10 Best Web Search Tricks Everyone Should Know

See how easy it is to search the web more effectively

Laptop organizational search illustration

Ever been frustrated with your web search results? We've all been there! Fortunately, there are several tricks you can use to search better and get more relevant results.

Searching the web more effectively doesn't really take much effort. There are slight changes you can make to your searches to better explain to the search engine what it is you're looking for. Plus, most of them have advanced options you can use to make an even better ultra-targeted search.

Below are some tried and true web search techniques that work with virtually any search engine, along with a few basic web search skills you need to have for truly successful web searches.

You can use a mobile search engine to browse the web from your phone or tablet, and some of these tips work with those, too.

Be Specific

Google Search results for roasted coffee in detroit

The more relevant words you use in your search, the more successful your results will be.

For example, entering coffee when trying to find coffee shops in Michigan would provide far too many unnecessary results. Typing cat when you're in need of a drawing of a black cat, is just as unhelpful.

However, modifying it slightly to include the type of coffee or cat you want and the specific location or color you're looking for, is usually enough to provide the results you're after.

It's fine to use natural language in your web search like you see in this screenshot because a good search engine will filter out the "common" words that aren't necessary and pick up important terms like locations and other defining words.

Use Quotes to Search for a Phrase

Google Search with quotes for Los Angeles apartments for rent

Another important tip for getting better search results is to use quotation marks to group words together. When you do this, you're telling the search engine that everything inside the quotes should be grouped just like that in the results.

When you search the web with quotes, you drastically cut down the number of results that the search engine shows you, making a hyper-focused set of results.

Here's an example where we're grouping two sets of words so that each set will be searched just as they're typed here:

"Los Angeles" "apartments for rent"

What this does is shows results that include Los Angeles instead of other pages that could otherwise include "los" or "angeles," such as Los Pinos, Los Cocos, Angeles National Forest, etc.

The same is true for the second half. Since we want to find apartments for rent and not for sale, and we want to avoid other things for rent like houses and condos, we use quotes for better results, ensuring that those three words are next to each other.

Using quotes is ideal for finding very specific content, and it's supposed to cut down on the results you see. However, if you stuff lots of words between quotes, you might cut off too many results, including helpful ones that just aren't worded exactly as you made your search.

Use an Appropriate Search Engine

Two search engine paths illustration

Not all search engines are created equally. There are many different kinds that serve a very specific purpose, so if a "regular" one like Google, Bing, or Yahoo, wasn't enough to find what you're looking for, consider a totally different approach.

An audio search engine is one example where the website or app is built specifically for finding audio files, whether they be sound clips, music, effects, etc. A search engine that focuses on only videos or images, for example, is unhelpful if you're looking for music files.

Use Google to Search Within a Specific Site

Google site search results for flat screen TVs on Lifewire.com

If you've ever tried using a website's native search tool, but haven't been successful, you definitely aren't alone. One way to get better results when searching any particular site is to use Google.

This web search tip involves Google's "site" option. Here's an example where we're looking for something on Lifewire:

site:lifewire.com flat screen TV

The same technique works for restricting the results to a particular top-level domain:

site:gov "ron paul"

Basic Math Will Narrow Down Your Search Results

Google Search results for Tom Ford

Another web search trick that's deceptively simple is using addition and subtraction to make your search results more relevant. This is called Boolean search, and is one of the guiding principles behind the way most search engines frame their search results. 

Say you're searching for Tom Ford, but you get lots of results for Ford Motors. Fixing this is easy by combining the quotes trick you learned above with the minus/hyphen key:

"tom ford" -motors

Now, the results include only pages that mention Tom Ford, and the search engine removed those pesky car results.

As you sift through the results, if you find other words or phrases that you don't want to see, feel free to keep adding those to the search to refine it more and more.

Access Web Pages That Are Offline

Wayback Machine timeline

A website that goes down or a web page that's been taken offline permanently, isn't necessarily inaccessible. Sometimes, you can access a cached version of the page or browse for an archived copy of it.

Not all web pages are cached, but Google provides a simple way to check. You can do this if the site won't open for any reason, like if it was taken down or it won't load correctly due to a traffic overload.

However, the cache option on Google doesn't work for really old web pages. The alternative way to search through a site that's no longer live on the internet is to find it on Wayback Machine.

Use the Search Engine's Advanced Tools

Yahoo search for forest wallpaper

Most search engines have advanced options you can employ to get way better results. We've gone over a few of them above, but it's important to know that there are usually far more that are available.

A simple example can be seen with Yahoo Search. When you search for images on that site, you can pick a specific color, size, and type of image to look for. A video search is similar but lets you pick a length and resolution to look for.

Lots of web search tools have advanced options. You can see some examples in our list of Bing's advanced search tricks and Google Images' search options article.

For other sites, look for a Filter, Advanced, Tools, More Options, or similar button/menu around the search bar.

Run a Wildcard Search

Google wildcard search example

Most search engines let you use a wildcard character to throw a broader search net. Doing this lets you communicate to the search engine that it can replace the wildcard character with whatever it wants.

A wildcard might be the asterisk (*), hashtag (#), or question mark (?), but the asterisk is the most common.

Here's an example where we want to search for truck rentals in California, but we're not specific as to where in the state the rental company has to be.

"best truck rental in * california"

We'll get better results with quotes because we're looking for lists that show all the best truck rental companies in various areas.

Here's a similar search that would drastically change the results, showing us all sorts of rental businesses, but only in San Jose.

"best * rental" "san jose"

Search a Web Page for a Specific Word

Firefox's find on page search box

Effective web searches don't just involve tricks for using a search engine. Once you land on a page that you found through a web search, you might still stumble when finding whatever it is that you're looking for.

Fortunately, every web browser lets you do a keyword search on that page. This is a bit similar to the site search you learned above, but instead of just locating the pages that include those words, this trick shows you exactly where on the page the keyword appears.

To do this, use the Ctrl+F (Windows) or Command+F (Mac) keyboard shortcut to get a prompt that asks you what you're looking for. Most mobile browsers support a find function, too, usually hidden away in the menu.

For example, if you end up on a web page about a person you were researching, and you want to quickly see if the page mentions anything about the year 2005, you can use the shortcut to enter 2005. This will highlight every instance of it on the page and let you quickly jump to each line.

Try Multiple Search Engines

Search engine logos and a search bar

Don't fall into the rut of using just one search engine for all your web searches. Google isn't the only one out there. In fact, in addition to the unique search engines mentioned above, there are several alternatives to Google for normal web searches.

Bing, Yahoo, Startpage.com, Yandex, Ask.com, and DuckDuckGo are a few examples.

If one search engine isn't helping you find what you're looking for, you might have better results with a different one. Some of them use different algorithms and have unique filtering options that can ultimately show you different results than another one.

If you're not sure which one to use, you might try Dogpile, which combines a few search engines into one to help you get better results without bouncing around to different sites.