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How to optimize your Google searches:

"You don’t have to do things a certain way just because that’s how you’ve always done them. Open yourself up to trying new ways of organizing and making the most out of the tools available- should you choose to use them."

- Doug Merrill

Douglas C. Merrill holds a Ph.D. from Princeton in Cognitive Science and is the former Chief Intelligence Officer (CIO) at Google. His book is "Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff Out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right."

"A better searcher can filter out what’s not important and focus on what is. The ability to perform quick targeted searches helps you find the information you need faster. You don’t have to expend mental capacity trying to anticipate where to look for a piece of information or trying to figure out where the heck to put it. Just search for what you want, and voil."


Here are some strategies and tips for getting the best results from your searches.

Google uses automated software agents called crawlers, also known as spiders or robots. Crawlers visit web sites frequently, reading and capturing most of a page’s text as well as following links to other pages within the site.

The crawler collects info about a site and adds to the search engine’s index of web pages. When you perform a query, the search engine rapidly analyzes the info in its index to find matches. The results of your search are listed in order of relevance, with the most relevant pages listed first (not the paid-for results listed on top).

Google’s PageRank algorithm is based on "educated guesses" and "site trustworthiness." But sometimes the results are too broad (for instance, type in ‘videoconferencing’ and you’ll get more than two million search results. Type in ‘apple’ and you’ll get millions more).

To better pinpoint your results you need to give more specific instructions. Be as descriptive as possible.

Here’s how:

Add "quote" marks and the ~ tilde symbol.

If you search for ‘paris hotels,’ Google will search for pages in which the phrase– where the two words are used somewhere in relatively close proximity to one another. That’s not necessarily helpful if you are looking for a hotel with cheap rates. For that you should type this search string:

"Paris hotels" ~affordable

Placing the tilde symbol (~) immediately before a word tells Google to look for pages with the word affordable– and others like it, such as cheap, budget, economy, etc.

The tilde is a wild card, giving Google carte blanche to find all the pages it thinks have words similar to affordable.

You can also use the standard search operator OR.

With OR, you could search this way:

"Paris hotels" affordable OR cheap OR budget

OR will return fewer results because you’re asking for pages containing only the words you specify. So if you’re trying to narrow your results, use OR and specify the synonyms you want.

Exclude what you don’t want. If you use the minus symbol (-) immediately before a word, Google will eliminate it from your search.

Be specific with numeric ranges.

The ellipsis (...), three periods, can express a range of numbers. If you’re shopping for an item in a certain price range, here’s an example:

"Digital camera" $100...$250.

You can also use Google to search a specific website. The command for this is site: (with no space after the colon) followed by the URL of the site you want to search. If you wanted to see articles about Paris hotels in the New York Times, try this:

"Paris hotels"

You can access Excell spreadsheets, Pdf files, Word files, and PowerPoint files, as follows: (type the subject between the quote marks.)

for Excell "personal budget" filetype:xls

for PDF "personal budget: filetype:pdf

for Word "personal budget" filetype:doc

for Power Point "personal budget" filetype:ppt

Google isn’t just for finding web pages. Use it as a calculator and look up all kinds of facts. Perhaps there’s a particular statistic you need to find. Here’s how:

Currency conversions:

example: 100 euros in dollars (or) 100 euros in USD

or do it in reverse, or with pesos, yens, etc.

Measurement conversions:

Google converts liquid, distance, and other measures. Here are examples for searches:

1 mile in km

pound in ounces

inch in mm

Time conversions:

What time is it in Paris? Find out:

time Paris

What’s the weather?:

weather Paris

Find a map. Just type in the street address and city.

Want to know your flight status? Enter your airline and flight number, for example:

American Airlines 123

Translations of English into foreign languages? Just go to Type in whatever you want translated and what language you want it converted into. (Yahoo has a similar tool at

Need to know a word definition? Can’t remember what discombobulated means? Do this search:

define discombobulated

Trace a caller (when you know the number but not the 'who.'

Try this:  phonebook: 212-555-1212

Need someone’s phone number? Try this:

phonebook: Jane Smith Anywhere NY

Need a stock quote?

To get a current quote when you don’t know the stock exchange symbol, try this:

Apple stock

Find the status of your shipment via FedEx, UPS or another shipper. Type the tracking number into Google search and you’ll get an update on the package’s current status.

Google search is also a calculator in disguise. Use the standard symbols: * for multiplied by, / for divided by, and so on. The answer will pop up. Even math geeks can get answers form complex equations such as 5*9+(sqrt10)^3=

In case you’re wondering, the answer is 76.6227766.

Use the search engine as a spell checker. Type what you think is right (or close) and Google will suggest the correct spelling, or it will search for pages containing the word or phrase properly spelled. But beware: Google won’t always know what you mean by your misspelled word, i.e., it’s not a mind reader.

You can find theater showings and movie times by typing in the movie and your zip code, for instance:

Avatar 92101

Also, you can look up all sorts of basic information just by sending a text message to Google at 466453. Save the cost of making a directory assistance call. Get the phone number by texting the name and city, for instance:

Drake Hotel Chicago

If you dial 800-466-4411 Google will look up a business by name, city and state, and then automatically connect you.

More helpful trivia about the Google search engine:

You don’t need to type most common words and characters, such as a, and, how, where, and the into a search engine query. If a common word is essential, however, the best approach is to include the entire phrase in quote marks. Consider the middle initial of ‘A.’

If you type in James A. Dunlop, you’ll also get James H. Dunlop, James C. Dunlop, etc. So go for "james a dunlop" for better results.

Know that Google automatically searches for pages with common variations of a keyword. If you type in the word exercise, you’ll also get exercises, exercised, and exercising.

Google search also works on you own computer. You can search entire program and file contents of your Windows, Mac, or Linux operating system by using the desktop utility

(P.S. Search words are not case sensitive, so you can type Paris or paris and get the same results.)

Go therefore and search and find!

Douglas C. Merrill was COO of New Music at EMI Group and currently heads EMI Music Digital Strategy.

go to Doug on Twitter

Remain curious.