The Top Web Search Tricks Everyone Should Know

Find the results you need

An illustration of a man looking at the volume of data on the web trying to figure out how he's going to find what he's searching for.

 Getty Images

Ever been frustrated with your web search results? Sure, we've all been there! In order to search the web more effectively, there are a few basic skills that you need to learn to make your searches less frustrating and more successful.

Here are some tried and true web search methods that will work in virtually any search engine and directory, along with a few basic web search skills you need to have in order to have truly successful web searches. 

Be Specific

A screenshot of Google Search results from a specific, natural language query.

The more narrowed down you can get your web searches from the beginning, the more successful your web search usually will be. For example, if you were searching for "coffee", you'd get way more results back than you could use; however, if you narrowed that down using a natural language phrase to "roasted Arabica coffee in Detroit Michigan", you'd be more successful.

Natural language is the way that you speak normally and while you might not say "roasted Arabica coffee in Detroit, Michigan" when you talk about coffee, if you use that specific phrase when you're searching for coffee brewed in Detroit, it will narrow your results dramatically.

Use Quotes to Locate A Specific Phrase

A screenshot from Google Search engine results when using quotes around a search phrase.

Probably one of the number one things you can do to save serious web search time is the simplest - and that's searching for a phrase by putting it in quotes.

When you use quotation marks around a phrase, you are telling the search engine to only bring back pages that include these search terms exactly how you typed them in order, proximity, etc. This tip works in almost every search engine and is very successful in bringing back hyper-focused results. If you're looking for an exact phrase, put it in quotes. Otherwise, you'll come back with a huge jumble of results. 

For example, if you search for "long haired cats" your search will come back with these three words in proximity to each other and in the order you intended them to be, rather than scattered willy-nilly on the site.

If you use the same search phrase without the quotations, some of the search results returned will either not have all three words, or the words might be in different orders, and in no proximity to each other at all. So, a page that talks about a long-haired blonde who hates cats could come up in the results.

Use Google to Search Within a Site

A screenshot of Google site search results.

If you've ever tried to use a website's native search tool to find something, and haven't been successful, you definitely are not alone! You can use Google to search within a site, and since most site search tools just aren't that great, this is a good way to find what you're looking for with a minimum of fuss. This is a great way to easily find what you're looking for.

Simply use this command within Google's search bar to search within a site: the word "site", then a colon, then the URL of the website you'd like to search within. For example: site:www.lifewire.com "how to find people" plugged into Google will bring back search results only from this domain that are related to finding people online

Find Words Within a Web Address

A screenshot of Google inurl search results.

You can actually search within a web address using the "inurl" command via Google; this allows you to search for words within the URL, or Uniform Resource Locator.

This is just another interesting way to search the web and find websites that you might not have found by just entering in a query word or phrase. For example, if you only want to find results from sites that have the word "marshmallow" in their URL, you would plug this query into Google's search bar: inurl:marshmallow. Your search results will only contain websites with that word in their URL. 

Search Within Web Page Titles

A screenshot of the search results returned when using the allintitle: search command.

Web page titles are found at the top of your Web browser and within search results.

You can restrict your Google search to only Web page titles with the "allintitle" search command. The term allintitle is a search operator specific to Google that brings back search results restricted to search terms found in Web page titles.

For example, if you only wanted search results with the word "tennis championshipslong-haired you would use this syntax:

allintitle: tennis championships

This would bring back Google search results with the words "tennis championships" in the Web page titles.

View the Cached Version of a Website

A screenshot showing how to view the cached version of a website in Google search results.

If a site or even just something on a page has been taken down, you can't see it anymore, right? 

That's not necessarily true. Google keeps a cached copy of most websites handy. This is an archived version of the website, making it easy for you to see information or pages that have been taken down (for whatever reason). It's also a handy feature when the website is suffering under too much traffic, so it won't render correctly. 

See What Pages Link to a Specific Website

A screenshot showing how the link: search operator returns the websites linked to a specific URL.

