Tips for Using Google Search Effectively

Google Search page screenshot

Say you're trying to plan a vacation to a place where you can ride horses. You type "horses" into Google, and get back results: 1-10 of about 1,930,000,000! That's far too many. Your vacation will be over before you finish searching the web. You may also notice that there are map suggestions for horses, but those apply only to locations with horses near you. How can you target your search effectively?

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Google search for horse riding

The first step is to narrow your search by adding search words. How about horse riding? That narrows the search to 35,500,000. Google's results now show all the pages that contain the search terms "horse" and "riding." That means your results will include both pages with horse riding and riding horse. There's no need to type in the word "and." 

As with a search for "horse," Google may assume that you want to find a place to go horse riding near you and show a map of nearby stables. 

Stemming Words

Google automatically searches for variations of the words you use, so when you search for horse riding, you're also searching for ​"ride" and "horses."

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Quotes and Other Punctuation

Google search for horse riding

Let's narrow it down to only pages with the exact phrase "horse riding" in them. Do this by putting quotes around the phrase you want to search for. This narrows it down to 10,600,000. Let's add vacation to the search terms. Since we don't need the exact phrase "horse riding vacation," type it as "horse riding" vacation. This is very promising. We're down to 1,420,000 and the first page of results all seem to be about horse riding vacations.

Similarly, if you had results you wanted to exclude, you could use a minus sign, so horse -breeding would yield results of horse without the word breeding on the page. Make sure you put a space before the minus sign and no space between the minus sign and the word or phrase you wish to exclude

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Think of Other Ways to Say It

Google search for guest ranches or dude ranches

Isn't another word for a place that hosts horse riding vacations a "guest ranch?" How about "dude ranch." You can search for synonyms with Google, but if you're stuck on something super important, you can also find search terms by using Google Insights for Search.

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Either OR

Search Google for guest ranch or dude ranch

Either of those terms could be used, so how about searching for both of them at once? To find results that include either one term or another, type uppercase OR between the two terms you want to find, so type in '"dude ranch" OR "guest ranch."' That's still a lot of results, but we'll narrow it down further and find one within driving distance.

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Check Your Spelling

Auto-suggest misspelled word

Let's find a dude ranch in Misurri. Drat, that word is misspelled. Google helpfully searches for the word (477 other people can't spell Missouri, either.) But at the top of the results area, it also asks 'Did you mean: "dude ranch" OR "guest ranch" Missouri"' Click on the link, and it will search again, this time with the correct spelling. Google will also auto-suggest the correct spelling as you're typing. Just click on the suggestion to use that search. 

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Look at the Grouping

Google results for dude ranch

Google often creates an information box for search terms. In this case, the information box is a place page with location, phone number, and reviews. Place pages also often include a link to an official website, the business hours, and the times when the business is busiest. 

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Save Some Cache

Google results for dude ranch

If you're looking for a specific piece of information, sometimes it can get buried in a slow web page. Click on the ​cached link, and Google will show you the snapshot of the webpage that is stored on their server. You can view it with stored images (if any) or just the text. This can help you scan a web page quickly to determine if it's what you need. Keep in mind that this is ​old info, and not all websites contain a cache.

Another way to quickly drill down to the results you need in a page with a lot of information is to just use your browser's Control-F (or on a Mac Command-F) function to find a word on the page. Many people forget this is an option and end up wasting time needlessly skimming through a pile of words on a long page.

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Other Types of Searches

Alternate search for guest ranch in missouri dude ranch

Google can help with all sorts of advanced searches, such as videos, patents, blogs, news, and even recipes. Be sure to check the links at the top of your Google search results page to see if there's a search that might be more helpful. There's also a More button for more options, in case you can't find the type of results you need. You can also search Google for the address of a Google search engine you can't remember, such as Google Scholar. 

In our guest ranch example, rather than searching on Google's main search engine, it might be more helpful to search for a dude ranch in Missouri while looking at a map. To do this, click on the Maps link at the top of the screen to go to Google Maps. However, you may notice that this step isn't always necessary. There are maps results already embedded within the search results.

If you're interested in the Bucks and Spurs guest ranch, you can click on the directions link listed underneath the address in the search results. You can also click on the map on the side of the screen. Keep in mind that not every location is going to have a website, so sometimes it's still helpful to search in Google Maps instead of sticking to the main Google search engine.

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