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
This article explores matters related to search. Other Google projects, like its Chrome browser, are not covered.
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").
The best of the
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
search* at www.google.com/imghp, touted as the Web's most
comprehensive, indexes (according to Google) over 880 million
Google will bring up several
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.)
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
content includes movies, music, interview shows, and more. Ads are
non-invasive links. http://video.google.com*
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.
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
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
You can skip the Google entry page and gain easy access to 16
Google options with MsFreckles
), or to 19 with
). For a simple Google search with
non-Google extras (and only one search box), try Mozbot
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
with one search box will initiate any of 12 Google searches,
others and more to come. Just ignore the cryptic "cc" notation next to some Mrquery links.
* Can be streamlined with the use of the Google
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
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:
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.
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
To enter search terms in the search box, use Alt-G. That way
you won't have to position your mouse pointer.
- When using the Word Find function, hold down the
control key to find the exact whole word, and similarly use the shift key to
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
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
*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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Don't worry about misspelled words. Google will automatically correct misspellings, with a link at the top to undo the correction.
- 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.
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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
- 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.
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.
- 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.
* * * *
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Richard Johnson is a writer and editor, and founder/administrator of
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