November 03, 2016

Becoming a Professional Googler

When I took Organic Chemistry and other science courses in university, I quickly realized the value of referencing information from Google. There’s an ocean of available knowledge, direction and explanations on Stack Exchange, Yahoo Answers, Quora and other forums and blogs. As a developer, I’m now googling 10x as much to reference documentation, find an npm package or look for answers to a bug (I highly recommend Vimium to use vim shortcuts for fast navigation in your browser!).

Learning the ‘syntax’ of refining a web search can be critical to find what you’re looking for. I tell the students I mentor that learning to be a good researcher and referencing answers is so much more important than memorizing syntax or specific values.

Google Search Operators

Make sure you don’t put a space between your operator and the search value. Also, word order matters. The first word ranks higher than the second. You should use nouns to avoid stop words. Using too few words can yield crummy results, and the search input will accept up to 32 words.

  1. Find an exact match: use quotes around a word or phrase.
"typeof array"
  1. Specific site: use site: in front of a domain or .tld.
react` or ` calculus
  1. Hashtags: # in front of a word.
  1. Exclude specific words: put - in front of a phrase you don’t want.
react -native
  1. Wildcards or unknown words: use a * inside a word or phrase as a placeholder.

Google uses automatic word stemming. When you search code, Google also searches coding, codes, etc.

  1. Range of numbers: enter .. between two numbers. Also, using $ will search prices.
laptop $500..$1000
  1. Combine searches: use OR or | between each search query.
colors` OR `

Using AND isn’t necessary, since “and” is assumed in a string of words.

  1. Related sites: put related: before a domain.
  1. Define a word: simply use define: before your word.

Most of the time Google will offer a word definition for single word searches.

  1. Filetypes: use filetype: before a preferred file extension.
tax form filetype:pdf
  1. View the cached snapshot of a site: Use cache: before the site address. This is mostly useful if a site goes down.

You should still use to see various snapshots over time.

Other Search Operators

  • Search terms in titles, text, urls with allintitle, allintext and allinurl.
allintitle:samsung recall
  • This is distinct from intitle which search for a specific phrase in the title.
intext:"periodic table" intitle:javascript

Writing in Sand or in Stone?

Traditional education would have you remember every single nuance and hoard endless notes for every possible subject (oops, see my public notes).

But we don’t really have to take notes on everything, because it’s all been written for us online! I can really appreciate how web development has embraced this paradigm. The ability to reference information from documentation and Google searches is more valuable.