Use Google to Search For a Partial Word or Phrase

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Many search engine users need the ability to search for a partial word or phrase at some point in their online journey. However, this is a search query that takes a little bit more planning than the typical search engine question.

There are a couple of ways you can accomplish what this search is trying to do, which is basically instructing Google to "fill in the blank", so to speak. Note: this is a somewhat tricky search, and some capabilities that are explained in this article have been deprecated. At the time of this writing, all of these techniques work. In addition, you should feel free to experiment and build upon these foundational processes and use them in your own searches to make them more successful. 

Wildcard Search

Using an asterisk (*) within your search query as a substitute for an unknown word you're open to searching beyond regular results for (i.e., a "wildcard") can return some decent results. For example:

* now brown *

If you're looking for an exact duplication of the phrase you've entered in with your wildcard search, make sure you put quotes around it, so Google will know to return results with those exact words in that exact order. Using quotes can make your searches much more streamlined and effective.

"now brown"

Using "OR"

Using the Boolean search operator "OR" will help you track down results that have just one of several words, not results that have all of them. This is extremely helpful if you're looking for time-sensitive information; for example:

nfl schedule 2012 OR 2013

Of course, if you want Google to search for a specific phrase, enclose your query in quotes, i.e.:

"nfl schedule 2014" OR "nba schedule 2014"

Google Insights

Another way to look for parts of a word with Google is using Google Trends, a tool anyone can use to look at search volume patterns in countries, time-frames, and cultural events.

Type in just part of a word, for example, "cycle." With very little work at all, we get all sorts of results that include this word, including:

  • life cycle
  • water cycle
  • motor cycle
  • cell cycle
  • free cycle

You can also get a very good idea of what people are searching for with a partial word search at the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Yes, you'll need to have both a Google account and Google AdWords account; however, both of these are free and take just a few seconds to sign up for, and the advantages of using this extremely powerful keyword tool far outweigh the momentary inconvenience.

You'll be able to search for partial words here, but you'll also be able to search for partial phrases and all sorts of other combinations. This is an extremely useful tool that will tell you what people are searching for, what kind of search volume per month those searches are actually racking up, and how popular any particular search query might be. In addition to this data, you'll get ideas for further searches you can use to build upon the foundation you already have. In short, it's a very useful tool that goes far beyond what it was originally intended for.

As with any search techniques, don't get too tied to just one way of searching for what you are looking for. It is perfectly acceptable (and encouraged!) to experiment with your search methods; this way, you'll pull in results that you might not have otherwise.