You’re looking for something. Of course, you go to Google and look it up. But that pesky page you want to find is being elusive. You probably know someone who could find it in a heartbeat; but you want to be able to do it yourself!
You know the diagnosis: your Google-Fu is weak. The good news is, it doesn’t need to be terminal. With just a few simple tricks, you can stop wasting hours searching for answers, and find what you’re looking for on the first try.
It’s time to learn, young grasshopper.
What is Google-Fu?
Google-Fu is defined as your skill in using search engines (Usually Google, but not always) to quickly find useful information on the internet. Not only is it a tongue-in-cheek reference to kung-fu—which is generally perceived as needing a high degree of skill to master in the Western hemisphere—it is also an outgrowing of the term “ninja” to mean “someone who is hyper-competent”.
A true master of Google-Fu, for example, would be able to use the right combination of words and phrases to make Google bring up a half-remembered webpage you saw once back in 2002.
In IT, your Google skills are of vital importance, as the comic below shows.
Google-Fu is also written as ‘Google Fu’ or ‘Googlefu’. Of course, which one should be used is a matter of much debate.
Five Great Google-Fu Techniques
1. Excluding Words with a –
Let’s say you’re looking for something a bit obscure, like the book “The Women“. If you went to search this right now, you’d instead get a ton of results about either “The Women” comedy movie (2008) starring Meg Ryan, which is completely unrelated.
Happens all the time, right? You go to search for something, and something way more popular swallows it up. Thankfully, there’s a quick way to fix that – run an exclusion search.
Pick some words that apply to the things showing up that you don’t want. In this case, we’re not interested in movies, we’re interested in a book. So we would run a search like this:
The Women -Movie
Google will now search for The Women, but if any page also has the word “Movie” on it, it will be excluded. This means pages about “The Women” movie will not appear. This narrows your search considerably and means you’re more likely to get results on the topic you want.
You can make these searches incredibly accurate by removing any word that’s related to things you don’t want. For example:
The Women -Movie -Meg -Ryan -2008 -Comedy
2. Including Words with a +
You can also make your searches more accurate by doing the exact opposite: running a search where a word must be included on a page for it to show up. To use the above example again, we definitely know we’re searching for a book, and that book is written by T. C. Boyle in 2009. We also know using logic that it’s unlikely any pages about The Women movie are going to mention this author, or books in general.
So we might search for something like this:
The Women +book +boyle +2009
Now only search results that have the words ‘book and ‘boyle’, and the number ‘2009’ will show up. Needless to say, it’s highly likely you’ll get results about the book we want, and very few about the movie.
3. “Exact Word Match” Searches
When you search in Google, it will often try and use your words in a phrase. Sometimes it doesn’t, and just searches for the individual words you put in, regardless of the order.
Let’s say you’re looking for the author of a poem. You know how the poem goes, but not the author name. So you type part of it in:
By the time I went to bed I wasn’t taken in
But if you type these common words in, you’re likely to get pages about how to get your kids to bed, or how to get to bed when you’ve got insomnia. If only you could get Google to understand that’s exactly what you want to search!
Well you can. Put the search in quotation marks:
“By the time I went to bed I wasn’t taken in”
Google will only give you results that have exactly these words, to the letter, in exactly this order. This massively narrows your search down. However, to do this, you’ll have to make sure you don’t have any spelling mistakes!
4. The Wild Card Search
So let’s say you’re looking for something, such as a person or term. You can’t remember all of it, but you can remember some of it. ‘Something-tocracy’ or ‘Star W… it starts with a W’. Google needs the right word, but you don’t have it. So what do you do?
The answer: a Wildcard search. Wildcard searches are when you add an asterix where you’re not sure how the word should begin or end. For example:
This search will find words that end in the word ‘tacular’. E.g. Spectacular, unspectacular.
This will find words that start with Spec. E.g. Special, Spectacular, Spectacles.
And then you can also perform a search like this:
This will look for words that contain the term cat. E.g. Catastrophe, Bobcat, Allocate.
5. Search By Site
If you only come away from this article remembering one piece of Google-Fu, it’s this: the site search. I cannot emphasize how much time this trick saves you.
Sometimes, you know what you’re looking for is on a single website, and you don’t want to get search results from every other website. It may be you’re searching a tech site like Ars Technica or Spiceworks for a particular article, or a news site you saw an article on.
In this case, you perform a search like this:
And you will only get results from within this site. Don’t be afraid to add other search terms after it to narrow down your search; it doesn’t count as part of the URL so long as there’s a space.
By These Five Powers Combined… You Know Google-Fu!
If you use these tricks together, your search results should drop from the tens of thousands to the double digits, getting you the result you need every time.
However, there is one situation in which no amount of Google-Fu can save you… a situation most people in tech roles will understand all too well…
Speaking of Wildcard and Google searches, BackupAssist is the Windows Backup software that lets you search your backups just like a Google Search.
Your backup media doesn’t even need to be connected to search them! Read more about its restore search tool.