16 tips for advanced Google searches

7th May 2008 | 08:41

16 tips for advanced Google searches

Find stuff faster and far more accurately with our expert tips

There’s a lot more to the Google search box than meets the eye.

For those in the know, it’s a currency converter, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a calculator, and the techniques for getting Google to perform these tricks are simple and memorable.

We’ll show you how to get Google to instantly tell you what the weather is like is a certain place, what the time is in another country and when a film is showing in a cinema near you. And we'll reveal how to retrieve pages from Google’s cache, and even how to see what a particular page was like many months or even years ago.

1. Use the Google search bar as a dictionary

Find definitions for words using the define: operator in the Google search bar. For example, type define: verisimilitude to obtain 10 different definitions from various sources.

It’s also useful if you’re not sure of the spelling of a word, because Google will show you the correct spelling if you get it wrong.

2. Check the time in other countries

Google can tell you what time it is in other countries, right from the search bar. Type 'time Paris', for example, to find out what time it is in Paris right now.

3. Universal converter

Undoubtedly the quickest way to convert currencies, weights and measures and the like is to use the Google search bar.

The super thing about it is that you don’t have to learn any special syntax because it understands plain English.

So use phrases such as "half ounce in tablespoons" or "12 ounces in cups" when you’re cooking; "500 Hong Kong dollars in British pounds" to convert currencies or "20c in f" to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit.

If you don’t know a currency, you can even type things of the form “currency of India in Australian money”.

4. Calculator

The Google search bar is much better than the Calculator application that comes with Windows. Enter a sum using the numerical keypad and it’ll tell you the answer.

All the normal operators apply: * means multiply and / means divide. For example, (845+62+31)/5 means add up all the numbers inside the parentheses and divide the result by five.

It will also find percentages for you: 63% of 995 tells you the value that’s 63% of 995.

5. Scientific calculator

Google being Google, the search bar is replete with mathematical capabilities. Type in any mathematical construct and the search bar will evaluate it for you.

You can use the trigonometric functions (sin, cos and tan), the ^ symbol to raise something to a power (so 2 squared is written as 2^2), sqrt for square root and log and ln.

Full instructions for using the search bar as a scientific calculator can be found at http://tinyurl.com/366cco.

6. Finding MP3s

There’s a special trick you can use with Google to find music files that people have left lying around on their web space but that aren’t necessarily linked to on any web page.

Here’s what you need to type, substituting for the artist that you’re interested in: -inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:”index of” +”last modified” +”parent directory” +description +size +(wma|mp3) “BAND OF INTEREST”.

This uses the inurl: operator with a minus sign in front of it to specify that you don’t want any URLs containing HTM, HTML or PHP – that is, you don’t want any Web pages.

The intitle: operator is used to single out file listings, then keywords for the artist or title are at the end. You can also use the audio search at www. altavista.com.

7. Retrieve unavailable pages

If a Google search result won’t load, notice that underneath the listing there’s a link that says “cached”.

This takes you to the version of the page that’s stored in Google’s cache, so you can read it even if the site is down. Sometimes you can use the Google cache to view pages that have been blocked by network administrators. To do this, type cache:site.com into the search bar.

This won’t always work, because the Google cache is sometimes blocked as well to scupper the technique. A further reason why you might like to use the Google cache is if you click through to a long document and can’t see where your search keywords appear.

You can hit [Ctrl] + [F] to do a search of the page, but you might prefer to see all the terms highlighted. If so, go to the cached version and each instance of a keyword is highlighted with a different colour for each one.

8. Find show times for films

Type into Google movie: followed by the film name to bring up the times when it is showing in cinemas near you (Google knows where you are).

Much quicker than tracking down the Web sites for cinemas individually. You can also click through to a list of reviews of the film. In a similar vein, if you want to find out the weather forecast you can enter weather followed by the place name.

9. Site-specific searching

Sometimes you know that the page you’re after is on a certain site, but it doesn’t come up when you use the site’s search box.

Often the search facilities within a site are below par, but fortunately you can use Google to run a search of the site instead. To run a Google search of just one site, use site: followed by the URL.

Another useful tool is the link: operator, which shows you which sites link to the URL you specify. If you have your own Web site or blog, this is useful for finding out who’s recommending you.

10. Carry out a book search

An amazing thing that’s possible with Google is searching the text of books. Google has digitised an enormous number of books and you can search the full text of them.

If a book is out of copyright you can see the whole things online. Many books that are still within copyright can be searched, but you can only see a few pages surrounding the part that contains your keywords.

This is an excellent resource because it enables you to search books based on their whole content, not just the title. Go to books.google.com to try it out.

11. Retrieve old Web pages

The Internet Archive makes regular snapshots of the Internet, so if you need to see what a Web page was like last month or last year you can use their Way Back Machine.

Go to www.archive. org and enter the URL in the search box. You’ll see a listing of all the past dates at which you can see what that page was like. It’s really useful for retrieving an old, broken link.

12. Google Experimental search

Go to www.google.com/ experimental/ to try out some of Google’s new features that are still being tested. The most interesting new feature is the timeline, which places your search results in date order.

13. Better people search

If you’re searching for data about a person, try using Pipl (http://pipl.com) instead of a normal search engine. Pipl finds data inside online databases, the content of which isn’t crawled by most search engines.

It looks inside personal profiles, member directories, scientific publications, court records and other such sources to find much more of any information about a person that’s online.

Other people search engines you can try are www. spock.com, www.yoname.com and http://wink.com.

14. Access the Deep Web

When you run a search, you’re only searching a tiny proportion of what’s really out there. This searchable portion is known as the Surface Web, and the rest of the information is known as the Deep or Invisible Web.

There are some alternative search engines that use special techniques to give you a degree of access to the Deep Web. The kinds of documents hidden in the Deep Web are often of a high quality, such as academic publications and information stored inside databases.

Depending on what type of information you’re after, there are various resources you can try. The Open Archives Initiative at www.oaister. org is a metadata harvester that works by amassing the descriptive data about Web sites.

Scientific information from US government agencies can be searched at www.science.gov. Also try Complete Planet (www. completeplanet.com), Mamma (www.mamma.com) and Intute (www.intute.ac.uk).

15. Protect your privacy

Search engines keep a log of everything that’s typed into them.

Each entry is associated with a unique identifier, so if there were a data breach it could be possible for someone to string together your search history.

To keep things private, you need to log out of your Google account when conducting sensitive searches. You can also delete your cookies, but this will mean that sites that usually identify you, such as Amazon and iGoogle, will fail to do so.

A good resource is Scroogle, which enables you to conduct a Google search without having it linked back to you (http://scroogle.org).

16. Search for videos

We all think of YouTube when searching for videos, but Google Video is sometimes a better option because it’ll search YouTube as well as all its own content.

Furthermore, it doesn’t have the ten-minute time limit, so you’ll often be able to stream entire documentaries. Find out more at video.google.com.

Another useful video search engine is Blinkx at www. blinkx.com.

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