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10 Tips to Help You Use Google, Other Search Engines More Efficiently

Using specifics, key phrases, quote marks, AI chatbots and other tricks can help your search


spinner image a laptop with a search page on the screen
iStock / Getty Images Plus

Finding something you need on the internet without the help of a good search strategy can be like driving from Boston to Los Angeles without a road map: You know the general direction, but there are too many options to get to where you’re going.

With billions of web pages in cyberspace, you could waste a lot of time — or worse, money, should you get scammed — scouring for what you’re looking for.

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If you need help with your searches, consider the following tips and tricks for getting the most out of Google, the most popular search engine on the planet with more than 91 percent market share. Many of these search suggestions will work for other solutions, too, like Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia and more, but expect a little trial and error.

Adding to the mix, generative IA chatbots folded into many search engines, such as ChatGBT-enabled Bing and Google Bard, bring info searching to a whole new level. We’ve included a tip on leveraging artificial intelligence here along with other helpful hints to find what you’re looking for.

Note: We’ve identified search terms in italics here to avoid confusion, but you don’t need to italicize your search terms.

1. Be specific with your search terms

If broadly worded searches such as car classifieds yield too many results, try more specific words to find what you want, like used car classifieds or Miami used cars SUV or used cars classifieds SUV Miami Chevrolet Trax.

Choose your words carefully to narrow down your search and save time.

2. Use + and -

Use a minus (-) sign to exclude words you want to avoid in your search. Doing so filters out stuff you don’t need. For example, type pets -cats if you’re looking to adopt an animal but have a strong aversion to felines. Or type in best movies -horror to omit scary flicks from your search.

Note: Don’t put a space between the minus sign and the word you want omitted.

You can also add a plus (+) sign to inform the search engine of specific words that must appear in search results. For example, you can type Medicare Advantage +flex cards if you want to see Medicare Advantage plans that offer enrollees flex cards.

3. Put key phrases in quotes

Put phrases inside quotation marks to help the search engine find exactly what you’re looking for.

If you want to search a certain sequence of words together, use quotation marks on the outside of the phrase. An example is the 2023 movie Blue Beetle. Without quote marks on each end of the title, a search engine would independently search for websites containing the words “Blue” and/or “Beetle,” in any order.

This works with most search engines, including Google, Yahoo! and Bing.

4. Use tabs to specify what you’re looking for

Most of the popular search engines let you specify the kind of content you’re looking for.

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After you do a web search for, say, the Rolling Stones, you can click tabs at the top of the screen marked for Websites, News, Images, Songs, Videos, Shopping and more. Google and some other search engines also have advanced photo search features.

Save yourself some time by clicking on one of these tabs to help narrow your search.

5. Consider advanced search tips

Like the previous tip, the popular search engines let you be more exact about what you’re looking for with some additional search options.

You can click the Tools tab in Google at the top of the screen and sort by relevance or date. The Recent panel to the left of Tools lets you select a time frame or custom range.

After a Yahoo! search, click on the tab that says Anytime (just below the search window) and select Past day, Past week or Past month.

6. Rely on social media

Search for someone or something on social media sites such as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram or LinkedIn. Most search engines will scour these social platforms if you specify which one you’re interested in or you can simply go to websites like X.com and do a search there (provided you have an account).

For all major search engines, type in the word or phrase and then add @ in front of the platform you’d like to search. For example: politics @X or dessert photography @instagram.

To search hashtags (#), put one in front of a word. For example: #caturday or #viral.

7. Add website info into your search

Similarly, if you want to look up something quickly on a website and know what website you want to visit, type it into the search window to go directly to that page.

For example, if you’re partial to a recipe site, such as allrecipes, Food Network or Epicurious, type the meal you want to make and the website to go directly there, such as typing chicken wings allrecipes into Google. If you don’t add allrecipes, you’ll find chicken wing recipes from many other cooking sites.

Another example is a movie review of Barbie. If you type in Barbie review, you may see reviews about the latest toy collection as opposed to the Greta Gerwig-directed movie. In addition to typing in Barbie movie review, you can also include the popular IMDb (Internet Movie Database) website in your search; therefore, type in Barbie imdb review.

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If that doesn’t work, Google says you can also add site: (with a colon), followed by the URL, to find what you want at that exact site. For example, if you want to read articles about LeBron James only published at NBA.com, type in LeBron James site:nba.com.

8. Find definitions, equations, language translations

If you’re looking for a definition of a word, most search engines will let you add the word definition right after the word and then take you to search results from various online dictionaries. For example, type terabyte definition. The answer: “A terabyte is a measure of computer storage capacity and is 2 to the 40th power or approximately a thousand billion bytes — that is, a thousand gigabytes.”

You can also do math questions in a search engine by simply typing in the equation, like 20x38= . You’ll get the answer “760.”

You can learn how to say thank you in Portuguese or any other language. Type thank you Portuguese, and you’ll see it’s “obrigado” for a male or “obrigada” for a female (or less formally, “brigado” for both). You’ll also see an audio button that will tell you how to say it as well.

9. Search with a photo

You may also want to search by image instead of words.

Google Lens lets you upload a photo to find information about that image online. For example, you may want to know who originally took a photo or identify the country a beautiful waterfall depicted in a photo is in. You can also use a photo to find something similar, such as a snazzy outfit you photographed in a store, but at a lower cost than the one in front of you.

Something new growing in your garden and you’re unsure what it is? You can upload a photo to identify plants, or likewise, an odd-looking, not-so-friendly animal you saw in a park.

You also can take a photo of a road sign or menu in another language and Google Lens will translate the text for you (it supports more than 100 languages).

If you’re helping your grandchildren with their homework, Google Lens could be your best friend. Tough math equation? Simply take a photo of it and Google will give you the answer. Perhaps from there, you can figure out the steps on your own.

Google says more than 12 billion visual searches are conducted each month.

10. Try AI chatbots

New to search are powerful AI chatbots that can help you quickly search for something and even chat about it (via text). If you’re seeking hotel recommendations for a trip to Berlin, looking for options for dinner when entertaining vegetarians, or asking to list the pros and cons of the three best-selling robotic vacuums, AI chatbots will provide ample feedback.

One popular solution is Bing.com (or the Bing app), where Microsoft has a Chat tab for conversation-like approaches to search (using ChatGPT). From there, you can select between Creative, Balanced or Precise results (the last is ideal if you don’t feel like chitchatting). Similarly, Google now offers its Bard chatbot, which also lets you text back and forth with artificial intelligence.

Unlike regular search functions, you can converse back and forth with generative AI platforms (a.k.a. large language models or LLMs) to get the exact result you need. It’s fun to experiment with what these intuitive personal assistants can do.​

Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.

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