If you want to know what sites link back to a specific page, on way to find out is to use the link: operator. This operator, when combined with a website URL shows what pages link back to that URL. 

For example, if you want to know what pages link to a site like Grumpy Cat, you would use this search command: 

link:www.grumpycats.com

The results from that search are more than 1.9 million other websites that link to the Grumpy Cat website. 

Search Web Pages for Specific Words

Screenshot of how Ctrl+F works on a website to find a specific word on that site.

Say you're looking for a specific concept or topic, perhaps someone's name, or a business, or a particular phrase. You plug your search into your favorite search engine, click on a few pages, and scroll laboriously through tons of content to find what you're looking for. Right?

Not necessarily. You can use an extremely simple web search shortcut to search for a word on a webpage, and this will work in any browser you might be using. Here we go:

CTRL +F, then type in the word you're looking for in the search field that pops up. Simple as that, and you can use it in any web browser, on any website.

Limit Searches to Specific, High-Level Domains

Screenshots of the site: search operator for top-level domains, in this case a search for .gov sites on veterans benefits.

If you'd like to limit your searches to a specific domain, such as .edu, .org, .gov, and more, you can use the site: command to accomplish this.

This works in most popular search engines and is a great way to narrow your searches to a very particular level. For example, say you only wanted to search U.S. government-related sites for something. You could limit your search results to only government sites simply by typing site:.gov "veteran's benefits". This will bring back results only from sites that are in the .gov high-level domain. 

Use Basic Math to Narrow Your Search Results

A screenshot showing how mathematical operators are used in Boolean search terms.

Another web search trick that's deceptively simple is using addition and subtraction to make your search results more relevant. Basic math can really help you in your search quest (your teachers always told you that someday you would use math in real life, right?). This is called Boolean search and is one of the guiding principles behind the way most search engines frame their search results. 

For example, you are searching for Tom Ford, but you get lots of results for Ford Motors. Easy - just combine a couple of web search basics here to get your results: "tom ford" -motors. Now your results will come back without all those pesky car results.

Find Particular File Formats

A screenshot showing how searching for a specific type of file, such as PDF returns only those type of files as results.

Google doesn't just index Web pages, written primarily in HTML and other markup languages. You can also use Google to find virtually any kind of file format available, including PDF files, Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets.

A useful tip is to search by file type using the filetype:(type) command, replacing (type) with the extension for the file type you want to find. For example, if you wanted to search for only PDF files that referenced "long haired cats" your search query would be: filetype:pdf "long haired cats".

Try Multiple Search Engines

A collection of search engines, including Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, WolframAlpha, and Usa.gov.

Don't fall into the rut of using one search engine for all your search needs. Every search engine returns different results. Plus, there are many search engines that focus on specific niches: games, blogs, books, forums, etc. The more comfortable you are with a good variety of search engines, the more successful your searches are going to be. Check out this list of search engines for a wide variety of what you can use the next time you're looking for something. 

It's easy to skim the surface of your favorite search engine and only use the most prominent features; however, most search engines have a wide variety of advanced search options, tools, and services that are only available to those dedicated searchers that take the time to search 'em out. All of these options are for your benefit - and can help make your searches more productive.

In addition, if you're just starting out learning how to search the web, it's easy to be overwhelmed with just the sheer amount of information that is available to you, especially if you're searching for something very specific. Don't give up! Keep trying, and don't be afraid to try new search engines, new web search phrase combinations, new web search techniques, etc.

Widen the Net with a Wildcard Search

Screenshot of a Google search that uses a wildcard operator, the asterisk.

You can use "wildcard" characters to throw a broader search net in most search engines and directories. These wildcard characters include * (asterisk), # (hashtag), and ? (question mark) with the asterisk being the most common.Use wildcards when you want to broaden your search. For example, if you are looking for sites that discuss trucks and topics associated with trucks, don't search for just "truck", search for truck*. This will return pages that contain the word "truck" as well as pages that contain "trucks", "trucking", "truck enthusiasts", "trucking industrylong-haired and so on.