The Top 5 Google Operators Every SEO Should Know

If you're an SEO or interested in SEO-related endeavors for your site, these search engine operators will take you a long way in gathering "intel" about a site!
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor
Professor Gato says

Professor Gato says "SEO is the cat's meow!"

Here on the other side of my first "How to Become a Search Ninja" post, I felt it necessary to take some of what I wrote in that post and make it accessible for the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) folks out there. After all, advanced search queries via the usage of operators can really work wonders when digging up information for sites! You don't need to be an SEO to use these, but if you are an SEO, then using the following operators will help you gather quite a bit of actionable data, as well as information to provide your clients with on their monthly report (that is if you do that sort of thing and you aren't one of these guys...).

So, prepare to get your Google on and make usage of some advanced queries via the handy-dandy operators I'm about to discuss below. Who knows, you may just enjoy yourself in the process!


Definition: The site: operator returns results based solely on the Web site (somerandomwebsite.com) or domain extension (edu, com, net, info, biz, et al) you define. Example: site:zdnet.com/blog/seo or site:com ZDNet "SEO Whistleblower" Comments: This is about as basic as it gets with operators, but it's also perhaps the most important! Used by itself as in the first example above, this will tell you how many pages Google has indexed of a Web site. It will also allow you to quickly (depending on how many pages of a site are indexed) go through and look at how Google has titles, descriptions, URLs, site previews, etc. indexed. Likewise, if you have pages utilizing targeted keywords, you can enter those in your search query as well to see all the pages from your site that Google has indexed with those keywords! Example: site:zdnet.com/blog/seo "Search Ninja"


Definition: The link: operator shows you all the pages Google has indexed that link to a page you define.

Example: link:zdnet.com/blog/seo

Comments: I listed this operator because it's a good one to know. With that said, it's extremely fickle and not something you want to put to much weight into. Amongst its results are pages linking to the site from the very site itself. Now, while you might think, "I'll just filter out pages linked to the site from the site itself using -site:" -- not so fast! Adding additional operators into a query using the link: operator will yield some interesting results. So, just be aware that I don't fully trust the link: operator to show me everything I feel like it should be showing me. Try it out for yourself and see what you think. The example I provide for this operator is a perfect example of why I find it to be fickle. I know my blog is fairly new, but only ~30 pages linking to it including pages from ZDNet? Yikes. Something's definitely off.

UPDATE: A commenter has let me know that Google restricted the link: operator to yield only a sample of links that point to a site instead of showing all of them. That would explain me only seeing ~30 pages linking to my blog via that query. After trying a couple of queries based on this information, it seems that adding additional operators to a query using the link: operator will yield a larger overall picture -- but they're still a bit fickle. For example, link:msftkitchen.com vs. link:msftkitchen.com -site:msftkitchen.com. As I delve deeper and deeper into the second query, some of the pages don't have a link to the site. Maybe they did at one time, but take for instance the cached version of this link found on the 47th page of results from the second query above. Its cached date is January 8, 2011, yet msftkitchen is nowhere to be found. Interesting...


Definition: The cache: operator will show you Google's most recently cached version of a page in its index if it has a cached version of that page.

Example: cache:zdnet.com/blog/seo

Comments: Going straight to Google and typing in cache:yourpagehere.com will take you straight to cached view of that page (unless there is no cached version of that page). This is the same effect as if you search for a page in Google and then click the "cached" link beneath it. Seeing the cached version of a page is great for seeing when a page was last cached. For instance, if you decide to use an existing page to target some slightly different exact keywords, you can monitor the cached version of that page to see when Google has discovered, indexed, and cached the change! It will even tell you the time and date that the page was cached, just for added clarity.


Definition: The info: operator provides quick links to various data points (namely, the site:, cache:, link:, and related: operators) about a Web site you specify.

Example: info:msftkitchen.com

Comments: This operator is extremely handy for providing quick paths to multiple queries using the operators I covered above and then some. If you know that all you need is results from a site: search, then using the site: operator in your query is right up your alley. However, if you're looking to quickly see the title tag and description of a page, and you want to have quick links already generated for you by Google to see results for searches using site:, cache:, link:, and/or related: operators, the info: operator is absolutely the way to go. If you have a new client or site, I would recommend starting here!


Definition: The related: operator returns results that are similar to the content of a Web page you specify.

Example: related:zdnet.com

Comments: The least important of the operators I've covered in this post, related: is still good to know as it serves the purpose of finding sites that Google thinks are similar to yours or your client's. Technically, the order of results are the order Google finds to be the most important and most relevant to the site you specify! So, depending on the campaign you're looking to start defining, perhaps a related: search will give you some extra data points to focus on outside of just competition analysis based on keyword searches.

Bonus: Google Alerts

Google Alerts can be great, but per my experience, they're quite fickle at times. If you have never seen Google Alerts, they're basically a way for you to tell Google, "I want you to send me an email whenever you index something related to what I specify." For instance, let's say you create a brand new page on a client's Web site that will serve the purpose of targeting a keyword. Well, you can go ahead and set up an alert for that page so that when Google indexes any mention of it, you will receive an email letting you know as such!

Google Alerts can be especially handy if you've set out on a link-building campaign and you want to see when Google indexes a site mentioning the page you've built links to. How cool is that? Or, what if you want to monitor competition? Let your creativity run wild here. But as I noted at first, Google Alerts can be a fickle beast. I don't like to rely on them too much -- especially if you start defining queries that contain operators. Go take a look at the Google Alerts page and start experimenting if you haven't yet!

And with that, I think I'll conclude this article. I hope you've found the information above useful, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out via the comments below or shoot me a message!

Editorial standards