Quotation Marks on Search Engines: How to Use Them

Why and how search quotes help you find better results

An illustration of quotation marks made from all of the media and content that you can find through searching the web.

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Quotation marks are used on a search engine to weed out unnecessary results. When used correctly, they can help you find what you're looking for in record time.

Using quotes around specific words in your search terms is fairly easy to understand, but you don't need to do it all the time. In fact, there are situations where you don't want to use quotation marks so that you'll see more results.

You might use quotation marks on Google or some other search engine if you did a simple search without quotes but then got results that didn't seem to be what you were looking for. Maybe you received far too many to sift through, or none of them really correlated with your search terms.

Quotes vs No Quotes

Before we look into the specifics on when to know whether you should use quotation marks when searching the web, let's look at what happens if you don't.

Consider this as an example:

nobel prize winners 1987

Searching those words on Google might kick back a top result about Nobel Peace Prize winners because you're basically telling the search engine to look for content related to those words, but not necessary those words exactly.

Your results could also bring back pages that include any of the following: Nobel Prize, winners of prizes, 1987 winners of prizes, 1,987 winners of prizes...the list goes on. Probably not what you were hoping for, to say the least.

This is where quotation marks come in. Surrounding part of the search in quotes — specifically the part that you want grouped together — will provide more accurate results.

"nobel prize winners" 1987

The above example will ensure that all results include those three words in quotes. Not just Nobel, Prize, and/or Winners, but all three, and in that exact order.

When to Use Quotation Marks

You want to use quotation marks on a search engine when a group of words or numbers need to exist exactly how you type them. There are several cases where this might be important.

Search Names With Quotes

One of the most useful reasons to include quotes in a search is when looking for a name. For example, you might instinctively want to type the following to look for someone with this name:

John Joseph Smith

The issue here is that the search engine will show you John names but also Joseph and Smith names, and probably even other names that include those as last names. You might find as many as 300 million results; far from what you really want.

The quick solution for much better results (and millions of fewer web pages to look through) would be to enter the following to ensure that all results include all three parts of the name, back to back:

"John Joseph Smith"
Quotation marks search on Google for John Joseph Smith

Search Locations With Quotes

Using quotation marks around a location is important if you're dealing with an obscure location or if you're adding other items to the search.

Here's a simple example:

Los Angeles 1991

This search brings up several results on Los Angeles riots of 1992. It might seem strange for these results to populate from a search about 1991, but it happens because some of the content includes the date 1991 even if the primary topic is over an event from a year later.

However, change the search slightly by adding quotes around all of it, and the results are way different.

"Los Angeles 1991"
Los Angeles 1991 Google search

This quotation mark search is now almost completely saturated with results about a 2015 movie called Los Angeles 1991. The reason for this is clear: the quotation marks demanded that all results include all three items in that order.

Advanced Searching With Quotation Marks

Searching for exact phrases is helpful, but there's a lot more you can do along with a quoted search to get even better results.

Look for Results With Specific Dates

Use quotation marks like you normally would, but then also add dates to limit the results to content that mentions those years only.

"nobel prize winners" 1965..1985
Quotation marks on Google Search for nobel prize winners

Exclude Certain Items From the Results

If you decide that you don't like the results you're seeing, you can use the minus sign to tell the search engine that you're specifically not interested in seeing those items in the results. This works for words, dates, other phrases, and even entire domain names.

"nobel prize winners" -technology -site:wikipedia.org
Quotation marks used on Google Search with the site command

Locate the Results Somewhere Specific

Some search engines, such as Google, let you specify where to look for the phrase that you surrounded in quotation marks.

For example, you can have the results show only the pages that include your items in the title:

allintitle:"nobel prize winners" 

It also works for finding the phrase in the URL of the results:

allinurl:"nobel ​prize winners"

Use Quotation Marks to Find Files

One last interesting search combination that we'll discuss is using quotation marks to locate files. You can find all kinds of file types through Google, specifically.

This example shows how to search for a phrase with quotation marks while also limiting all the results to PDF files only.

"nobel prize winners" filetype:pdf
Quoted Google search for nobel prize winners and PDFs