Including and Excluding Google Search Terms

Find exactly what you want with Google search parameters

Illustration of two Google screens with
Lifewire / Michela Buttignol

Google handles more than 3.5 billion searches every day. The search process is simple. Type what you're looking for, and voilà, the search results appear. Often a simple search is all it takes to find an answer. If you don't get useful results, use Google search parameters to fine-tune your search and yield a better outcome. Excluding a keyword from a broad Google search is one method, while including a common word in a search is another way to hone your results.

Exclude Words

In some search engines, the Not syntax excludes words. This doesn't work with Google. Instead, use the minus sign. For example, if you're researching health issues and want to learn about pot bellies, you don't want results about pot-bellied pigs. To conduct this search concisely, type pot bellies -pig.

Put a space before the minus sign, but don't put a space between the minus sign and the word you want to exclude from the search.

Use the minus sign to exclude multiple words, as well. If you're searching for swine but don't want results for pot-bellied pigs or pink pigs, type the search string pigs -pot-bellied -pink.

Exclude a phrase by enclosing it in quotation marks and preceding it with a minus sign. If you're researching livestock swine, search for pigs -"pot bellied" to exclude any mention of pot-bellied pigs. This won't exclude pages that talk about pig bellies because the parameters exclude only the exact two-word phrase pot bellied. The punctuation is ignored, so the search catches both pot bellied and pot-bellied. 

Include Common Words in a Search

Google automatically ignores many common words, such as and, or, of, a, and I. It also ignores some single digits and letters. This is usually not a bad thing because, in most cases, common words slow down a search without improving results. After all, it would be hard to find a page that never used common words such as the or a

It's helpful to include one of these common words in your search, for example when it is part of the exact key phrase you want to find.  

Use quotation marks around the keyword phrase to include common keywords or single digits and letters in a search. The search matches the text inside​ the quotation marks exactly in content and word order. For example, "Rocky I" in quotation marks searches for the exact phrase Rocky I and does not find lyrics to the song I Love Rocky Road. The results list sites relating to the original Rocky film.

When your key phrase uses a common word, the best results come from quotation marks that surround the exact phrase.

Google no longer supports using the plus sign as a search operator.