Google search tips to find what you’re looking for faster: The Digital Landscape

…or how to search like a Ninja

‘Type Google into Google, you can break the internet’, says Jen, the head of IT in the sublimely funny British comedy ‘The IT Crowd’.

While most of us have a good understanding of typing in our search words, there are several valuable tools buried in the Google search platform that can take your online research to the next level.


Quotation Marks:

The one I use the most in everyday research is quotation marks.

In normal Google search mode, searching for multiple-word terms defaults to searching for any instances of the individual words.

Say we are looking for Australian made tractors.

With Quotes (Click on the image to enlarge)
Without Quotes (Click on the image to enlarge)

Without quotes, we have over 4-million results, and (at the time of writing this) the number one ranked isn’t about Australian made tractors. Google searches for any of the three words and applies its algorithm to which site has better SEO components (domain authority, backlinks, page speed, etc.) and hasn’t given us what we asked for.

Let’s do it again, but type “Australian made tractors” enclosed in quotation marks this time. Google will search for those three words as a phrase, only in that order.

Whoa! We have now narrowed it down to just a thousand results, and the first result is called Australian Made Tractors! 

Quotation marks also work well with song lyrics, people’s names and obscure terms.

Note that it is spelling-sensitive; if you enclose a term with colour in it, it won’t return color instances. As an exercise, look at the vastly different results you get from searching colours of the American flag and “colours of the American flag”.

It also works on any of the other search tabs like Images, News, Books, Videos, etc.

Another use for this is when you are searching for a commonly used word, but you are after a specific use of it.

With Quotes (Click on the image to enlarge)
Without Quotes (Click on the image to enlarge)

Our first boat was a Currawong design, but if I searched Currawong, I would get the bird  dominating my 670,000 results.

Search Currawong “Yacht”, and voila! (the sixth one down is our old boat)

The Hyphen:

Another handy Google search tool is excluding words by simply adding a hyphen.

Great Gatsby returns results heavily skewed towards the film, but if you are interested in the book, Great Gatsby -movie cuts the movie results out. Hyphens can be stacked as well; Great Gatsby -movie -book tells me there’s an immersive theatrical treatment coming to Australia, as well as the recipe for the cocktail …and how to throw a Gatsby party.


Site Search (Click on the image to enlarge)
Google Site Search (Click on the image to enlarge)

Google has a range of qualifiers to add to the search string to specify where it looks.

You can search only in a specific site for any instances of a search term by adding site:


Notice how this also returns the images from the site, member directory entries, pages and posts, compared to the site-based search that only returns posts or pages? 

If you want results from a particular country, add the country code rose site:au

…and the same with filetype: Do you want to search for a pdf on a particular subject to download?

Easy, search “Fall Armyworm” filetype:pdf

…want an editable word doc? filetype:doc


Once your results are displayed, Google offers more ways to refine your current search. Most of us already use the additional tabs for Shopping, Images, News, Maps, Videos, Books, Flights or Finance, but some won’t have used the Tools tab on the right-hand side.

These offer additional ways to refine your search, including by the Time they were posted (including a date range), by Country, and a marvellous little refinement called Verbatim (under the All Results tab).


Using the Verbatim tool is a way to cut out the dross of Google’s attempt of personalised, corrected, suggested, related, and non-inclusive results.

You will see only results that:

  • Include all your search terms.
  • Match the exact spelling.
  • Use the same tense (e.g., “is” and “was” will be seen as distinct).
  • Use the same verb form (e.g., “jumping” and “jump” will be seen as different).
  • Use the same plural vs singular form (e.g., “dog” and “dogs” will be seen as distinct).

You won’t see pages that use synonyms, auto-corrected spelling, or are personalised based on your history and social connections.

Looking at our first example, “Australian made tractors”, we get slightly different results switching between Verbatim and regular search. These slight differences sometimes mean the difference between finding what you’re after and continuing the search.

Advanced Searches

If none of the tricks above gets the result you want, you may want to bring out the big guns with the Advanced Search Screen, available for Web Search, Images, Videos and Books.

In these screens, you can do everything you can with the various Modifiers, Qualifiers and Tools, and a whole lot more. For instance, in the Images Tools, you can only select Size as Large, Medium or Icon. In contrast, the advanced image search allows you to choose specific resolutions and aspect ratios or specify file size up to 70MB and more.

The advanced image search screen

Calculator, Unit Converter and Colour Codes

Google has also integrated an array of calculators into their site, too many to list here. Visit HERE to see what’s on offer.


They also have incorporated other handy gadgets accessed by typing:

Random Number Generator

Flip a coin

Roll a dice

Timer or Stopwatch …type 20 minute timer

Measure your internet speed by typing Internet speed test

Metronome and Tuner

…and a fun 1-minute Breathing exercise


Define – Define existentialism

Synonym – synonym smorgasbord

Recipes – recipe sourdough bread

Nutritional information – how much sugar is in chickpeas

Search streaming services for shows/movies – watch IT Crowd

Sports – Australian Women’s Cricket team

Events – events near me

Time zone conversions – Time 3pm Birmingham returns what time it would be where you are when it is 3pm in Birmingham, or Time: Dallas (or postcode) returns the actual time in the location.

Weather – weather Toowong Saturday

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