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Google Tips and Tricks
 
by Richard O. Johnson
 
Revised April 2012
 
 
I don't have to tell you about Google, which has for many years been the search leader. Newbies will want to know they can initiate a Google search at www.google.com. All the services I'm recommending here, most of them from Google but a few from other sources, are entirely free.
 
This article explores matters related to search. Other Google projects, like its Chrome browser, are not covered.
 
Google Goodies
 
Google Maps
 
There are four basic ways to get to a Google map. You can bring up http://maps.google.com or http://local.google.com. (These addresses currently bring up the identical page.) Or click the Maps link on the top of any page of Google search results. Or the best way may be simply to type a location into the standard Google search bar. With this fourth method, even if you don't have the fastest Internet connection, you'll see an instant map at the top of the page, without the usual interactive features of Google Maps. Just click on that to bring up a full-featured map.
 
Tip: If your browser security settings are stringent, Google Maps may not display properly. In that case, add the Web address to your trusted sites.
 
For easy access to names, addresses, hours, and websites of businesses, and, often, third-party reviews (like restaurant reviews), click "Find businesses" just below the search bar above the map, and then use the search bar for the type of business. Or you can initiate a local search as you bring up the map, by typing as your search query both your search term and the location (for example, "restaurants 90016").
 
Map spin-offs:
  • To search for rental and for-sale housing around the country, in a price range you specify, go to www.housingmaps.com. For each result you'll see at a glance whether a picture is available. Then if you choose you can link to the original listing.
  • To see a zip code area outlined on a Google map, enter the zip code at http://maps.huge.info. Or click on the map to find the applicable zip code. In October of '05 the site expanded to offer other maps showing county and town boundaries.
  • Google Maps are utilized in the broadening of Google Product Search to include local shopping. See The best of the rest, below.
  • Other map spin-offs include a cheap gas locator, a traffic-weather map, a location bookmarking map, a where-to-eat map, and a cell phone reception map. These and many more are laid out at the lifehack site. Find even more on this googlmapki page. You can even subscribe to a blog to keep up with new spin-offs as they appear.
The best of the rest
 
