Google’s search engine is a slick machine, but the way most of us use it merely scratches the surface. You can do a lot more than just enter a word or phrase and, by taking advantage of Google’s more advanced features, you stand a much better chance of finding what we’re looking for, and faster, too.
Here, we'll show you how to go beyond entering some text in the search box and hoping for the best. To start with, you can save time by typing your search query into your browser's address bar instead of typing www.google.co.uk or clicking on a bookmark first. This works in all the popular browsers, but you might need to change the default search engine if it isn't using the one you prefer.
Second, it's worth enabling Google Instant. It may be working already, but if it isn’t head to your preferences page (google.com/preferences) and make sure Always show Instant results is checked.
Another way to save time is to use the microphone icon which has recently appeared at the right-hand side of the search bar. It's not hard to guess its function, but what's important to note is that you can speak way faster than type, so it's well worth using the voice recognition to speak your searches.
Typing, though, has its advantages if you know how to use the advanced search features, as we'll now demonstrate:
How to search Google like a pro
1. Normally, Google responds to your searches by listing web pages. However, if you’re actually looking for news, images, videos or shopping, these can be selected from buttons on the home page. Other options are available from the ‘More’ menu.
2. The ‘Search Tools’ button displays various menus. Perhaps the most useful are the first one which allows you to choose between pages hosted in the UK or in all countries, and the second which lets you specify pages that were updated any time, in the past hour, the past day and other intervals.
3. Google usually lists pages that contain any of the words you enter. If you want to search only for an exact phrase (e.g. “War and Peace” but note sites just containing either or both of the words), put it in double quotes.
4. Even without quotes, if you enter “War Peace” Google is clever and will list pages containing “War and Peace” first but you can force its hand using AND or OR (in capitals). “War OR Peace” lists pages containing either word, “War AND Peace” lists page with both.
5. Sometimes you’ll want to exclude some words. Searching for Rooney will list sites predominantly relating to Wayne Rooney. If you’re interested in other Rooneys, but don’t know the first name, exclude Wayne with a minus sign (i.e. search for “Rooney -Wayne).
6. If you’re looking for a particular type of file, you can narrow the search using the ‘filetype:’ option. Searching for “Weather filetype:PDF”, for example, will only list Adobe Acrobat (i.e. PDF) documents containing the word weather.
7. A lot of these features and more are available by using Google Advanced Search. After searching, click on the cog wheel icon in the top-right of the results page and select ‘Advanced Search’. Note that a different Advanced Search form is available for images.
8. Using the ‘site:’ option, you can tell Google to search in a particular site, even if it doesn’t have its own search facility. For example, “Astronomy site:www.bbc.com” will search for pages containing the word Astronomy but only within the BBC site.
9. The ‘site:’ option also lets you to search in a particular country, other than just the UK (Step 2). Because an asterisk means “anything”, searching for “Astronomy site:*.cn” will restrict the search to Chinese sites. Country codes are listed here.
10. images.google.com lets you use an image as your search term instead of text. Click on the camera icon and then, either paste the URL of an image on the web or upload an image from your PC. Google will list similar images and sometimes related web pages.
For certain searches, Google widgets will appear above the list of search results. Here are just 10 of them:
11 - Unit conversion
When you need to convert one unit of measurement to another, just type: 1 pint in litres, 1GB in MB or 12 inches in cm. You can also convert temperature, area, mass, speed and time.
12 - Currency conversion
This works just like the unit converter, but with currencies. To get up to date exchange rates, simply type $100 in pounds, and Google will understand. You'll also see a graph of the exchange rate for the last five years.
13 - Calculator
Google's calculator can handle pretty complex sums, not just the simple division here. You could, for example, type 13*8+(sqrt 87)= and you'd immediately get the answer.
14 - Weather
Need a local 24-hour local weather forecast? Just type weather Dulwich London and you'll get one. You can click the buttons to see the rainfall and wind speed and there's a 7-day forecast underneath.
15 - Films
Don't spend time looking at each cinema's website: just type films Canterbury to see what's on locally. A map to the right shows where the cinemas are located, and you can click the trailer button if you're not sure whether you'll like the film.
16 - Hotels
Typing Hotels bude cornwall will bring up a 'Hotels in Bude Cornwall on Google' link with a short list below. Click the link to launch the handy Google hotel finder where you can narrow your search by price, star rating, amenities and more.
17 - Flight tracking
No need to visit an airline's website: all you need to do is type the flight number and Google will show the details including departure and arrival times along with the airports and terminal numbers. It will also show the progress of a current flight and whether or not it's delayed.
18 - Maps
You're probably getting the hang of this, so we hardly need to explain that you merely need to type Stratford-upon-avon map to get a map of Stratford-upon-avon. Clicking the thumbnail will take you to Google maps.
19 - Package tracking
A nifty time-saving trick is to copy and paste your UPS or Fedex package tracking number into Google's search bar. Google will recognise which firm the number belongs to and all you need to do is to click the link to go straight to the company's website to see where your parcel is.
20 - Sports scores
Type the name of your favourite football team or sport and you can quickly see fixtures, scores and standings.
Type f1 calendar, for example and you can also see the schedule, with recent winners and even the time the next couple of races will start (in your local time).
21 - Stock quotes
To see the stock value of a company, either type its name followed by stock, or its short name (MSFT for Microsoft or APPL for Apple) and you'll see a graph along with the high and low figure for the period shown. The current value updates every few seconds.