How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

Summary: No more frustrating dead-end searches. Take the TRUE power of Google into your own hands and learn to become a search ninja!

TOPICS: Google, Windows
Search Ninja: You're doing it wrong.

Search Ninja: You're doing it wrong.

Can't find that ever-elusive result you've been searching for? Tired of thinking there's no way to find a result without wading through pages-upon-pages of results? Have you ever wanted to enrich your search experience but have no idea how or where to start? Is your search engine anthem U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For?"

If you jumped straight out of your chair and exclaimed, "YES," then this could very well be the post series you've needed. Not to mention, with all the complaints recently about Google and how their results are supposedly deteriorating, the time for boosting your search skills may just be at hand. If the results are in Google's index, they canbe found, so sit back, relax, get your learn on and prepare to become a search ninja!


Caveat: The information in this post is a lot to take in if you have never performed advanced searches in Google, so please be patient and don't treat this post as a "read once and done" deal! You may well get confused, so please ask questions via the comments if you do and I will be happy to clarify what I can for you. Don't worry about feeling stupid, either. I truly want you to understand this stuff since I know how much it will enhance your search experience! Make sure you click on all the examples I've provided throughout the article as they will really help you visualize much of the information I discuss -- especially if what you're reading becomes confusing. Seeing it really can make it "click" for you. Take this post in bits and pieces if you need to, add it to your favorites, etc. but just remember to be patient, keep an open mind, experiment on your own, and most of all, HAVE FUN!

Now, before we proceed, I want to give you a scenario to consider. I will use this as the series-wide example for you to reference for all points to come. With that said, let's say you're interested in C++ programming. You type "C++ programming" and a couple of similar queries into Google but you're just not satisfied with the results you've looked at. It's not Google's fault, because they do seem to be returning extremely relevant results, but they're just not the ones you feel cater to your method of learning. So, you think to yourself, "I know I should probably just take a class or buy a book, but I really wish there was a way to find "Introduction to C++" presentations/documents from colleges online."

Well, if you were a search ninja, you would realize the cornucopia of results surely awaiting you for such a query, and as such, your initial query on that train of thought may look something like this: site:edu intitle:Introduction intitle:C++ filetype:ppt | filetype:pdf | filetype:doc

Now, just what does that query tell Google? My fellow search ninjas out there know the answer to this, but this series isn't catered to them, so let's break it down! I'll delve into the site:, intitle:, filetype:, AND and OR operators, and more. A very critical point to remember is that your search terms should be placed directly after the operator with no spaces.

For example, site:edu funny is correct where site: edu funny is not. All the same, intitle:funny is correct where intitle: funny is not. Of additional note is that Google operators are case-sensitive but your search terms are not! siTe:edu funny will not work where site:edU fUnnY and site:edu funny will work one-in-the-same. Lastly, the order in which you specify your search terms doesn't matter. For example, site:edu funny will work exactly the same as funny site:edu (you may see a different total number of results, but if you actually clicked through every single page of results, they would match and they would both end at exactly the same total number of results).

" (Quotes)

Keeping this section "short 'n sweet," the usage of quotes tells Google that you want it to return results for your *exact* search term. This applies to using 2 or more separate words/letters/numbers. For instance, searching for Windows 7 is different than searching for "Windows 7" in that the first example will return results that could include the number 7 and the word "Windows" *anywhere* within a page and not necessarily grouped together. The second example, however, will return results that contain Windows 7 as an *exact* phrase. Google does a great job of guessing what you're searching for with or without quotes most of the time, but certainly not all of the time -- especially if you're searching for an exact phrase that includes a word like "the" which Google has a tendency to ignore. For instance, if you're searching for lyrics that contain the following phrase, the cat on the fence will yield drastically different results than "the cat on the fence" will. Get to know the usage of quotes if you don't already, because I use them frequently throughout the examples here (and you'll really start to understand why if you don't already)!

AND and OR

The AND and OR operators can be incredibly useful in your search endeavors. Perhaps confusing at first, I urge you to give these operators some time to marinate. I promise you they will "click" for you and you'll be happy you stuck it out! To discuss these two operators, I'll break them down individually.

