Google Search Tips

The members of the National Security Agency, you would imagine, would know everything there is to know about searching on the Internet.

Apparently, though, they need some help mastering search too. This is why the NSA has published a master guide to understanding how search works.

The 600-page book, called Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research (it is available to the public on the NSA website under Public Info), isn't your average book of elementary Google tips that tells you how to use double-quotes around a search phrase to search for the exact thing you type out (rather than an interpretation of it by Google).

Not only does this book give you hundreds of tips on how to use Google to get all the regular information you need, it tells you how to search for sensitive information that governments and businesses may have left unprotected.

If your search needs aren't quite that advanced, though, try these Google search tips to get the results you need.

Wildcard searches

Sometimes, you have only a general idea about what you need to search for but you know none of the specifics.

For instance, you could know, without knowing the specifics, that the governor of some state outlawed teachers' unions. Or you could remember having heard that Facebook bought some company for $1 billion and you might want to know what company that was. Wildcard search works admirably here.

All you need to do is to type out your search query on Google and put asterisks where you don't know the specifics.

For instance, in the above Facebook example, you could type in facebook buys * for * dollars. Right away, Google fills in the blanks (or the asterisks) and you get results that show you that Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion.

Searching for results in a given period of time

Often, you need to search for information from a given time window. The usual way to do this is to first make your search and then to filter the results by clicking on Search Tools (under the Google search results page search box). The arrow next to the Any Time choice that appears there has a Custom Range option that lets you specify a time window.

If you don’t have the patience for these machinations, you have a much simpler choice – to use two dots to specify a time range.

For instance, if you wish to learn about George W. Bush’s policies from his first month in office, you would have to search for George W. Bush’s policies 1/20/2000..2/19/2000.

Looking for a specific type of file

If you’re only looking for PDF files and wish to see nothing but them in your results, the filetype: operator is what you use.

If you need to search for PDFs on college admission dates, for instance, you just need to type in filetype:pdf college admission dates. You would right away get results that had only PDFs included in.

The related word search

If you put words in double-quotes, you get Google to show you pages that have those words exactly in the order you’ve specified.

The tilde (~) operator would be the opposite of that. It gets Google to show you pages about words that are usually associated with your word (not pages that have the exact word).