We all know Google is a powerful search engine — but did you know you can extend its usefulness even beyond simple queries? In this post, we’re going to show you how you can search more deeply with some simple operators, and how you can use these to improve the quality of service you provide to your clients.
Boolean search terms are based on something called Boolean algebra. Don’t worry if advanced mathematics weren’t your strong suit — we aren’t going to go very deep into this! This basic understanding of Boolean algebra is all you need: it’s a mathematical way of expressing simple true/false logic. The primary ideas expressed in Boolean logic are AND, OR, and NOT.
It may help to think of this in terms of Venn diagrams.
These three operators represent the most basic operators for better refining searches you run in Google. Let’s look at how we can use these and others (all based on the true/false logic) to further refine search results.
Using Boolean search operators is very simple. In fact, it’s possible you’ve been using many of these already without realizing!
You can “force” Google to include or exclude certain terms by using the plus (+) or minus (-) sign before the term. For example, if you want to ensure that your search for “sweaters” always includes “cashmere” then you would have the search field look something like this:
This is a pretty simple example, but every result will have the words “sweater” and “cashmere” highlighted in bold text. With two words, the search results won’t differ too much with or without the plus sign. However, the idea is that the results must include “cashmere” without exception.
We can also force search results to include a certain phrase. To do this, you’ll use the plus (+) operator along with double quotes (“…”) in combination. The quotes trigger Google to search for that exact phrase. Including the plus means that all results must include that exact phrase. So, continuing with our sweaters theme:
This search will pull up results that include the entire phrase within the quotation marks. Thus, results for open-knit shawls, scarves, hats, or other knitwear items will not show up.
Let’s combine the two: we’ll search for a phrase and force it to include a specific term. Type the following into the search bar:
Now, all open-knit sweater results must include the word “cowl” on the page. In practical application, this search actually doesn’t return results (because the correct phrasing would be “open-knit cowl neck sweater” which thus makes our literal search impossible) but it serves as an illustrative example.
We mentioned earlier that there is also a minus (-) operator in Boolean search. This corresponds with the NOT logic we presented above. Using the minus (-) allows you to explicitly exclude words or phrases from the search results.
Let’s continue using our “open-knit sweater” example. We’ll now exclude the term “dolman” from our search results.
We can also combine the three terms together:
The above search is looking for open-knit sweaters which do not not have dolman sleeves, and which come in (or are) orange.
Last, you can also use the OR operator to allow for different keywords to both be represented in results, even if both words aren’t always present on the page. An example follows:
In the above results, we see that blue and/or red sweaters that are open-knit but not dolman-sleeved will turn up in search results.
As you can see, search operators like these can ramp up the efficacy and specificity of your search results, meaning you’ll be able to find exactly what you need at any given time. I encourage you to toy with this a bit in order to understand the nuances between the plus (+), minus (-), and OR operators, and how they can be change your searches.
There’s a number of other search operators that you may find useful in your work. We’ll go over these really quickly. Note that for all of these, you do not include a space after the colon — adding a space will not allow the operator to function correctly.
site: operator allows you to specify which website results should come from.
In our above “open-knit sweater” example, we could limit search results to only be sweaters from a specific retailer. An example below:
Here, the only sweater results we’ll see will be from Nordstrom’s online catalog. You can use this to limit results by site in many other instances beyond clothing — such as local citations!
inurl: operator allows you to require (or remove) specific keywords from a URL. For example, some local search directories include a city or state in the URL for a location. If your client’s business name is similar to (or often conflated with) another business, you can remove anything specific in the URL that might indicate this. For example:
In this search, we remove mentions of Johnny’s on AmericanTowns.com that have ‘tx’ in the URL, effectively removing any Texas-based locations.
link: operator lets you take advantage of the most primary element of Google’s search algorithm: PageRank. PageRank looks what which sites have the highest “link density,” or number of pages linking to them, and then weighs these specific sites and uses that as the basis of the search results that show to a consumer.
The corollary to this is that Google is always tracking which sites link where. (This is also the basis of the nofollow logic.) As such, using the
link: operator allows you to see which sites link to a given page, in an order determined by a number of factors including authority, recency, and so on.
Note: This section is partially adapted from the “Finding Your Incorrect Citations” section of this post by Yext Certified Partner Casey Meraz of Ethical SEO. His version is much more in depth and discusses sophisticated ways to surface duplicate listings.
With the launch of our new Duplicate Suppression tools, Partners now have more control over how their clients’ listings show up in search results than ever before on the sites in our publisher network. However, sometimes even our sophisticated system misses duplicates. As a Partner, you have the ability to specify URLs which are duplicates of a client’s location. You can surface these on specific publishers using the various search operators we outlined above.
For example, you can specific a publisher by using the
site: operator, then removing the current location(s) from the results by using
-inurl: and the unique IDs of the location in the URLs.
You can also force Google to surface inaccurate results by removing the correct phone number, address, or business name while requiring the other two items match specific criteria. For example, I could force a search like this to seek out duplicates:
In this case, the business changed phone numbers and has a canonical listing on Yelp. The search, then, seeks the business name but without the correct phone number and including the old one.
You can play with variations of the pictured example, as well as using the other operators, in order to surface duplicates. This is especially helpful for surfacing duplicate listings on directories that are not affiliated with Yext, such as Angie’s List or Care.com, for example. Once you’re armed with the URL, you can more quickly report to the directory that a listing is a duplicate or incorrect. The more consistent, accurate, and streamlined your clients’ listings are, the better their overall discoverability will be.
As a bonus, there are a couple of other search operators that are useful in general but perhaps not directly to local business listings.
define:, which turns Google into your personal desk reference. It brings up definitions of words, offers synonyms and antonyms, and mentions its sources. Here’s an example of it in action:
The other tool is the calculator and unit converter, which allows you to run simple and complex math equations through Google, as well as convert from Imperial to Metric and other measurements — including cooking!
Last, if you forget your search operators, never fear! You can also access most of the functionalities using Google’s Advanced Search features.