AND: This operator tells Google "I only want to see results that contain all of what I'm searching for." For example, doing a search for cats dogs has the potential to return results about only cats, only dogs, or cats and dogs. If you want to see to it that you see only results including cats and dogs, your search query would be (you guessed it) cats AND dogs. This really comes in handy if you are interested in finding pages that contain multiple search terms, like cats AND dogs AND birds AND lizards. It's also great for building up searches using qualifiers like "beginner," "introduction," etc. For example, Introduction AND C++ AND Beginner. Of all the operators I use, I use AND the least by far. But if I'm going to discuss OR (which is next), then I couldn't negate AND!

OR: What this operator does is tell Google "I only want to see results based on what I specify, but not results that have to contain all of what I specify." For example, if you do a search for "Search Engines" OR C++, what you'll get are results that are about either search engines or C++. It's entirely possible that a result from that search could contain both C++ and search engines in the same article, but that would be a coincidence! Remember, if you wanted to see only results that must contain both search engines and C++, you would use the AND operator like so: "Search Engines" AND C++.

Now, it's very important to note that OR is interchangeable with |. That means you can use either one to achieve the same end result. For example, "Search Engines" | C++ is the same as "Search Engines" OR C++. Personally, I like to use | because it lets Google know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I mean OR in terms of an operator and not a word. For instance, what if I did a search for "Search Engine" ORC? Did I mean "Search Engine" OR C as in a search engine OR a programming language named C, or did I mean "Search Engine" ORC as in a search engine fantasy creature? Because spaces don't matter with the OR operator, "Search Engine"|C is the same as "Search Engine" | C is the same as "Search Engine" |C is the same as "Search Engine"| C.

Now, try all four (1 2 3 4) of those using OR instead of | and you will get two sets of very different results! Lastly, it's important to note that you can have multiple OR operators in one search query. This can be really helpful if searching for multiple qualifiers to give you more results to go through without having to type individual queries. Take, for instance, a scenario where a product goes by multiple names. Let's say I want to search for Windows 7-related stuff. Well, I may want to cover as many bases as I can and try something like "Windows 7" | "Win 7" | "Windows Seven" | "Win Seven".


Without getting all convoluted and intricate here, the site: operator basically tells Google "I want you to only show me results from specific Web sites or domains I specify." So, to give you an example using just this operator, site:edu "Search Engines" would tell Google that you want to see results about "Search Engines" from .edu domains only. Getting even more specific, you could try something like "Search Engines" to see results about "Search Engines" from only the Web site! As you can see, just the site: operator alone can help to greatly filter and fine-tune your results, but don't let the edu examples above pigeonhole your creativity and thought process. If you're looking for Windows 7 Service Pack 1-related material and you want to see only what's on Microsoft's site, you could try "Windows 7 Service Pack 1" and BOOM, highly-relevant, fine-tuned results!

Yellow Belt Search Ninja Exercise: Think of a topic you're interested in and try to think of a couple of sites you feel would contain the most helpful/insightful information based on that topic. Now, create one search query based on your topic that will show results from both of the sites you thought of and onlythose two sites. Hint: Remember the | operator! On the next page, I discuss the filetype: and intitle: operators, as well as the solution to the opening example and the conclusion of part 1.


Next up on the docket is the filetype: operator. This operator tells Google "I want you to show me results that are of the type of file(s) I specify." This is probably my favorite operator to use since I just loooove to search for documents and presentations! Some of the most common file types that I like to search for using the filetype: operator are ppt, pps, ppsx, pptx, xls, xlsx, doc, docx, txt, pdf, rtf, and more. You can search for database files (mdb, dbf, et al), music files (mp3, m4p, et al), movie files (mpg, avi, et al), archive files (zip, rar, et al), image files (jpg, png, et al) and many, many more.

Through my experiments, I've found that defining each file type that you're interested in searching for -- all separated by the | operator -- yields the best results. At one point, you could define multiple file types within parenthesis but the results were pretty wacky (example: filetype:(ppt|pptx|pdf|doc) ). In the example I provided at the beginning of the post, you can see that I use three filetype: operator statements separated by the | operator: filetype:ppt | filetype:pdf | filetype:doc

To note, you would probably be shocked by what kind of data you can find based on a filetype: search alone. I once found a database file from an online retailer chock-full of full names, addresses, email addresses, and -- get this -- full credit card information. Scary stuff, huh? That was back in my Google hacking days, but make no mistake that there's a whole world of advanced Google searchers out there who can find some very revealing information. And come to think of it, it's off of that very premise alone that I started my own Microsoft investigative journalism blog back in 2007! I would find confidential information sitting around on people's servers about future Microsoft products I was interested in and I decided I wanted to blog about them.

