LAST UPDATED ON 2005-December-05!


We seldom use the usual Google Search page, preferring to use the Advanced Search page instead. While it is a bit more complex, it offers a lot more power and versatility than the basic model.

In order to use it effectively you need to learn what the various boxes and options are. Visit Google's Advanced Search Tips and read through it carefully. A few minutes spent on studying it can save precious hours at the keyboard.

While you're at it, visit Google's explanation of its many features. It's really much more than just an Internet search engine.

Before you do anything else, you should visit Google's Customize Your Results page and set some basic values to make your searches a lot more efficient. First, read down the page and note anything that interests you for later. Then select Click here near the top of the page to go to the Preferences page.

If English is your primary or only language you can automagically filter out all the foreign language hits that you can't read. In the second field, make sure that "Search only for pages written in these language(s):" is selected and then select "English." Of course, you can choose any other languages you wish. This might be particularly useful if your first language weren't English. For instance, if you lived in one of the Eastern European countries you might prefer checking Polish or Russian instead of English because they would be easier to read or more relevant to your needs. However, you might still check English as well because of the shear number of webpages that are written in English and the consequent resource base.

Next, farther down the page, find "Number of Results." Select 50 or 100. This way, you will not have to wait what seems like a string of eternities to download results in tiny, ten hit snippets. However, this will mean that you'll have to scroll down fairly long results pages to see all your hits. Ordinarily this isn't as much of a problem as having to wait forever for another page to load with all it's irrelevant graphics.

Next, find the section labelled "Results Window" and make sure that "Open search results in a new browser window." is checked. Once you do this, whenever you click a hit to see what it contains it will open in a new window, leaving your Search Results page intact. If and when you want to return to the Search Results page you need only rotate back to it with <Alt>-<Tab> or close the child window using <Alt>- F4. (Here we're assuming a WINDOWS computer. We have no idea of how a Mac does this.) The beauty of this method is that you don't have to wait for Google to reload the whole Search Results page all over again every time you want to select a new hit. It's still sitting there, waiting for you!

The Devil must take his due, however. As you open new window after new window without closing them you may eventually begin to run out of system resources, even with big, fast, high end machines. Worse yet, after about three or four windows, trying to keep track of which window holds what data becomes pretty much impossible for most mortals. Pay attention to how many different windows you have open and winnow them back to reasonable numbers frequently.


Google assumes a logical AND between search words unless you do something to dissuade it. Thus, monkey wrench in the search string is interpreted as monkey AND wrench and Google will report a gazillion hits with each hit containing both of those two words, whether separate or together and in any order.

You can convince Google to search for phrases by enclosing them in quotes such as "monkey wrench" or by connecting them with either a minus sign (dash or hyphen, but not an underscore) or a plus sign as in monkey-wrench or monkey+wrench. (But, no spaces here please!) In any of these examples, Google will only return hits that contain those two words in that precise order.

You can also talk Google into reporting all hits that contain either monkey or wrench, but be prepared for many more hits than you could examine in your lifetime! That search string would be monkey OR wrench.

All of this can be very helpful in compensating for other people's poor spelling. Consider the following search string.

  • "for sale" motorhome OR "motor home" -pdf -rtf -doc site:edu

"What are those things with the minus signs?" you wonder. If there are some hits that you know you'd not be interested in and you know that they and only they will contain a specific character string, you can include that string with a minus sign in front. Be sure to include a space before the minus sign (or it'll be interpreted as a phrase, see above) but no space between the minus sign and the excluded text. Google will not report any hits that contain the text immediately behind the minus sign up to the next space.

The -pdf, for instance, filters out all Adobe Acrobat "pdf" files. We do this because Stan has a particular antipathy for them. Before they can be viewed the browser must first load the Adobe Acrobat Reader plugin, then it must download the pdf file and lastly it must decompress and write the document with all its graphics to the screen. Because Acrobat Reader is so poorly written it's a huge system hog. During this whole process it highjacks the CPU and everything else slows to a near standstill. It's difficult to even switch windows so you can continue your game of solitaire (a common defence against slow loading webpages) while Reader does its thing.

Yes, we know. You can click the "View as HTML." link in most of Google's pdf hits and get the document with a lot less trouble in html format. But, the cost is that you loose a lot of the formatting that pdf files offer and that can seriously diminish their usefulness. Because we're already plagued with too many hits from most searches, this is a good way to winnow out a bunch that we're probably not going to appreciate anyway. If you want to get your message across. use the default medium (i.e., html), not some weird, off the wall, secondary thing.

The -rtf and -doc also exclude nuisance word processing files.

And what about that site:edu thingie? If you knew that the hits you were looking for only existed on an educational institution website you might include that search string to narrow your search to only those sites that ended in "edu." (USA institutions only, unfortunately.) This might be particularly relevant if you were looking for information that you were very certain would be correct, as opposed to as much as half or two-thirds of the stuff posted on websites in general. Medical information might be a good example.

Any other currently recognized site ending is also legal. For instance, consider this search string. (Remember that, unless you specify otherwise, AND is assumed as in stout AND breweries.)

  • beer OR ale OR stout breweries OR taverns OR bars OR pubs site:au

You'll receive an impressive list of well over 21,000 Australian breweries and taverns! (My, those Aussies do love their brew!)

One last hint: As you use the Advanced Search page watch how your input effects the final search string in the boxes at the top and bottom of the Search Results page. As you gain more proficiency in using Google you'll learn how to write really sophisticated search strings without having to resort to filling in six different boxes. That alone can speed your searches immensely.


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Copyright © 2003 Stanley A. Schultz and Marguerite J. Schultz.
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This page was initially created on 2003-November-20.
The last revision occurred on 2005-December-05.