Increase efficiency with search operators and search modifiers

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Jordanna Kalkhof November 12, 2019

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Whether you use Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, or some other search engine, chances are you’ve encountered a search that isn’t returning the exact results you’re looking for. After changing the search terms and clicking around, eventually you find what you wanted – but what if there was an easier way? Search operators and search modifiers can significantly improve the efficiency of your searches by offering better results and saving you time.

First, let’s talk about the basics of Boolean. Boolean Operators are simple words used as conjunctions to combine or exclude keywords in a search, resulting in more focused and productive results.

AND (&)

• The AND operator narrows your search by requiring more terms to be present in the results. If one term is present and the other is not, then the it will not be included. Most search engines interpret spaces as an “implied AND,” so you don’t have to type it.
• Example: A search for trackers AND cookies would include results where both trackers and cookies are mentioned. It would not include results where only trackers or only cookies were mentioned.
OR (|)

• The OR operator broadens your search results by accepting terms individually and together. In other words, the results must have at least one of the search terms. OR searches generally need to be encapsulated with parentheses to ensure the search is executed correctly.
• Example: A search for (trackers OR cookies) would include results with trackers (but not cookies), cookies (but not trackers), and both trackers and cookies.
NOT (-)

• The NOT operator narrows your search by excluding specific search terms from the results. You can use it in conjunction with AND and OR operators for more specific results.
• Example: A search for trackers NOT cookies would only include results where trackers are mentioned but cookies are not.

There are many other search operators and search modifiers that can help improve results. While we can’t cover them all, here are a few extra worth mentioning.

Quotation marks (“”) Quotation marks narrow results by requiring exact phrases of more than one word. This prevents search engines from splitting the phrase up into single word components.
• Example: A search for “ad blocking” would only include results where that exact phrasing is used. It would not show results were ad and blocking are mentioned separately.
site: • Using site: in a search will limit results to those from a specific website.
• Example: A search for midnight site:ghostery.com will provide results specifically from ghostery.com where the term midnight is mentioned.
filetype: • Using filetype: will restrict results to, you guessed it, a certain filetype.
• Example: A search for ghostery filetype:pdf will only provide results that mention ghostery and are in pdf format.

No one wants to glance through pages of search results before finding what they’re looking for. Next time you’re searching for something, try out a couple of these strategies to save time and get better results.

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