Search Engine Ninja Skills! Anyone Can Do It!

I’m old enough to remember when there was (GASP!) no internet. If someone’s number wasn’t in the phone book, you just didn’t call them. If you wanted to know the population of Bulgaria, you had to manhandle a ten-pound encyclopedia that had all the facts from 1974. Forever. Even in 2011, that book still thinks Nixon is president.

Then they invented Google. And it changed the world… or at least it changed my world. I used to go to a place called a library (some of these still exist, but they are nearing extinction). There aren’t many tricks to perusing reference books; it’s just good old-fashioned reading, scanning, and highlighting. At first, I tackled internet search engines the same way: just type in a word or phrase and get one billion results. I had to relearn everything I thought I knew about finding information, and along the way I learned a bunch of tiny, super-useful tricks to using Google that I thought I’d share. Now, I am by NO means an internet ninja… just a girl who uses these shortcuts to mildly impress my friends.

Using Symbols to Focus Your Search

You can type the squiggle (or tilde for you more serious people) before your search word to include synonyms of that word. It works best for general search words, such as ~inexpensive or ~nutrition. Proper nouns don’t work as well, since there are few synonyms for these. I did a search for ~run and it included words like running, race, play, launch, and even marathon.

The hyphen symbol can be used to take words OUT of your search. For example, you want to search for Katy, but you don’t want results that include the words perry, couric, or holmes. Easy! Just type your search like this: “katy -perry -couric -holmes” and none of those three words will cloud up your search.

You can use Google as a quick calculator. Instead of opening up your dashboard or calculator application, just open up Google and type it in a search! 12 + 15 will yield 27, 8 * 4 will give you 32, 5 – 3 gives 2, and 14/2 pops up as 7. Google even knows the order of operations for math equations! You can type ((2^10) / 4) + 1 and Google will give you 257, which is the right answer. All you math-heads out there, put your craziest math problems in and try to stump Google… and when you do, let us know!

Adding Words and Phrases to Enhance Your Search

Try adding “similar to, better than, or reminds me of” followed by names of websites you already love and you will find some that you never knew existed!

You can use Google as a free proxy. Say you’re at work and you want to look at Reddit (which I never do, in case my boss is reading this), but some stick-in-the-mud guy in the IT dept blocked it. No prob. Just type in Use this format to look at blocked sites or sites that are temporarily down for some reason.

When you want answers, think Jeopardy! Don’t phrase your queries in traditional question form. Instead, write them as an incomplete sentence and let Google fill in the answer. Example: don’t type “what year did Bulgaria get a visit from the queen?” type “the queen visited Bulgaria in” and let Google complete the sentence with your answer.

Focus your image search. Say you love looking at pictures of people with roses in their hair, but when you type in “rose” a bunch of gardening tips pop up. The fix: type in “rose &imgtype=face” and click the image search. Voila’! If you want to see information on the city of Paris and don’t want any pictures of Paris Hilton popping up (don’t know why you wouldn’t) then you can type “paris -&imgtype=face” and enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower.

Track flights using Google. All you need to know is the flight number! Type “DL 1910” and get instant flight information without having to fiddle around with the airline’s website.

Google as an Encylopedia

Last but not least, you can still use Google as an encyclopedia to get simple facts, figures, and stats. Unlike the old-style books, the information you find in your Google search will be up to date with the latest research and discoveries. You can find these sorts of helpful facts: “weather in Hong Kong” or “time in Toronto.”

Now, I’m no statistician, but I think most people would agree with me that at least 90% of users are experiencing no more than 10% of Google’s potential. Now if only I could get my Grandparents to learn these tricks…

Do you have other favorite Google tricks? Share them in the comments so we can all learn together!


  1. Jason Wynn says

    I’m always using the site: feature to search a specific website or domain. For example, if I remembered reading a story about robots on the geekbeat website, I can search for it by typing “robot” into the Google search box.

  2. Profile photo of Mark Zamora says

    My favorite Google search feature is unit conversion.
    Simply type in x Liters to Quarts, etc and it’ll convert it for you! Perfect for recipes or whatever.

    Great post, Rachel.

  3. says

    I use “define:word” to lookup the meaning of words. My last lookup was define:indefatigable . There are a lot of tricks here I’d never heard before and they’re going to come in handy. Thank you!

  4. says

    I use “define:word” to lookup the meaning of words. My last lookup was define:indefatigable . There are a lot of new tricks here I’d never heard before and they’re going to come handy starting right now. Thank you!

  5. Jason says

    One of my favorite tricks on google is currency exchange. Just type in “1 usd to cad” and you can convert a US Dollar to Canadian Dollar, or any other currency you desire!

  6. Tariq Hasan says

    A wealth of info. One additional one is site: which restricts your queries to a particular site. Such as Netflix 1.2.1 will search netflix 1.2.1 on a page on site only and not the wide world.