The following are some of the more useful (or more interesting) of Google's non-standard services. You do not need the Google Toolbar to employ them. However, services that can be streamlined with the Google Toolbar are marked with a red asterisk [*]:
  • Google's image search* at www.google.com/imghp, touted as the Web's most comprehensive, indexes (according to Google) over 880 million images.
  • Google will bring up several definitions* for nearly any word. In the Google search box just type define followed by a space and the word or phrase of interest (no quotes needed for phrases). Unfortunately, following a recent Google revision you may then have to click again—usually the first result. You can overcome this "improvement" by using Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, or by using Google's toolbar (see below).
  • Reverse phone directory. In the search box type the area code and phone number (with hyphens, as xxx-xxx-xxxx) and you'll probably see at the top of the resulting page not only the personal or company name, but also the address. (This may not work for toll-free numbers.)
  • Instant flight tracking. Google will provide the current status of a flight, upon your entering in the search box the flight ID (for example, American Airlines 123). You'll see whether the flight is on time or delayed, as well as the estimated departure and arrival times.
  • Accessible Search is useful even for those not visually impaired. It helps you bypass webpage clutter by weighting its search results in favor of simpler pages with fewer visual distractions. It also gives higher rankings to pages that are more easily navigable by keyboard. labs.google.com/accessible
  • Google offers special searches, limited (for example) to public service or to Microsoft. Go to www.google.com/options/specialsearches.html.
  • One of Google's "special searches" (see above), unfortunately dubbed "U.S Government search," searches within state governments as well as the U.S. federal government. A ResearchBuzz! adaptation allows you easily to restrict your search to a particular state: www.researchbuzz.org/wp/tools/googlestatesearch.
  • To search within dates you could click "More search tools" at the left of Google's search results, but you'll see limited options and won't be able to exclude recent pages. A more sophisticated choice is the form at www.gmacker.com/web/content/gDateRange/gdr.htm. Note that whatever you use, the dates apply to when the results were indexed, not created.
  • Google will enable you to view a page that's been removed from the Web.* Look for the "Cached" link after the description of the page in a search result. Or you can bring up the cached version with a Google search for cache:[Web address]. For example, if you want a cache of www.kpfk.org, you'd search for cache:www.kpfk.org. This function will give you access to many closed-down sites not yet available via the Internet Archive (not a Google service).
  • Real time results may be displayed in a Latest results box on the results page. Or you can click on the desired time frame in the sidebar.
  • Google will warn you if you click a search result that Google considers unsafe.
  • The Google Directory* at http://directory.google.com combines the Open Directory Project (the Web's largest human-edited directory) with Google's proprietary ranking system. Use of the directory is helpful to narrow down what might otherwise be an overly broad search. 
  • Weather forecasts* are easily obtained, by typing in the Google search bar the word "weather" followed by the city of choice (for example, "weather canoga park"). The forecast will speedily appear at the top of a page of search results.
  • Google Product Search* (also known as Froogle), a comparison shopping service whose listed vendors pay neither for inclusion nor placement, is at www.google.com/products. In addition to price, photos, and description, you'll also find links to merchant reviews. You can sort results by price, product rating, merchant rating, or relevance. 
  • Google Alerts at www.google.com/alerts will notify you by email of new results for your search. You can use this service for news alerts, group alerts, or ordinary Web alerts. (There is a licensed more limited non-Google service at www.googlealert.com, but I can't see much reason for using that.)
  • Google Reader* enables RSS and Atom feeds to keep you abreast of what's new on your favorite sites. It will search for sites of interest according to your criteria, and supports labels and stars. www.google.com/reader
  • Google Book Search* gives you access to books' contents and lets you search within those books. Some books have maps of locations mentioned, with page references. Go to http://books.google.com.* 
  • Google's Web History* will from any computer let you view by date or easily find past searches and search results. Go to www.google.com/searchhistory/help.html.
  • Google Health. Designed to allow you safely to store all your health information including medical records gathered from doctors and pharmacies, and share it with health providers and family members. https://www.google.com/health
  • Google's Blog Search* at http://blogsearch.google.com will now easily search by date, without the need to go to its advanced search page. 
  • The Google Calculator* can do anything your stand-alone calculator can do, and a lot more. It's especially useful for conversions, by employing the operator "in." For example, to find the number of teaspoons in two cups, you'd type "teaspoons in 2 cups" [without the quotes] in the Google search box. For myriad other uses go to www.google.com/help/calculator.html.
  • Google Voice gives you at no charge your own phone number that will ring all your phones at once, plus free voice mail with screening and transcripts, conference calling, call blocking, and call forwarding. You'll also be able to call anywhere in the U.S., free. www.google.com/voice
  • Google Desktop, to search files on your own computer, can be downloaded from http://desktop.google.com. It's available for users of Windows 2000 and above.
  • Gmail* features lightning-quick retrieval of old messages without the need to file or even delete incoming messages. (A full discussion of Gmail is here.) Go to mail.google.com.
  • Google Video content includes movies, music, interview shows, and more. Ads are non-invasive links. http://video.google.com*
  • Google Translate* is the most comprehensive free online translation tool, supporting 253 language pairs. It will translate text or an entire page, but results, like those of any machine translation, are far from perfect. http://translate.google.com/translate_t
  • Google Base. Allows you without a website to post items online, that will be available for Web searches. If you have a website, your Google Base submission can link to it. http://base.google.com
  • Google Mac Widgets for Mac users includes the Blogger Widget for posting to your blog, the Gmail Widget for checking your Gmail inbox, and the Search History Widget. www.google.com/macwidgets
  • Google Searchwiki lets you customize your Google Web Search results by ranking, removing, and adding notes to them. By moving your desired result to the top, you can use this device as a replacement for bookmarking. More info here. 
  • AdWords is Google's pay-per-click text advertising. Your ads can appear alongside Google search results, and also other search results such as those of AOL and Ask, and on non-search sites such as about.com and nytimes.com. https://adwords.google.com
  • AdWords tip: Google provides toll-free phone support for AdWords at a number you won't easily find in the Google pages, (866) 246-6453.