My methods have since then improved exponentially and branched out well beyond finding such information contained only within documents, but if for nothing else, it just goes to show how using an operator like filetype: to do some experimenting can be quite fun, revealing, and maybe even turn into an entity all its own for you. In the case of our example at the beginning of the article, though, we're using the filetype: operator to search for three types of files: ppt, pdf, and doc.


Put simply, this operator tells Google to only show you results that include your search term in the title of a result. If you're unfamiliar with a title, most pages and documents have them and they're typically what you click on when you click to see a result in Google. For example, intitle:ginormous shows the word "ginormous" in bold in the title of each result. Using the intitle: operator is perfect for narrowing down results to show your most important search terms right there in the title of a page or document.

Now, if you're feeling particularly mischievous, you can try some searches along the lines of intitle:index.of mymusic and see what all you can dig up. Naturally, I don't condone downloading any illegal content you might find doing such a search, but expanding out into searches like that will show you just how many people out there are ignorant to the true power of search engines. You would be astonished at how many people carelessly leave illegal/copyrighted material up on their Web servers. Never mind the people who leave personal and/or confidential information floating around directories on their Web sites.

So, if you're one of those types of people, now you have a good reason to check and make sure you're not serving up some things that could potentially get you in a heap of trouble! How can you do that? Simple! Try the site: operator using your site to see what all Google has indexed of yoursite! You may just be surprised at what you find. If you're an SEO, you may consider this a value-added service to your clients. I'm sure you've undoubtedly used the site: operator to get a rough idea of how many pages of your clients' sites are indexed, right? Well, imagine what they would think of you if you approached them and said, "we found a security issue with your site, but we can clear it right up for you!" Good stuff. ;)

Solution to Opening Example

site:edu intitle:Introduction intitle:C++ filetype:ppt | filetype:pdf | filetype:doc

Do you know what that query is telling Google to show you now? :) If not, here's the solution: Google will return results from .edu domains (site:edu) with the terms "Introduction" and "C++" in the title of each result (intitle:Introduction intitle:C++) and of those results, it will only show you ppt, pdf, or doc files (filetype:ppt | filetype:pdf | filetype:doc). And that's it!

There's a Catch...

You just knew there had to be one, right? Luckily, it's typically not a major one. You see, the only problem these days with performing such advanced queries is that Google oftentimes flags such searches as potential automated queries (queries run by programs, scripts, etc.). Google is pretty adamant about keeping that from happening, so as you continue to run some of these advanced queries in short amounts of time, Google will either give you the option to fill in a captcha to continue searching or they will simply show you a page apologizing to you that they can't complete your search query (which I find to be very frustrating, personally -- especially if I'm on a roll researching with advanced queries). If the latter happens, then you can either try the same query in a different Internet browser, wait it out, change your IP address, or go to a different computer. The good news is that you really have to be digging into some advanced queries like the one in the solution above to get flagged by Google.

Wrapping Up Part 1

How is this post even remotely SEO-related, Stephen? Good question! As for putting an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) slant to this whole thing, you may consider this an excellent reason to correctly purpose your content whether it's on the Web or in a presentation/document. While you're not going to see a huge amount of traffic whatsoever from people searching for documentation/content so specifically, you never know if that one person who does will spread the word about what they find. You can get as specific as you want with your content and delve into keyword research if you so choose, but just remember one person really can make a difference if they find your content, enjoy it, and decide to share it! Additionally, the more you know how to dig into Google, the more you learn how to understand it as a search engine. It gives you perspective, a unique skill set, and the ability to do some really detailed investigation into your clients' sites if need be. No, it's not a requirement to know how to use Google to this extent, but it absolutely can't hurt you to understand everything you can about search engines. The more you understand them, the better you can optimize for them and take yourself outside the realm of simply following what you read from others.

Now, while you may think to yourself "it's a waste of my time to have to learn how to search like this," I would highly encourage you to keep an open mind and try to shift your thinking. It's a skill to be able to search like this and it has the capacity to greatly enrich your life! That statement may seem like an exaggeration, but once you start thinking deeper into what you're searching for and how to find it, your reliance upon others and caring about Google making search results more relevant to the everyman query will decrease tremendously.

A prime example is the main one I used for this article. I would wager that there's not a single curriculum I can't access -- in part or in whole -- from educational establishments world-wide. If I want to learn about computer programming without signing up for classes, I can. If I want to learn about world religions without signing up for classes, I can. Now, I'm not promoting thievery by any means, but if I have the power to find and access information without using any deceptive measures, then I'm going to make use of that power. In my humble opinion, that is the true power of Google -- not its ability to try to read minds as it attempts to make its results more relevant using less search terms.

