Advanced Search Operators Guide: Tips for Searching the Web from SEO Experts
The definition of a search operator is a term (or combination of terms) that is used to refine or broaden a search. You can in fact use these instructions to search for site specific details or produce complex queries that enable you to pinpoint quite targeted results. The most basic search operators in use are the Boolean search terms (AND/+, OR and NOT?-). These allow the user to exclude or include certain information from the search results.
We’ve put together a reference guide of our favourite search operators which you can download from the link here.
|" "||Search for a specific phrase||Find people posting about your niche to get in touch with||"keyword"|
|+||Ensure that two separate keywords are returned in the results||Find people posting about more than one term you’re interested in||keyword + keyword|
|-||Exclude unwanted concepts||Find people posting about one topic but not another||keyword – keyword|
|OR||Search for one keyword or another||Useful if you want to find people posting about multiple topics||keyword OR keyword|
Refining your search results with handy operators can help us perform a number of SEO tasks and save a little time while we’re at it. We’ve put together a guide of some of our favourites and asked some of the industries top SEOs to share theirs!
Google Search Operators
Everyone loves Google, especially SEO professionals! As much as we curse their ever-changing algorithms the search engine provides us with lots of nifty tools to help us investigate site issues, build links or reach out to useful people in cyber space.
|site:||Focuses your search to a specific domain||Find out how many pages are indexed by Google||site:domain name|
|intitle: / allintitle:||Narrows the results down to results in the page title||Find pages using your keyword in the page title||intitle:keyword
|inanchor: / allinanchor:||Focuses your search to results in the anchor text of links pointing back to a page||Find the competition who are actively using a keyword as part of their link building campaign||inanchor:keyword|
|inurl: / allinurl:||Reveals pages containing your keyword in the URL||Find the competition who have optimised their URLs for your keywords||inurl:keyword
|intext: / allintext:||Results that have your keywords in the body copy||Find sites that are actively optimised for your keywords||intext:keyword|
|author:||Search for an author||Find articles written by a specific person. Get some background on the target of an outreach project||author:author’s name|
|cache:||View Google’s cache of your site||Find out if your latest updates have been cached by Google||cache:url|
|info:||Get more info on a webpage||Find out if you have DNS issues or duplicate content on your site as well as other links to useful info about your page||info:url|
|*||Wildcard search will insert any word into your query||This will bring up other things associated to your keyword, partial matches for phrases that may be useful||top * blogs|
We are going to have a look at how careful use of search operators within Google will help us to perform a number of funky SEO tasks and save a little time whilst we are about it.
Finding out a little bit about a website’s performance is really handy and unsurprisingly a number of search operators are available for this task:
- Has Google been visiting your site? Find out by typing (site:url) into Google to see the list of all pages.
- Want to find out more? Type (info:url) and you can find Google’s cache of your site along with details of when it was last crawled.
- Are you worried about keyword cannibalisation? Type (site:url “keyword”) and Google will display a list of all your pages that are using the same keywords.
- Can the world read your blog? Type (site:url/blog) to see how many posts have been indexed by Google (you can substitute “blog” for any other part of your site you want to check)
- Does your site have canonical issues? Type (site:url –inurl:www) to see if there are any non-www URL’s in the index.
Link building can be a time consuming task so anything that provides a helping hand will soon become another weapon in the SEO armoury. Advanced search operators are a fancy way of filtering search results to look for link building opportunities, below are some of my favourites:
Guest blogging is a great way of getting some links, a great way to start is by getting yourself an outreach list. These operators will help you find relevant sites that already publish guest posts: (keyword “guest post”), (keyword “guest blog”), (keyword “guest posting”), (keyword “guest blogging”), (keyword “submit post”), (keyword “write for us”), (keyword “submit an article”), (keyword “submit article”), (keyword “contribute”, (keyword “suggest”).
White papers are another great way to build links, once you have the content you can use search operators to help you in finding places for publication: (keyword “submit whitepaper”), (keyword “add whitepaper”), (keyword “post whitepaper”), (keyword “submit white paper”),
Combining a number of search operators into a monster query can really start to uncover some interesting results. This one’s specially designed to uncover guest posting opportunities, I can’t remember where I found it but would love to give the author credit (please let me know if it was you and we’ll give you a well-deserved link!):
(keyword 1 OR keyword 2 OR keyword3) (freelance OR guest OR contributor) (blogger OR writer OR author) (post OR article OR story) (intitle:”write for” OR intitle:”contribute to” OR intitle:guidelines OR intitle:submission OR intitle:submit OR intitle:submissions OR intitle:Wanted OR intitle:become OR intitle:Suggest) Phew!
