Helix Library

Online Searching

Google Like a Pro

Sure, you can just type some words into the search box and hope for the best. But Google has a lot of advanced search operators that most people never take advantage of. The following tips, re-printed from Google Search Help, will fine-tune your searches and get you better results.  (If you think you're already a Google expert, try these Power Searching courses for some even more advanced search techniques!) 


Tip One: Choose Words Carefully

Use words that are likely to appear on the site you're looking for. For example, instead of saying my head hurts, say headache, because that’s the word a medical site would use. 

tip two: word order matters 

Google ranks the first word of the search as slightly more important than the next, so changing the order of your search terms will change your search results. For example, typing: blue sky will give you different results than typing: sky blue.To improve accuracy, put the most important words first. 

tip three: use quotation marks around phrases

Putting quotation marks around phrases and quotes will ensure that Google searches for the words in the same grouping and order that you've typed them. For example, you should use quotation marks for phrases such as: "death penalty" "science fiction" and "electrical engineering"

tip Four: use advanced search 

Google's Advanced Search allows you to easily adjust and refine your searches...without having to remember the search operators / symbols listed at the bottom of this page. 


Finding Free-to-Use Images

(re-printed from Google Search Help

When you do a Google Search, you can filter your results to find images, videos, or text that you have permission to re-use. To do this, you’ll use an Advanced Search filter called "usage rights" that lets you know when you can use, share, or modify something you find online.

  1. Go to Advanced Image Search for images or Advanced Search for anything else.
  2. In the "all these words" box, type what you want to search.
  3. In the "Usage rights" section, use the drop-down to choose what kind of license you want the content to have.
  4. Select Advanced Search.
Types of usage rights
  • Free to use or share: Allows you to copy or redistribute its content if the content remains unchanged.
  • Free to use, share, or modify: Allows you to copy, modify, or redistribute in ways specified in the license.
  • Commercially: If you want content for commercial use, be sure to select an option that includes the word "commercially."


using Search Operators 

(re-printed from Google Search Help

Search operators are words that can be added to searches to help narrow down the results. Don’t worry about memorizing every operator, because you can also use the Advanced Search page to create these searches.

Operator How to use it
site: Get results from certain sites or domains.
Examples: olympics site:nbc.com and olympics site:.gov
related: Find sites that are similar to a web address you already know.
Example: related:time.com
OR Find pages that might use one of several words.
Example: marathon OR race
info: Get information about a web address, including the cached version of the page, similar pages, and pages that link to the site.
Example: info:google.com
cache: See what a page looks like the last time Google visited the site.
Example: cache:washington.edu

Note: When you search using operators or punctuation marks, don't add any spaces between the operator and your search terms. A search for site:nytimes.com will work, but site: nytimes.com won't.


using punctuation & symbols

(re-printed from Google Search Help

Even though you can use the punctuation marks below when you search, including them doesn’t always improve the results. If we don't think the punctuation will give you better results, you'll see suggested results for that search without punctuation.

Symbol How to use it

Find popular hashtags for trending topics
Example: #throwbackthursday

- When you use a dash before a word or site, it excludes sites with that info from your results. This is useful for words with multiple meanings, like Jaguar the car brand and jaguar the animal.
Examples: jaguar speed -car or pandas -site:wikipedia.org
" When you put a word or phrase in quotes, the results will only include pages with the same words in the same order as the ones inside the quotes. Only use this if you're looking for an exact word or phrase, otherwise you'll exclude many helpful results by mistake.
Example: "imagine all the people"
* Add an asterisk as a placeholder for any unknown or wildcard terms.
Example: "a * saved is a * earned"