To close part one of this series, I'd like to remind you to exercise patience and experiment, experiment, experiment! You're not hurting anyone by getting creative with your searches, so think big! Also, think outside of the box. While there are right and wrong ways of performing searches, sometimes it's interesting to see what you'll get when doing a search incorrectly. So get out there and get searching!

If you have any questions or need help formulating a query based on a set of terms/ideas, I'll certainly try my best to help you out. Either way, stay tuned for the second part of the series where I will show you how to drill your results down even more than we have here in this post. I'll also go into more ideas and scenarios where you can use your newly-acquired search ninja skills to truly enrich your life and help you begin to think "let me Google that" with things you may have never thought possible before. Stay tuned as it only gets better as you continue the journey of becoming a... (wait for it)... SEARCH NINJA!

Topics: Google, Windows

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  • Search Ninja - Very Funny

    I say that because I have been called that before. I always tell people that I do not have all the answers but I have mad searching skills.

    I was helping a person with an issue they were having with a piece of software that for some reason did not like the new printer they bought. Everything else printed fine and doing things like updating drivers and uninstalling and reinstalling the printer did not help. Using a search engine I used the symptoms and had an answer within minutes. The user I helped asked me how I know all this stuff and I said that I didn't, I just searched for an answer. They replied that I must teach them my ninja like search skills.
    • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

      @bobiroc Welcome, fellow search ninja! :) It's kind of amazing how search becomes an extension of your brain. You're not forced to really *know* anything in particular, because more than likely, when a question comes up, you're just a search away from an answer!

      • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1


        Exactly...It's out there somewhere most of the time. Cannot tell you how many times I get random questions about problems or error messages even from my own tech staff. My Brother (who also works with me in IT) showed me this website once.

        It stands for [b]L[/b]et [b]M[/b]e [b]G[/b]oogle [b]T[/b]hat [b]F[/b]or [b]Y[/b]ou.

        I use it quite a bit when I get those random "How do I...?" or "Have you seen this error before?" type questions.
      • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1


        Oh yes, I'm definitely familiar with that site, hahaha. I'll use it with friends who for some reason don't think to Google where they otherwise would have (always funny to do), but I'd honestly like to change the perception for questioning for people so that they really do think, "ah, I can Google that!"

        People have a lot on their minds and unless you're steeped in thinking "Google" every time a question comes up, it's really easy to simply not think about it. To this day, I still catch myself wondering something for a month or so off-and-on and then thinking, "...duh! Why don't I just Google that?" lol.

        So, I'm really trying to approach people who don't currently think like that, show them that they *can* think like that, and make the tools necessary *to* think like that accessible to them! Naturally, it will come down to the individual as to if they're even interested enough or not to try this stuff out but knowing how much learning to search like this has really enhanced my productivity and quality of life in certain aspects, I can only hope more people than not will take to at least some of this information. =)

  • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

    You still end up with SPAM and niche sites that are full of links to trick you on clicking on AdSense... hopefully Apple develops a better search engine with no spam... Google is all spam now.
    • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

      @Hasam1991 Not true. A major point of learning to search like this is to REALLY filter out spam. If you're still getting spam results, you need to practice more! And Apple developing a better search engine with no spam? Good luck finding *any* search engine competing with Google that doesn't become spam-ridden itself.

  • Quick question ...

    Okay, how about THIS problem?

    We installed Windows 7 Pro on a bunch of machines and also Office 2003. We need to be able to open WordPerfect documents, so we installed the converter/filter and associated the .wpd extension with Word.

    Well, all except [b][i]one[/i][/b] computer. Somehow, THAT computer decided to associate .wpd with WordPad, which produces garbage. So, right-click a .wpd file, select Open with ... and select the program to open the file, and set it as default, right?

    For some reason, Word isn't in the list of possible programs. So, click Browse, and select Word.

    But when it goes back to the "Select Default", Word isn't there as an option.