Search Operators is something I cannot live without as finding link opportunities is something I do for living…
Here are few simple search operators which have the power to help you get tons of links…
Inanchor:”restaurants in ohio” –site:domain.com
The reason why it’s good to target keywords in anchor text is because this way you will have the websites that are comfortable to link (within the website or external) with the keywords you are looking for so now what left is the process of outreaching to convince bloggers to get links.
Basketball inurl:”write for us”
This is another very simple yet advanced search operator which will help you to bring the domains in front which allow you to write for them. This saves lots of time as you don’t have to convince the blogger about why you should allow me to write on your blog but this will help you sort the bloggers who are ready to accept writings from 3rd parties.
These are 2 of many I use in my day to day life which helps me find some good links within minutes.
Other Handy SEO Applications
Here is a compilation of some of Boom’s favourite search operators and what to use them for:
Want to do some competitive analysis? Type (domainname.com – site:domainname.com and add the timeframe for your search here) and you can search for brand mentions for your competitor, you can adjust the timeframe for your query as necessary
Try some keyword research: (inanchor:keyword intitle:keyword) will help you discover who else is utilising your chosen keyword
Looking to find a thought leader to interview for a nice bit of link bait on a blog? This one will help you find the people in your niche who have interesting stuff to say (keyword “questions and answers with”).
I’ve actually got 4 favorite advanced search operators that I mostly use for link research, prospecting and acquisition:
inpostauthor: I use this to track blogs/publications where active guest bloggers, especially competitors, distribute their content. (“inpostauthor:popular blogger”)
link: this one’s definitely useful when used in Google’s Blog Search. This approach will allow you to easily identify and scrape all the blogs that have linked to your competitors’ site or any of its content. (“link:competitor.com”)
intext: useful for finding unlinked brand mentions, getting easier link prospects/product reviews (since they have already mentioned the brand) and/or can be used for link reclamation. (“intext:brandname”)
related: I use this in finding thematically relevant sites that already have strong search share (“related:topindustrysite.com”).
With these search operators, you can easily generate lists of highly qualified prospects. You can also use this link prospecting method with SEOquake or with the Mozbar plugin in Mozilla Firefox to export your custom search results to excel, populated with metrics.
Other Search Engines – Bing, Yahoo! and Duckduckgo.
Just like Google, the various other search engines around the web have their own search operators to help you narrow down your results.
While a lot of these search operators are shared with Google, some are unique to a particular search engine which makes them worth knowing about – especially since they can be really handy extra tools for finding the information you want that might not show up in Google.
Bing Search Operators
Bing has recently started gaining traction due to Microsoft incorporating it into many of their products and systems.
A few of its standard search operators are just the same as Google; you’ll still find the ever useful site: and exact match quotes in Bing.
You’ll also find, however, a whole range of other useful operators. Here are 5 really great examples, an explanation of each and how you might use them:
|site:||Focuses your search to a specific domain||Find out how many pages are indexed by Bing||site:domain name|
|filetype:||Find a file of a specified file type on the web||Find certain document types on the web, like a .pdf for information in an easy to download format||filetype:pdf|
|contains:||Takes you to the page that your specified file type is linked from||Find places that have hosted specific file types, e.g. when searching for sites to pitch a whitepaper to||contains:pdf|
|feed:||Lists RSS and Atom feeds relating to the topic you’re searching for||Ideal for finding blogs suitable for guest posting on a specific topic||feed:topic|
|linkfromdomain:||Allows you to see all the domains any site is linking out to||This could be used in any number of ways; from seeing where your site is linking out to, to finding similar blogs where one has linked to the other||linkfromdomain:url|
I love using the filetype:pdf and filetype:ppt to find great research, presentations, and content on a topic that may not have been translated into a better-read for of content (like a blog post, video, or infographic). You can also find a lot of great stats and data this way, which can make for excellent additions to whatever content you’re producing. Just be sure to cite the original source and you’re good to go!
I really like the filetype command, so I’d use something like allintitle: “widgets” filetype:pdf to get content ideas, as lots of good old content exists on pdfs but not anywhere else. I’ve found some great stuff this way, and even if it generates no good content ideas, sometimes the sites are great link placements.
Yahoo! Search Operators
Yahoo!, like Bing, shares some of the same operators as Google. In fact, the vast majority of Yahoo!’s current search operators are ones you can find on the other two search engines – but Yahoo! Also have some useful keyword shortcuts.
These ‘shortcuts’ range from turning the search bar into a calculator or measurement converter, to jumping to a certain page on a site without seeing the SERPs beforehand.
