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Magazines > Information Today > May 2024

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Information Today
Vol. 41 No. 4 — May 2024
Insights on Content

Five Google Search Tips to Make You Smile

by David Haden

NOTE: This article appears in the May 2024 print issue of Information Today under the title "Tickling Google: Some Search Tips That Will Make You Smile."


Lifehacker: “How to Make Google Show You the Good Search Results Again”

Carrot 2 search results clustering engine transparent metasearch engine

uBlock Origin

Xpath Cheatsheet

Trying to use the main Google Search for advanced searching is becoming more likely to produce groans than satisfied smiles. But if you know how to give Google a bit of a tickle, then smiles can still be had. In this article, I share a few advanced “tickling tips” for Google. Please note that our search settings may be different, so you may not always receive the same set of results that I do. Nevertheless, I hope you find some useful information here.


Google’s site: filter is still available for users. This has an often-overlooked wrinkle that can be important for initial searches. For instance, imagine a student wishes to use Google to search the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) website for catalogs or similar. They try entering , but they are unaware that this will not surface the wealth of content at,, or other sub­domains (see Figure 1). But the search will widen automatically if they remove the www. part when using the site: filter. So, if they enter (without the www.), Google will return results from along with the,, and other sub­domains (see Figure 2). This expansion can be useful when searching large sites with various unknown subdomains.


Another useful tip involves the use of quotation marks. Of course, nearly all searchers quickly learn to enclose multiple words in quotation marks to search for a specific phrase. Google also has an option to turn on Verbatim mode under its Search Tools menu. (Lifehacker has detailed instructions; see the sidebar on the right for the link.)

Did you know that quotation marks can also be used on single keywords? This prevents Google Search from swapping out your chosen keyword for another. An example would be a search for theses about J.R.R. Tolkien, when the searcher will receive unwanted results without the use of quotation marks. In this case, Google assumes you don’t know what you’re looking for, and it silently auto-expands to use synonyms. Only if someone searches Tolkien “thesis” will they receive results that just contain the keyword thesis (see Figure 3). If they search Tolkien thesis, they’re also likely to see results for dissertations and essays related to the fantasy author (see Figure 4). Effectively, this replicates the old, mostly abandoned plus sign (+) search functionality.


You can partly search Google Scholar inside the regular Google Search by using the site: modifier. For instance, a search for ecocriticism medieval returns a rough-and-ready list of named researchers likely to be active in the field (see Figure 5). This is because Google Search is usefully including Scholar’s researcher profiles, but not its many article results. As mentioned previously, Google Search will, in this case, silently auto-expand ecocriticism to include the similar ecocritical—so if this is not what you require, then enter “ecocriticism” (or whatever specialist keyword you have) in the search bar to constrain the search. Be warned that using such advanced methods will very quickly trigger one—or even two or three—of Google’s infernal captcha roadblocks.


Regrettably, many general search services have abandoned the negative keyword operator. Google Search still supports it, as do the worthy metasearch engines Carrot 2 and, at the time of this writing. Google’s YouTube can now use a negative once again. I found that there was a time, for about a year during 2023, when I needed the NOT operator in front of the minus sign (-). For instance, I would have to search Tolkien 2023 NOT -calendar for Tolkien videos. Google Scholar appears at first glance to respect the use of a negative keyword, but my experience in 2023 was that the number of results can be heavily truncated when compared to a normal search. This problem seems to have been fixed very recently, but as with all fast-changing Google services, things may change back again, so be warned.


A behind-the-scenes way to make you smile when using Google Search is by blocking unwanted page elements. The popular, free uBlock Origin add-on can do this in a semi-programmatic way, using the flexible XPath command. For instance, in uBlock’s filters list (your browser UI > uBlock Origin icon > cogs icon > Dashboard > My filters), you can add this simple line:[contains(@id,"iur")])

That should prevent any Google Images result blocks from being inserted into your regular Google Search results. The XPath command is invoked here for the domain and told to look in the page code for any DIV section that has an ID subsection containing the keyword IUR—then to always block that DIV. The target element within the DIV is not always named ID and will need to be varied accordingly. With a bit of hunting among the source code (with uBlock Origin installed, right-click on the offending page item > Inspect element) and its DIVs, the experienced searcher can easily construct a basic XPath command to target a specific unwanted feature of the Google Search results. When adding such lines in any code, please be aware of the vital difference between curly quotes (“) copied and pasted from a word processor, blog, or magazine and straight quotes (") required for code. Curly quotes won’t work in code.


So now you know about using site: to get subdomain results, replicating the old plus sign command, quickly searching Google Scholar research profiles, negative keywords, and the wonders of XPath. Happy searching!

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David Haden DAVID HADEN is the former editor of Digital Art Live magazine. He now works with a large, well-known British firm. Haden is the curator of the JURN search tool for open discovery of OA arts and humanities content ( Send your comments about this article to