Beginner’s guide to searching on Google: Five tips for finding relevant web content

Photo by Carlos Luna (Flickr Creative Commons)

It can be irritating searching for something on the web, only to have thousands of pages of irrelevant content appear. Fortunately, Google has made it simple and easy to modify your search query without getting bogged down by technical jargon.

If you’re new to Google or are just looking for a refresher on some basic tips for quickly finding web content that is relevant to your needs, follow these five simple tips:

When it comes to search engines, less is more
There’s no need to write a book when your searching for something on the web. Generally, it’s a good idea to omit any prepositions (such as: of, at, on), articles (such as: a, an, the) or other broad or general words (such as: big or good). Simple, one or two word search terms will usually give you the broadest results.

Start with a few words and then try narrowing down your results by adding more descriptive terms if necessary. If you’re looking for meatless recipe ideas, try searching: vegetarian recipes. If you’re looking for a more specific kind of recipe, try adding words that apply such as: fancy, broccoli, family, simple or cheap.

Don’t worry about: punctuation, cases or spelling
You may not be a grammarian, but Google has you covered. Your Google results will ignore common punctuation like hashtags, percentage signs, parentheses and some other special characters. Search also isn’t case sensitive. So a search for “Netflix” and a search for “netflix” will give you the exact same results. 

Lastly, Google’s spell checker automatically defaults to the most common spelling of a given word, whether or not you spell it correctly. Do try to spell words as accurately as possible. Incorrect spellings may not always yield results for the correct spelling that you desire. 

Use web-friendly words, not conversational phrases
A search engine attempts to match the words you search to the words on web pages, so try searching for words that are more likely to be included in the headlines of the webpages you’re looking for. Instead of searching “I have trouble falling asleep at night,” try searching “natural sleep remedies.”

Search an exact phrase with quotation marks
Google searches for keywords in webpages regardless of their word order. If you’re looking for exact phrases, put quotation marks around the words that you’d like to search in that exact order. Note that searching with quotes might exclude relevant results. For instance, a search for “Alexander Bell” will miss pages that refer to Alexander G. Bell.

This feature can be especially helpful when you’re searching for things like song lyrics and movie quotes. Instead of searching “trippy beatles song,” try searching “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” with quotation marks. 

Omit certain words and characters in your search
Want to omit certain words from your search? No problem. Simply place a minus sign before the word that you want omitted without any spaces. So if you want to learn about non-solar, alternative energy, search: “alternative energy” -solar. If you want to know how fast a wild jaguar can run, you may want to consider searching: jaguar speed -car.