For example, if you want to see a Wikipedia page on hats but you’re currently seeing the Yahoo! Search bar, simply typing ‘!wiki hats’ takes you directly to the appropriate page.
You can do the same for !ebay, !amazon and !flickr as well as Yahoo! Pages using !news or !video.
If you use Yahoo!, you could save quite a bit of time by learning a few of these shortcuts:
|link:||Find pages that link to a specific URL||Find out who is linking to a competitor’s article and approach them for a link to yours. Broken link building too!||link: url|
|site:||Find all sites with a specific TLD||Narrow your search down to authoritative .edu sites||site: .edu|
|inurl:||Narrows a search to pages with a chosen keyword in their URL||Find the competition who have optimised their URLs for your keywords||inurl: keyword|
|intitle:||Narrows the results down to results in the page title||Find pages using your keyword in the page title||intitle: keyword|
|originurlextension:||Find a file of a specified file type on the web||Looking to place a .ppt presentation? Find sites already featuring powerpoint documents||originurlextension:ppt|
|region:||Focuses your search on sites belonging to a specific territory||Ideal for finding relevant sites when placing region specific content||region:europe|
Here are some of my favourites
+ “become a contributor”
This we find is a really good alternative query to “write for us” or “guest post” as you secure some different opportunities to competitors and more importantly you can often pick up higher value links as publications looking for “contributors” tend to be a higher calibre than those looking for “guest bloggers”.
and then we really like these:
yourcompetitorsite.com + “guest post” -yourcompetitorsite.com
yourcompetitorsite.com + “written by” -yourcompetitorsite.com
yourcompetitorsite.com + “contribution” -yourcompetitorsite.com
yourcompetitorsite.com + “from” -yourcompetitorsite.com
Again they are Google operators but basically you can scout out all sorts of competitor guest posts, which in the current climate makes for very interesting reading.
DuckDuckGo Search Operators
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that makes a really big deal about how it doesn’t track you when you’re searching online. This is much unlike Google, which uses your information for building up a profile on who you are and what you search for.
They have a whole number of search operators, which you might recognise from the previous two examples.
Again, they use the ever popular exact match quotes to include words and minus symbol to exclude others, as well as site: to focus on one particular domain.
They also use an operator similar to Bing’s Location:, called Region:.
But it doesn’t just end here. DuckDuckGo uses a feature similar to Yahoo!’s shortcuts, which they call !bangs. Again, it’s a way of searching another sites individual search engine from inside DuckDuckGo – but instead of the handful of sites offered by Yahoo, DuckDuckGo has thousands. The full list is far more than could be written out here, so check it out by clicking here.
|\||Takes you to the first search result for your query||If you’re feeling ‘ducky’||\keyword|
|!||Searches for your keyword using another sites search engine||Use a site’s search function without having to go to it||!amazon keyword|
|inbody:||Results that have your keywords in the body copy||Find sites that are actively optimised for your keywords||inbody:keyword|
|intitle:||Narrows the results down to results in the page title||Find pages using your keyword in the page title||intitle:keyword|
|filetype:||Find a file of a specified file type on the web||Find places that have hosted specific file types, e.g. when searching for sites to pitch a whitepaper to||filetype:pdf|
|site:.cc||‘Boost’ search results from a specific country||Ideal for placing country specific content||site:.fr keyword|
|sort:date||Sorts your results by date||Find recent trends in a particular niche for article ideas||sort:date keyword|
I like using the * because you can search for words used together though separated by a few between. For instance, use words like “love” and “hate” used in conjunction with services/products
Many people do web searches, but why not image searches, especially if you’re doing outreach. Find pictures related to an author’s studies/personalities to perhaps find similar things in common with them. E.g. “Oh, you loved watching Thundercats as a kid too!”
Aren’t you tired of marketing humdrum? Let’s find out what real people think. Do you have a service or product? What are the benefits, as spoken by normal people. Oh, your pillow helps me sleep better? Gain a sense of your market. Go to Google Groups and do a ‘insubject’ search. For example, insubject:”trouble sleeping”
Social Search Operators
Twitter Search Operators
A ‘standard’ search on Twitter (i.e. just words, with no operators) will search for those words individually; i.e. the results will show Tweets and people that contain those words anywhere, in any order, of the text.
For example, if we search for the results look something like this
As with Google, we can use quote marks, in order to search Twitter for results those words in that exact order.
