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Efficient searching in Google

If you are looking for information using Google, then it is important to define your search as specific as possible. The following tips can be used in “ordinary” Google, but also in Google Scholar and Google Books.

Would you like to have the search tips handy while searching? Print the cheat sheet (pdf) and keep it near your computer.

Using multiple search terms

If you enter two or more search terms, Google looks only for pages containing all of your search terms. You do not need to connect them by AND, for that is the default setting.


psychology animals


Web pages in which the terms psychology and animals both occur, not necessarily in that order. No webpages with just the term psychology or animals.

The order in which you enter your search terms does make a difference. Google assigns a higher priority to webpages in which the terms occur in the same order as your query. If you are searching for new york library, webpages about libraries in New York will rank higher. If you enter new library york, Google will rank new libraries in York higher.

Google allows for 32 search terms in one query. If you enter more, you will get a message that all terms beyond the 32nd have been ignored.

Specific word

If you are looking for a specific word, surround it by quotation marks. You then get only results in which the term occurs exactly as you entered, not the plural or a spelling which resembles yours.




Webpages in which the word Vaticaan occurs. No webpages with the term Vatican etc., unless the term Vaticaan also occurs in it.

Specific word combinations

Surround your terms by quotation marks if you are looking for a specific combination of terms. The search result then contains only the terms as you entered them, in that order and spelling.


“Dutch language course”


Webpages in which this exact phrase occurs. No pages with just Dutch or language or course.

 Note that by searching in this way you can also miss some sites. If, for example, you are searching for “Alexander Bell”, you will not find “Alexander Graham Bell”. You can avoid this by searchin for “Alexander Bell” OR “Alexander Graham Bell” (see Synonyms).


In many databases you can use an asterisk if you are not sure of the correct spelling of a term or if, for example, you would like to search for both color and colour (then you can enter either col*r or colo*r). In Google you can also use the asterisk, but only for complete terms, not for one or more letters of a word. Each asterisk stands for one word. Do not put spaces between two or more asterisks.


post * syndrome 


 Webpages with the terms post and syndrome and one term in the middle, e.g. post-concussion syndrome and post thrombotic syndrome.

Numerical values

Google can also search for numerical values. This may be useful when you are searching for a specific occurrence, but are not sure when exactly it took place, or when you are looking for a product within a certain prize range. You can enter two values separated by two dots (without spaces between the numbers and the dots). The numbers may not contain a pointt.

“Kyoto protocol” 1990..2000
Webpages which mention in which year the Kyoto protocol was adopted.

You can also enter only one of the values and replace the other one by an asterisk. If you replace the first value by an asterisk, Google will search for the value indicated and everything lower (earlier). If the second value is replaced by an asterisk, Google searches for the value indicated and everything higher (later). 


To get more results, it may be useful to search with synonyms. There may be a lot on the internet about the subject you are looking for, but possibly under a different term. To search with synonyms, use the command OR (in capital letters) or a vertical dash (|).


“global warming” OR “greenhouse effect”


web pages on global warming and web pages on the greenhouse effect. 

Exclude search terms

In order to limit the number of hits to (more) relevant results, it is also possible to exclude certain search terms. Use the minus sign (-), without a space between the sign and the term to be excluded. There must be a space before the minus sign; if there is no space, Google will read it as a hyphen (see below). You can exclude as many terms as you like, just place the minus sign before each term.


salsa –dancing – course


web pages with the word salsa, but not with the words dancing and/or course.

Limit search results to specific sites

Use the command site: in order to limit the search results to specific sites. After the command, just enter the address of the site without www or a space before it.


“human rights”


web pages mentioning human rights on the website of the United Nations.

You may also indicate that the search results must be within a specific domain, for example that of British or American institutions of higher education. Use the site:  command in combination with the domain extension, i.e. the last part of an URL. For British universities it is, for American it is edu. Websites of the American government always end in gov.




webpages about dna by British universities

Excluding sites from the search results

In order to exclude certain sites from the search results, you can combine the site: command with the minus sign (without spaces).


“global warming”


web pages in which the phrase global warming occurs but not pages from Wikipedia.

When excluding sights, the asterisk may be quite useful.


office software -site:microsoft.*


web pages mentioning office software but no pages from Microsoft.

Searching for specific file types

If you are not looking for websites but for presentations, documents or spreadsheets, use the command filetype: to limit the results to a specific file type:

  • doc or docx for Word documents (Office 2003 or from Office 2007 onwards)
  • ppt or pptxfor PowerPoint files (Office 2003 or from Office 2007 onwards)
  • xls or xlsx for Excel files (Office 2003 or from Office 2007 onwards)
  • pdf for PDF files

In the same way you can search for images, by limiting the file type to jpg, gif, bmp, png or tiff. The results are presented as text links to the images found. If you prefer to first see a thumbnail of the images found, use the Google search function for images (the Images / Afbeeldingen link at the top right of the home screen or under the search line).

Complex queries

Queries with OR can become exceedingly long, if you perform a search with many alternatives. Use brackets for more efficient queries.


(“Vincent van Gogh” OR Rembrandt) images


web pages with images of the work of Vincent van Gogh and/or Rembrandt

Brackets also work with the commands site: and filetype: , but they must be repeated before each website or file type.


“social media”(filetype:doc OR filetype:pdf)


Links to Word documents and PDF files containing the phrase social media.

Google Advanced Search offers more or less the same features as the commands mentioned above. The page has a few options which cannot be carried out by commands, such as:

  • Language: limit the search results to a specific language

The Advanced Search screens of Google Books and Google Scholar are different from the one in 'ordinary' Google, but the (extra) options are self-explanatory.


Spelling in Google is case insensitive. The query White House has the same results as white house. Interpuncion is also ignored. An apostroph (‘) is not ignored by Google. If you use a hyphen in a query, Google searches for your search term

  • with the hyphen (part-time, non-profit)
  • without the hyphen  and without a space (parttime, nonprofit)
  • without the hyphen but with a space (part time, non profit)

Language and country

The language you choose is important. The search term history will not find the same results as the term geschiedenis. If you are looking for information on the AIDS virus, keep in mind that aids is also the plural of the word aid.

The Dutch version of Google at will give a different search result than This is because Google uses geotargeting: it tries to fit the search results to your location.

If you are looking for information which is broader than your present location, you are advised to use To make sure that you are not using a local Google, add ncr (no country region) to the URL: To find non-English search results, though,  it may be useful to use a local Google.

Alternatives for Google

If you search with Google, you do not search the complete internet. You search only websites and pages which have been indexed by Google. Because every search engine has its own methods, the results may differ per search engine. It may therefore be worthwhile to use other search engines besides Google. Dogpile allows you to use two search engines simultaneously: Google and Yahoo.

If you do not want personal data or previous searches to be stored, use the DuckDuckGo search engine. This works anonymously. You can also use Startpage. This search engine uses Google via a secured connection.