    Yes, you can search for "associating an extension with a particular program". But you'll get thousands of pages showing the way that SHOULD work. How do you eliminate all the "routine" result pages?
    • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

      @Rick_R Hey there and thanks for the question! This is a great point and is something I'm going to delve greatly into in part 2. Basically, you want to start negating keywords you see in common with all of those "routine" results while taking care to avoid negating words that could prevent you from receiving results you want!<br><br>For example, if you kept seeing the word "registry" or something where someone kept telling you to create a registry key that you could keep updating every time the file type disassociation happened, you would add this to your search:<br><br>-registry<br><br>Simply adding a minus sign right before a word will remove all results containing that word! Also of mention, if you want to remove a whole SITE from your results, you could try something like this:

      Give that a shot and see if you can arrive at a solution. =)<br><br>-Stephen
  • OK Ninja's here's a challenge!

    Find me a search query that brings more results than the ones listed here:

    The winner will send me their photo and I will ad them here with updated search results and a crown on top of their head!


    Dejan SEO
    • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

      @seoguy Ah, yes. This was a discussion on the GHDB forum back in the day. There were some pretty awesome queries that yielded high-number results! I'm sure would still have that discussion saved since the site is now gone. =)

  • Opening Example: Where's the AND Operator?

    "...with the terms ?Introduction? and ?C++? in the title of each result"
    • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

      @Willie_G Good question and this is why I don't use AND that often. From my own experience (I don't know if this is truly the case or not, but it is from my *personal* experience), when I use multiple intitle: operators next to one another (like in the opening example), it seems an AND is automatically implied. If I had separated them with | (the OR operator), I would have seen different results, but because I simply specified them both with no operator in between, Google seems to automatically look for both of in the title.

      To check this out for yourself, do the opening example search and click to the last page of results. Then, scroll down and click where it says "repeat the search with the omitted results included." Once it loads results, click through to the last page of results again. Once you get there, look under the search box and you should see something like "Page 13 of 128 results (0.09 seconds)." Now that you've done that, take note of that number then perform the same search using AND and do the exact same thing to see the true last page of results. They will match. Interestingly, the results for each search will slightly differ in their order but they're the same.

      In a future part, I will discuss the allintitle: operator which I should have been able to use in place of how I used intitle: in the opening example, but couldn't because I've found it to be an *extremely* fickle operator.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to ask for more clarity if I only managed to confuse you more. lol. :)

  • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1


    (1) On occasion, Google uses alternate inclusion rules that results in unwanted terms being included. I do lots of genealogy searches with the name HINES -- sometimes, but not always, Google includes HINE & or HIMES (even though they were not in my terms. To include ONLY the HINES, simply add "+" (no space) to the term you want. Thus, +HINES causes Google to drop HINE and HIMES from the list of results.

    (2) The "*" can act as a wildcard between search terms. Sometimes adding several ***** adds to the number of wildcards BUT Sometimes it does not. Google seems to change the rules somewhat dynamically on how many *s are useful.

    For example, "George **** Smith|Smythe" should find "George and Mrs Ethel J Smith" as well as "George and Ethel Smythe". The short-form OR (|, the pipe symbol) increases results for known variant spellings or alternate last names (useful with maiden surnames).
    // Gord
  • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

    Very interesting and easy to digest information. However, it is now May and the world is hungry for Part Deux. Thank you.
  • Is it too soon to ask about when do we get part 2?

    Let's see, part one came out in January, so this is, what, four months later already. No time like the present, eh? Color me impatient (is that dating me or what?), but I'm ready for the next installment whenever you are (hint) ;)
  • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

    I envy you, I'd like a brown belt at least. With my history however, it should be renamed -> "garbage engine".
  • RE: How to Become a Search Ninja: Harnessing the True Power of Google - Part 1

    I thought I am the only one around who uses complex search queries with standard keywords. Excellent article! Most useful zdnet article ever!
  • Ninja challenge: search strategies based on formatting?

    Any suggestions on distinguishing italics, superscripts, or hyphens in a search term? I often have to search for info on genes (often lower case italic) and proteins (often the exact same letters, but upper case and normal font face.) In some searches I'm looking for terms specifically with or without hyphens / superscripts. I often restrict my search to available pdfs because they are more likely to retain the format of something originally written in Word, but that narrows the search more than necessary. I'd love to find a search string that would include html pages but have enough formatting to indicate that a lack of special formatting is deliberate, rather than a failure to consider formatting for html. Suggestions?
  • umjrdcs 72 grr

    rktuos,peqziurn32, wdbhe.
  • Nested searches on Google

    Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for your article. Do you know if Google allows nested searches using parentheses? You mentioned parentheses as a grouping function but seemed to say they're not valid anymore and I'd love to know that they are so that you could do more complex searches. Let me know if this needs clarification.