How to get more from Google Search

Google logo magnifiedI’ve written blogs before on the subject of googling (see the links at the bottom of this post), but there are ever more ways to use Google more efficiently. From watching my computer support clients at work, it’s clear that Google is a central part of most people’s computing practice, so I hope I’m right in thinking that it’s worth returning to the topic.

There are even a few repeats in the list below. That’s fine as lots of computer practices don’t sink in the first time. Learning how to use a computer is not like riding a bike: lots of practice and repetition is needed before things become habitual. Anyway, here are some more examples of how to use Google to good effect:

You can restrict your search to specific sites: daleks

This will search for “daleks”, but only return results from the website Note that it is not necessary to quote the “www”.

In theory, you can restrict your results to websites in certain parts of the world:

site:uk daleks

However, I am not sure exactly how Google decides where a website is located. Assuming that it is to do with the domain extension (eg “.uk”) then it is not comprehensive. It doesn’t seem to know, for instance, that a domain ending “.london” is in the UK.

Instead of looking for websites, you can get Google to find files of a particular type that are available on websites

filetype:pdf ip5300

This search will find all pdf files that include “ip5300”. This is a great way to find product manuals online (in this case, my old but excellent Canon ip5300 printer)

Going somewhere new and want to know what to see? Try this:

lincoln attractions

…assuming, of course, that you are going to Lincoln (which everyone should do at least once)

And you might want to know what the weather is going to be like in Lincoln on your forthcoming trip:

weather Lincoln

will show you the weather for the coming week

You can ask Google to look for results that span two numbers by quoting the first number, followed by two dots, followed by the second number:

census 1900..1948


mini £5000..£10000

No doubt Google is learning an incredible amount about the kinds of things that people want to know, so it knows just what you are after if you type in “customer service” or “complaints”, for instance, followed by the name of the organisation:

customer service british gas

complaints british gas

I find these particular Google search terms very satisfying as it’s becoming more and more common for organisations not to display such contact information prominently on their websites.

Want to know exactly what a word means?

define tautology

…. but I prefer to go to a British source when it comes to things to do with the English language , so I might type in define tautology

Actually, I wouldn’t do that as I have the OED on my favorites (sic) toolbar

..and if you don’t know how to spell a word, just take a stab at it:

spell recomend

If you don’t keep a calculator close to hand (either in reality or on your computer desktop), Google will do your calculation for you and even pop up a calculator at the top of the results:

12 + 36 / 2

Note, by the way, that computers evaluate division and multiplication (/ and * respectively) before addition and subtraction, so the answer to the above is 12 + 18 = 30. If we wanted to add 12 to 36 and then divide by 2 we would put the 12 + 36 in brackets as follows (to get the answer of 24 instead of 30)

(12 + 36) / 2

Google is good at converting:

37 miles


convert 37 miles to km

Want to know what’s on, and when, at your local cinema today?

showtimes at Clapham Picturehouse

and, finally for today, try typing the following into the Google search box:

do a barrel roll

Links to previous posts on the subject of Google Search:

As well as searching websites, Google Search can also offer instant answers to common questions

I did try searching Google to see if they publish a comprehensive directory of “Instant Answers”, but (ironically) I couldn’t find anything from them. However, here are some examples that I’ve gleaned from other sources:

Time Zones

eg Type “time paris” (without the quotes) and the following result will be displayed (depending, of course, on what time you key it in!)

Google Instant Time

Word Definitions

eg “define cantankerous” (without the quotes)

Google Instant Definition

Being a stroppy Brit, I much prefer to use a proper authority on the subject – the Oxford English Dictionary .

Instant Calculations

eg “calculate 34 * 71.6” (without the quotes)

Google Instant Calculator

Note that you don’t need to precede this enquiry with the word “calculate”. A search term of “34 * 71.6” (without the quotes) would have worked. By the way, if you do include the quote marks then Google will not do a calculation at all. Surrounding any search term in Google with quote marks is supposed to tell Google to search for the exact term between the quotes (but it sometimes still goes its own sweet way and tries to interpret the search request rather than treat it literally).

Note that the “operators” (eg add, subtract) are the same as for any calculation carried out on a computer – eg + (for plus), – (for minus), / (for divide), * (for multiply), ^ (to the power of). When you enter a calculation into the search box, Google not only returns the answer, but also displays a calculator and a “more info” link directly beneath it.

Unit conversion

eg “convert 23 c to f” (without the quotes)

Google Instant Converter

Flight times

eg “Air France 4508” (without the quotes)

Google Flight Times

There are other ways of getting more from Google Search. Try these previous blog posts:

Some Easy Refinements in Google Search
Google Search
Google Result Types

One of the most infuriating things about computers is knowing that we’ve done something before but can’t find how to do it again and we resent the time spent hunting for it

This is very similar to another very common situation – wondering whether it’s worth spending time to resolve small niggles, bugs, etc. The infuriation is probably because we’re in a hurry most of the time and we just want to get things done. We don’t want to divert our attention or time to learn or fix whatever it is that we know is missing or broken.

Infuriation - chewing a laptopIf this sounds familiar and you’re wondering if I’m about to give you the answer … sorry, I’m not. My strategy has always been to keep a list of “technical to-dos” that I’ll attend to when I’m “less busy”. This does work up to a point, but quite often the items that I put on the list just seem boring, tedious and not worth addressing when I look at them later. It’s only when I actually need an answer that the “issue” seems worth the effort of investigation. At any other time, when I don’t actually need the answer, watching Coronation Street seems like a far better investment of my dwindling stock of time. What’s more, lists like this tend to get rather depressing and even a little intimidating.

Niggling listSo, I’ve now added a refinement. I still keep the list, I add to it, and I do investigate and resolve items on it from time to time. The refinement is that I don’t feel guilty if I delete items that I haven’t resolved. My thinking is that, over the time that the item sits unresolved on the list, I will get a truer perspective of how important it is to resolve it. If it stays there for six months and I’ve never again needed the answer, then it’s probably not worth spending time on it. Now that’s what I call a touch of genius – convincing myself that it’s rational to strike an item off a “to do” list rather than attend to it! It’s not the deletion of the item that’s important, here, but the realisation that that may be the logical and best thing to do.

And just in case I’m teetering on the edge of feeling guilty or lazy or anything else that might make me feel uncomfortable, I like to think of those nature programs wherein David Attenborough tells us in hushed tones that the lioness peering through the grass at the herd of wildebeest is weighing up the cost in energy of chasing after her dinner and the chances of being successful, against the benefit of catching it.

Lioness, stalkingPretty good, that – comparing a boring and tedious Google search with stalking the savannah! It does make sense, though. After all, what’s going on here is a “cost/benefit analysis”. I think that one of the things that irritates us so much with these small “IT issues” is that we know in the back of our minds that if we had just spent ten minutes finding the answer a year ago then we’d have saved an hour by now (and suffered much less aggravation along the way). So, keeping an item on a list allows for a better judgement OVER TIME of how important it is to resolve it and whether the time spent to resolve it will be recouped in the long run.

And I think I should be allowed these flights of fancy involving lions and their dinner as I’m told that “Leonard” does mean “lionheart”!

© 2011-2018 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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