domain name aren’t your only options. Just for starters, you can use the following tactics:
• Use quotes to search with an exact phrase. “iPhone components” (with quotes) finds the exact phrase “iPhone components”; that is, the words must be adjacent, and in that order. (That is, a page containing the phrase “The iPhone 5 has plastic components” would not be found.)
• Use a minus sign or dash (-) to exclude all results that contain the specified word. For example, “iPhone components –Samsung” would search on the keywords “iPhone components” but would filter out any hits containing the word “Samsung”.
• Use an asterisk as a wildcard for any word in a phrase. Google uses the example, “a * saved is a * earned”; this search would find pages including phrases like “a penny saved is a penny earned” and “a peso saved is a peso earned”.
To review all the different labels you can use to search more powerfully, check out all of Google’s advanced search operators.
For the Graphically Minded
If you prefer to use a graphical interface for any of these (so you don’t need to remember or type out things like filetype:), you can use the Google Advanced Search page. This also provides options such as filtering based on
• Reading level,
• Sexually explicit content,
• Geographic region,
• Language, and
• Usage rights (i.e., to find files that are free to use, share, or modify, even commercially)
If that’s not enough and you’d like more examples of how to scour the web, use this Inside Search Tips & Tricks page to learn how to
• Convert currencies for that international trip you’re taking,
• Track a shipment to a client or opposing counsel, and
• Check flight times to ensure you’ll make the meeting on time.
Finding Case Law, Articles, Patents, and Trademarks
Google Scholar can find articles, optionally including patents in results. On the Google Scholar home page, make sure to click on the radio button that corresponds to the kinds of cases you are searching for:
Or, if you're looking for case law, you can search for it in state courts, federal courts, or even more granularly. You can search certain state courts of appeals, state supreme courts, or even federal circuit courts using checkboxes like those below:
Finally, don't forget to check out the great article by Technology for the Litigator's own Patrick Soon on how to search—using only an image—for other images that might be infringing on a client's trademark.
Keywords: litigation, technology, Google, Google Scholar, Internet searches, advanced Google search
Jason Briody is a digital forensics examiner at Atlantic Data Forensics in Columbia, Maryland.