Search more effectively with Google’s site: operator

Screenshot of Google search box

Google provides some simple but powerful ways to filter search results.

Most people will be familiar with the advanced search but you can get even quicker and better results using Google’s search operators.

What are search operators?

The name ‘search operator’ sounds a bit confusing but basically an operator is just a word you add to a normal Google search. The word “site:” is an example of an operator which allows you to search just one website.

So if you typed into Google “site:” and the URL of the website you want to search, such as www.pbrumby.com it would look like this:

Google search box with site operator site:pbrumby.com

site:www.pbrumby.com

This search would list all the content on my site.

Or if you searched:

site:www.pbrumby.com/2016 tips

You will get a list of all the pages on my site which mention the word ‘tips’, within the subdirectory ‘2016’.

You can also combine the site: operator with others to create complex searches.

For example if you typed into Google

site:pbrumby.com intitle:”web accessibility” -intitle:coders

You will get a list of pages on my site which must have the words ‘web accessibility’ in the title, but excludes the word ‘coders’.

List of Google search operators

intitle:

The intitle: operator searches for a specific word(s) within a web page title. For example intitle:”contact us” will find pages which must have the words “contact us” in the page title.

intext:

The intext: operator searches for a specific word(s) within the body of a page. For example intext:”SEO tips” will find all pages which must have the words “SEO tips” in the page body.

inurl:

The inurl: operator searches a page URL. For example inurl:football will find all references of the word ‘football’ in a URL.

inanchor:

The inanchor: operator searches for word(s) within a link on a page. It then looks at which site the link points to. Google will then list the most popular destination pages. For example inanchor:”food offers” will find pages that have been linked to the most often using the anchor text “food offers”.

cache:

The cache: operator shows a previously published version of the page. For example cache:www.bbc.co.uk will show a snapshot of what the page did look like.

filetype:

The filetype: operator searches for specific filetypes such as a pdf or docx file. You would normally combine this with another operator. For example site:tescoplc.com filetype:pdf will list all pdfs hosted on tescoplc.com.

info:

The info: operator will display information about a particular domain. For example searching info:bbc.co.uk will list some information about that page.

related:

The related: operator will list any site Google thinks are related. For example searching related:bbc.co.uk will list related sites such as the Telegraph and The Independent websites.

site:

The site: operator allows you to search a specific website. For example site:pbrumby.com will search just my site.

The search operators can also be combined with punctuation to create more complex searches

“ ”

When you put a word or phrase in quotes, the results will only include pages with the same words in the same order as the ones inside the quotes. For example: “paralympics games 2016” will find pages which must have the words “paralympics games 2016”.

OR

Find pages that might use one of several words. For example: searching site:pbrumby tip OR idea will list all pages which include either word.

You can use a dash before a word or operator to remove it from a search. For example -site:pbrumby.com tips will search everything which has the word ‘tips’ excluding my site. Or you search site:pbrumby.com -tips which will search just my site excluding pages with the word tips.

*

You can add an asterisk as a placeholder for any unknown or wildcard terms. For example “computer * manufacturing” will search for the word computer and manufacturing and some word(s) in between google thinks will fit. To use this you need to make sure you wrap it in quotes.

..

You can search a range of numbers by including two full stops without spaces between the number. For example TV £100..£400 will search for all TVs between the price range of £100 and £400.

Examples

When to use www

Searching one website at a time using the site: operator can be really useful if a website doesn’t have a good site search.

Personally I use it to see if Google has crawled any website I manage and to make sure Google hasn’t indexed any site I don’t want – such as one of my testing sites.

To get the most out of the site: protocol it is important to understand what happens if you add or remove ‘www’ from the URL.

For example if you searched site:www.asda.com toys Google will search www.asda.com for the word toys.

However, if you searched without the ‘www’ site:asda.com toys, Google will search the base domain (ie the main ASDA site) and all its subdomains such as groceries.asda.com and direct.asda.com.

If you searched:

site:asda.com -inurl:www toys

You will get the search results for the word toys on all Asda’s subdomains such as direct.asda.com but excluding www.asda.com

And finally if you searched:

site:direct.asda.com

You would search just the subdomain ‘direct’.

In summary you only add or remove the ‘www’ depending on what you are searching for.

Checking security

The site: operator ignores https, http and ftp. If you need to search for pages which are just http or https you have to specify it using inurl:

For example searching

site:moz.com -inurl:https

Will list any page which isn’t https within the moz.com site.

This is a useful search for website owners soon after a website has migrated to https to check if Google now uses the new https links.

Exact match

If you want to find an exact match to a phrase you can put it in quotes.

I find this useful when auditing a website for out of date content or to see if a competitor is using the same or similar copy.

For example LVMH sold their fashion brand Donna Karan in July 2016. To find references to the old name on their site you could search:

site:www.lvmh.com “Donna Karan”

This will list all pages where ‘Donna Karan’ is referenced on the LVMH website. However you might find you have a lot of old press releases or historical content which doesn’t need to be changed. To remove those pages from the search you can target them using the -inurl: operator.

For example:

site:www.lvmh.com -inurl:/news-documents “Donna Karan”

This will find all mentions of Donna Karan but excluding their news section.

Limitations

The larger the site you are searching the more likely the site: operator results will have inaccuracies. This is because Google estimates some of the results. Matt Cutts can explain why in this video.

The search operators are also not a core Google service so they may get removed or changed. For example the link: operator lists all pages which link to that URL. This was incredibly useful but it looks like it won’t be around for much longer as it has slowly stopped working for a number of the larger and new sites. For example link:amazon.co.uk doesn’t show any results but link:bbc.co.uk does.

This isn’t the end of the world as you can still get this info for free if you manage the website you want to search in the Google search console.

Finally, if you start using the Google search operators regularly you might see the captcha screen.

Google search captcha screen

It’s a little annoying but at least it shows you’ve fully embraced the search operator.

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