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An SEO’s Opinion: The Most Valuable Google Search Operators

by Workshop Team   |   Apr 03, 2017

Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz recently published an excellent resource on which Google's search operators that he deems are important to know for day-to-day use in SEO. We really liked his post, but as Dr. P* is a Marketing Scientist, as opposed to an SEO, he doesn’t regularly deal with a dozen different clients every day. So we wanted to turn his blog post into something a little more actionable for busy SEOs working in a nimble agency.

If you're looking to improve your workflow, overall efficiency, and learn how to take a deeper dive into Google's index without reading 5,344 words, then this is the post for you. Or, bail and read the original post here.

*Disclaimer: Dr. P is a brilliant dude, and we have a lot of respect for him here at Workshop Digital. He has created many tremendous resources, and our goal here is to provide useful resources for busy SEO analysts.

Seventeen Surprisingly Simple Search Selectors for Sophisticated SEOs:

  1. Force exact match with quotes
  2. Force a logical OR statement
  3. Group terms with parentheses
  4. Exclude specific terms using multiples and exact matches
  5. Find content on other sites using what you’ve learned
  6. Find content on specific TLDs
  7. Find content in the body text of a site or subdomain
  8. Find multiple keywords in a title
  9. Find content your exact title
  10. Find articles with your exact body text
  11. Broadly search through subsections of a site
  12. Find specific file types on a site
  13. Find the most important pages on your site
  14. Find out which version of your site is Google
  15. Find index bloat by searching for specific URL parameters
  16. Find duplicate content on a site
  17. Find all TLDs/subdomains for your site that you may not have been aware of

1 - Force exact match with quotes

Search Operator: “query”

Best Used To: Find results that exactly match the specific query that you’re interested in. Google defaults to showing “good enough” rather than exact results. So when you need answers to something specific, force Google to show you exactly what you need by using quotes around your query or, the exact-match search operator.

2 - Force a logical OR statement

Search Operator: query A OR query B

Best Used To: Look for articles that cover both query A and query B. Again, use the OR operator to force Google to show you websites that use either variation of your query. You can substitute it for a |. Dr. P has a special note that this works best when the two terms you need to search for co-occur rarely.

3 - Group terms with parentheses

Search Operator: (query A OR query B) query C

Best Used To: Find articles that refer to either query A or B in the context of query C. While you’re still forcing Google to show you results in a particular context, you’re now giving Big G a bit more flexibility in its results. Query C, in this instance, is now being included as an ‘AND’ condition, which is pretty standard. Virtually any multiple keyword search in Google, without the application of a search operator, follows the basic ‘AND’ condition — even if it’s not explicit.

4 - Exclude specific terms, including multiples and exact matches with quotes

You can even add wildcards, or group terms using parentheses.

Search Operator: (query A OR query B) -”query C” -”query *”

Best Used To: Find content referring to either query A or B, but absolutely not in the context of query C or related to a query at all. At this point, we’ve now begun stacking search operators (because with the exception of just a few, Google is happy to let you do this). Doing so allows us to ask and receive more from Google at one time. In this instance, we’ve incorporated the wildcard character (*) in combination with the exact match parameter and the ‘do not include’ operator (-), which lets Google know that we’re not looking for anything related to “query _”.

5 - Find content on sites or subdomains using everything you've just learned

Search Operator: (query A OR query B) -”query C” -”query *” site:yourwebsite.com

Best Used To: Find content specifically referring to query A or B, but not related to C or any other query, exclusively from one site. Alternatively, we can exclude our website by adding the ‘do not include’ operator (-).

6 - Find content on specific TLDs

Search Operator: “Query A” site:.edu

Best Used To: Find everything related to “Query A”, but only if that site is hosted on a .edu Top level Domain. You can use any top level domain for this (.pizza, .com, .co, .guru), and you can combine this with several other operators. For instance, to find everything related to “Query A” on a .gov or .edu or .org website, we’d simply enter “Query A” (site:.edu | site:.gov | site:.org) into Google. You can even use this on country specific TLDs (.co.uk, .de, etc).

7 - Find content in the body text of a site or subdomain

Search Operator: intext:”query A” site:yourwebsite.com

Best Used To: Find all content on your website that contains a specific phrase. With this operator, we’re telling Google only to display pages on your website that contain the specific query that we’re interested (query A, for now). Again, you can use a variety of different search operators together here. For example, to search for all content on your or your competitor's site that contains Query A, but not B, we would enter: “query A” -”query B” site:yourwebsite.com | yourcompetitor.com. This can also be expanded to use allintext:, which will look for your query within the full text of a site.