Note that without retyping you can extend even a non-toolbar Web search to Google Maps, Google Images, , Google News, etc. by clicking on a link at the left of every results page. Click more to see additional links.
 
You can skip the Google entry page and gain easy access to 16 Google options with MsFreckles (www.msfreckles.com/?lang=en), or to 19 with Soople (www.soople.com). For a simple Google search with non-Google extras (and only one search box), try Mozbot at www.mozbot.com. Extras include automatically displayed definitions and synonyms, suggestions for related searches, site information, an option to exclude a site from future searches, and various others. Mrquery (http://mrquery.com) with one search box will initiate any of 12 Google searches, plus 127 others and more to come. Just ignore the cryptic "cc" notation next to some Mrquery links.
 
A comprehensive link list endeavoring to cover all official Google services (over 100), is at googleservicesguide.blogspot.com. Google's own link list (prettier but less complete) is at www.google.com/options.
 
* Can be streamlined with the use of the Google Toolbar
 
Google Toolbar
 
Many swear by the Google Toolbar, although Google's new expandable sidebar (see below under Search tips) provides many of the same functions without the need to add software (or take up page space). The toolbar is available for Internet Explorer or Firefox, but the Firefox version has at least in the past been problematic. Two good Firefox alternatives are Googlebar Lite and LinkExtend.
 
As you'd expect, the Google Toolbar enables access to Google's various alternative searches (news, images, video, etc.) without retyping. It brings you a host of other useful features, however, including:
  • enabling easy searching within the current site.
  • Word Find, with which you can find on the page a word, part of a word, or phrase more easily than with your browser alone.
  • The Highlight button, which you can toggle on to highlight your search terms in the search results.
  • Spell Checker, for Web forms.
  • Auto Fill (also for Web forms).
  • Up button, allowing you instantly to bring up a site's home page.
  • alternative searches (not Google) available via the Button Gallery, for the same search terms you've already typed in the Google search box. Predictably, these don't include many direct competitors like Yahoo Search or Live Search, but you will see useful tools such as Wikipedia and Answers.com, as well as dictionaries and thesauruses.
    Installation is a snap. Go to http://toolbar.google.com, do the quick download, and you're ready for business. Customize by choosing "Manage" in the pull-down menu next to the search box.
     
    Google Tips
     
    Toolbar tips
    1. To enter search terms in the search box, use Alt-G. That way you won't have to position your mouse pointer.

    2. When using the Word Find function, hold down the control key to find the exact whole word, and similarly use the shift key to move backwards.

    3. Options:

      • You'll be given the choice to show your buttons on the toolbar. Not showing them will save space*; they'll still be accessible from the search box's drop-down menu. Note the icon next to the search box to determine the current search option.

      • Under Button text labels, choose "No text." You don't really need the text--a tooltip will pop up--and (once more) you can use the space*.

      • If you opt for Google's Translate button (under Tools), use its pull-down menu to be sure that the Word Translator is not enabled--unless you want annoying translation tooltips continually appearing over words under your mouse pointer.

      • The Cached Snapshot of Page is an invaluable means of retrieving a webpage that is otherwise off the Web. In the current version it's hard to find, but it's available via the optional PageRank button. Once you have PageRank enabled, just use the drop-down menu next to the PageRank bar. You'll also be able to bring up Backward Links and Similar Pages. 

        Alternatively you can use IE's right-click menu† to gain access to "Page Info," which will give you a choice of the same three functions (Cached Snapshot, Backward Links, and Similar Pages), plus Translate Page.
        You can also view the cached version of a page by typing cache:[web address] in the search box (for example, cache:www.xyz.com); or just by clicking on the Cached link in a Google search result.  †To remove unneeded items from the right-click menu, check out the free Context Menu Editor
    *Of what use is the extra space? Extra toolbar space comes in very handy for the Word Find Feature, as you'll see once you've used it for a while. For optimum Word Find use, I suggest that you make the search box a little over half as long as the blank space following whatever buttons you've installed. (You may change the length of the search box by dragging its right border.)
     