For example, if we do the same search with quote marks the results look more like this:
If you’re looking to focus your results yet further there are lots of great operators to help:
|@||Searches for tweets that have referenced this username||Find tweets to, from, and about a specific user||@username|
|from:||Will show only tweets sent by this user||Find out what an influencer in your niche has been tweeting about||from:username|
|to:||Will show only tweets sent to or directed at this user||Find out who is getting in touch with influencers, see what kind of tweets they respond to||to:username|
|#||Will show all results that include that hashtag||Group together all the latest tweets on topic for article ideas||#keyword|
|Search for tweets based on when they were sent||Find tweets sent before and after a marketing campaign||since:YYYY-MM-DD
|near:||Find tweets sent from near a certain location||Send timely tweets at people near you||near:Nottingham within:10mi|
|filter:links||Use to only show tweets that contain links||Look at the kind of information people in your niche are sharing||filter:links keyword|
|:) :(||Find tweets that are positive or negative||Find out when people are saying negative things about your competitors and use it to your advantage||keyword :(
|lang:||To show only tweets in a particular language||Find only tweets in a language you understand!||lang:en|
|?||Include a question mark in a search term to show only tweets that ask a question||Find people asking questions in your niche that you can respond to||keyword?|
I have a number of Twitter Questions I follow e.g. “link building” ? -filter:links
this shows me people asking Link building questions on Twitter & strips out links
allintitle:submit * contest
I use this one to find sites to submit contests/competitions to
Or just copy your competitors guest post footprint & scrape
For shits & giggles & finding crappy SEO reports
filetype:xls pagerank URL email
Here you have my top advanced search operators:
[keyword OR keyword -keyword] to search for tweets that contain either one my keywords but exclude another one.
When do I use it? Great for finding and monitoring guest posting opportunities!
Examples: “guest post” OR “guest blogger” -RT
“write for us” OR “guest bloggers” -RT
[keyword ? -filter:links] to look for tweets that include a keyword and a question mark, without linking to a URL (meaning it will most certainly be a question).
When do I use it? I manage some of our clients’ Twitter accounts and this formula allows me to find interesting questions I could answer.
Example: “idea for a date” OR “date ideas” ? -filter:links
[site:] to restrict the search results to a specific domain.
When do I use it? There are many uses to this operator, from analysing your competitor’s site architecture and content, to finding internal pages and blog posts including a specific keyword.
Example: SEO tips site:boom-online.co.uk > What SEO tips have these guys given already? Is there anything they’re missing that I could write about as a guest blogger?
[inpostauthor:] to search for a specific author.
When do I use it? After reading this article by Anthony Pensabene, I’ve started playing around with this operator and it turned out to be a great tool for learning more about bloggers/writers, what they normally write about, which topics would be of their interest, etc. before reaching out to them.
Example: “guest post” inpostauthor:Leo Widrich > What does Leo Widrich normally writes about when he is guest blogging?
Youtube Search Operators
YouTube videos are a great way to jazz up a blog post and provide interesting content to share on social media. Here are a few search operators to help you find what you need amongst all the kitten videos!
|tag:||Searches for videos with your keyword as a tag||Look for videos about a certain topic||tag:keyword|
|##||Another version of the tag based search||Look for videos about a certain topic||##:keyword|
|Searches for videos based on when they were uploaded||Find videos released before or after an event||before: YYYY-MM-DD
|title:||Searches for videos with your keyword in the title||Find videos based on a particular topic||title: keyword|
|description:||Searches for videos with your keyword in the description||Find videos based on a particular topic||description: keyword|
|( )||Search for multiple keywords by grouping them in parentheses||Find videos relevant to multiple topics||description: (keyword keyword)|
To search your own YouTube videos, use these operators.
|is:||Searches for videos that are public, private, or unlisted||Find out which of your videos are showing up||is: public|
|length||Searches for videos of a certain length||Avoid finding especially long or short videos||length>60 length<100
finds a video longer than 60 seconds but shorter than 100
I thought I’d stick to Twitter for my selection as I use it a lot.
I have a column set up to catch mentions of my name or brand that don’t directly reference me in the Tweet. I include our short URL in there too so if I’ve shared a post and someone retweets it but strips my Twitter handle out I still catch it being shared in real time to thank them and interact.
So: Hitr.ch OR hitreach OR “Hit Reach” OR “Chris Gilchrist”
Another favourite is using Twitter’s advanced search to keep an eye out for work opportunities.
Let’s say I want to look out for people who want the recommendation of a good wordpress developer.
We don’t want to get involved if there’s no money (-free) or if it’s to customise a plugin (-plugin). It would help if they were in London (near:London) and within 10 miles of the centre so we don’t have to travel far to meet them(within:10mi).
So: Recommend good WordPress -plugin -free near:London within:10mi
Download our search operators reference guide
We’ve put together a handy .pdf reference guide of our favourite search operators that you can download here: Search Operators Guide – Boom Online.
Have we missed any of your favourites? Tell in the comments section below!