8 - Find multiple keywords in a title

Search Operator: intitle: “query A” intitle: “query B” intitle:”query C”

Best Used To: When you need to find multiple, entirely unrelated, words within a page title, use allintitle:, as that allows for the combination of multiple queries as opposed to having to search for individual queries.

9 - Find articles with your exact title while ignoring your own site

Search Operator: intitle:”query A” -site:yourwebsite.com

Best Used To: To find websites that have the exact same title on their blog. The intitle: command directs Google to only look at the page titles for websites, and since we’re excluding our website, by default this means that Google is searching through the whole of its index for pages that exactly match your query in their title.

10 - Find articles with your exact text

Search Operator: “A totally unique sentence found on your site” -site:yourwebsite.com

Best Used To: Identify which competitors or other websites have been stealing your unique content. With this search operator, we’re telling Google that we’re looking for this exact piece of content on every website that is not ours. This can also be combined with the OR operator if you need to exclude multiple websites from your search.

11 - Broadly search through subsections of a site

Search Operator: “Query A” inurl:yourwebsite.com/section-of-site

Best Used To: Find content in a specific section of a site. If you are looking for all blog posts on your site that cover a specific query (or general query— you don’t have to use exact match), then you’ll want to enter “query A” inurl:yourwebsite.com/blog. This tells Google to only review the sections of your site that include ‘blog’ in the URL.

12 - Find specific file types on a site

Search Operator: Query A filetype:.pdf

Best Used To: Finding hard-to-find files on big websites. Believe it or not, Google knows exactly what type of files are on your site, and exactly where those files are. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a pdf, gif, wav, mp4, or anything else, Google will find it if it matches your general (or exact) query and the file type you’ve indicated. You can also combine this with site: to search explicitly through a website for a specific file type.

13 - Find the most important pages on a site using 'site'

Search Operator: site:yourwebsite.com

Best Used To: Determine the most important pages on any website, to Google. As an SEO, this particular search operator should already be well drilled into your head. This is the fastest and most efficient way to determine what pages Google considers the most important on a site from the order of pages listed in the SERP. Using the site: search operator can be a great way to determine if your internal linking structure needs to be reevaluated as well.

14 - Find which version of the site is indexed (www, non-dub, https, etc)

Search Operator: site:yourwebsite.com -inurl:www OR https

Best Used To: Figure out which version of your site Google has indexed. Remember, if your website is being served through www, non-dub, HTTPS, and HTTP, then Google will treat each of these as unique pages, leading to a whole bunch of avoidable problems. Using this search operator, you’ll be able to quickly tell what version Big G currently has indexed. This, in combination with MozBar, is a very quick way to determine which version of the pages on your site have the highest authority.

15 - Find index bloat by searching for specific URL parameters

Search Operator: site:yourwebsite.com inurl:unique-parameter

Best Used To: Determine the source of index bloat on your site. You’ll likely find that a specific character (/?) is the root of index bloat on your site.

16 - Find duplicate content on a site

Search Operator: “duplicate content” site:yourwebsite.com

Best Used To: Identify all duplicate content specifically on your website. In this instance, we’re searching explicitly for an exact match phrase, but we have some flexibility. We don’t have to use exact match, and we may also want to search for additional terms at the same time. We can also remove the quotation marks and add in our OR operator ( | ) to continue hunting down duplicated content.

17 - Find other TLDs/subdomains for your brand that you may not have been aware of

Search Operator: site:yourwebsite.* - site:yourwebsite.com

Best Used To: Determine whether or not there is some funky backend problems occurring on your site, which have been indexed. With this search operator, you’re telling Google to show you all results for your specific site, but with a wildcard as the TLD. We’re also removing our .com domain from the results, so we should be able to tell if something weird like a .guru or .ninja domain happens to be registered.

Be Creative.

At this point in your SEO career, it should be pretty obvious that diligence and creativity can lead to some incredible results. The same two ingredients can be applied to utilizing Google Search Operators. Being efficient and combining multiple different search operators will allow you to extract insights directly from Google, but it’s up to you to be creative in the application. Most search operators can be used together with only a few exceptions. We’ve provided a rough outline of when and why we use particular operators, but thinking outside the box will take you much further than following our guide.

So get out there and do something weird with Google’s search operators and let us know the results!

Do you have any questions, comments, or concerns? Reach out to the original author! @TheWarySEO