    Search tips
    1. Use Google's expandable search sidebar at the left, to limit your results to images, say, or news (etc.). The "More" link will present you with additional options.

      The "Show search tools" link lets you set how recent your results should be, seek related searches, limit results to those nearby, and offers many more useful choices.

    2. Refine your search easily, when your search results cover too great a landscape, with the "Search within results" link at the bottom of the results page.

    3. For academically oriented results (often the most useful), try typing site:edu either before or after your search terms. This will eliminate commercial sites, and limit results to those from educational institutions.

    4. Google implements stemming -- that is, it automatically searches for variants of words as well as the words themselves -- and extends your search to words' synonyms. If however you want your search term to be used only as given (no synonyms or variants), precede it with a + or enclose it in quotes. For example, typing +food instead of food should stop Google from searching for foods or nutrition. To search for particular synonyms, use the OR operator (tip #7, below).

      Employing a tilde [~] to tell Google to look for synonyms is usually unnecessary. Use it to look for a synonym for the entire following string as a phrase (no quotes required) or to move the synonym-based entries up in the search results.

    5. Don't worry about misspelled words. Google will automatically correct misspellings, with a link at the top to undo the correction.

    6. Google ignores so-called stop words included in queries. These are common short words (like a, on, and by). Enclosing a phrase in quotes will force Google to search for the phrase as given, stop words or no. 

    7. Google recognizes the OR operator, or, in its stead, the vertical line. So if you're seeking search results concerning cats or dogs, you could type "cats OR dogs" or "cats|dogs" (both without the quotes). The OR used for this purpose must be upper-case. The vertical line will work with or without surrounding spaces.

      Use the minus sign right before a search term for "not." (A search for animals -dogs would ignore dogs.)

      For complicated queries, you can if necessary group search words within parentheses. 

    8. Instead of clicking on the main link at the top of each Google search result, try clicking on the word Cached. The page that will come up will now have your search words highlighted. (Don't use this ploy if you need to see the most recent page revisions.) This technique can be particularly useful if you don't see your search term in the search result snippet.

    9. Google supports word wild cards. That is, you can in your query use the asterisk [*] as a stand-in to represent any word. (This won't work in Google for parts of words.)

    10. Google's Search by Number feature will give you information about numbers you type in the search box. The most useful example of this is covered above--entering a phone number to use Google as a reverse directory. But other numbers can also yield valuable information. For instance, entering just the area code will bring up a link to a map of the area. You can also get information by entering UPS, USPS, and FedEx tracking numbers, Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), and even UPC codes.

    11. Phrase shortcuts. You probably know that to include a phrase as a search term, you enclose it in quotation marks. In Google you can save keystrokes when there's no text following the phrase, if you omit the ending quotation mark. (Google will fill that in for you.) Or forget about quotation marks entirely and separate the words with hyphens (no spaces). Google treats hyphenated terms as phrases. (You could if you like substitute a dot or colon for the hyphen.) Note that Google will include search results that ignore the quotation marks or alternate markers.

      Hint: What do you do if you want to search for a hyphenated word (like mayor-elect)? If you simply search for the hyphenated term, Google will treat your search as for the unhyphenated phrase, "mayor elect." So you need to enclose the hyphenated term in quotation marks: "mayor-elect." [Omit the period.] And of course you may leave off the ending quotation mark, as suggested above.

      This will work even if the quoted phrase includes other words to be searched together as a unit, as "mayor-elect harold hill." Omit the period, of course.

    12. The best way to use Google News is often via its Advanced News Search, to which you can link from the top of the Google news page, or get to directly at snurl.com/elhs. This allows you to sort by date, limit by news source or location, specify the date range, and easily modify your search in other ways.
    *   *   *   *
     
    For help on most Google products and services, go to www.google.com/support
     
    For late developments, check out Google Labs.
     
     

     
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    Richard Johnson is a writer and editor, and founder/administrator of NotBarter.com. The author provides support for all applications covered herein at no charge, to NotBarter.com members.