Search Operators: A Comprehensive Guide

Foreword

This guide looks over some pretty cool uses and combinations of search operators, some of which I have used to gain great link opportunities for clients. Others have helped with keyword research and even recruitment!

The key thing to remember about search operators is that you need to fully understand what the search operator is actually doing and what its use is. The reason some people don’t get as much as they could out of these is because people can be unsure how to combine them efficiently to find what they are looking for online.

The operators mentioned here are referring to Google’s search queries. There is some crossover with Bing but for the purposes of this guide will only refer to Google’s SERPs. When it comes to searching within search engines it is always important to remember that there are no right or wrong results, only more or less relevant results. Search operators help you drill down on relevancy (the relevancy is subjective to what you are searching for).

I will break down the uses and give some examples of different combinations in relation to what I use them…

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It is worth bearing in mind that there are hundreds of ways to use search operators. This post is more about getting you to think about the meanings behind them so you can be more creative when undertaking your own research.

It is also worth noting that I personally like to set my search result to 100 per page for ease of use. You can do this by navigating to Search Settings, turning off Instant Results and sliding the results per page to 100.

instant-search-settings

I have been using search operators to find great linkbuilding opportunities for years now. When searching, I still actively look for niche directory-based directories that accept submissions for websites. I personally don’t like to think of these as directories as such because when I think directory I, along with some of you I’m sure, imagine low quality sites. However, some that can be found can really help the authority of the site you are working with and some niches have some extremely relevant directory-based sites. Below lists some basic search operators with commentary on why the operator is used in that context.

Guest Blogs

Before we start searching for these sites, you need to make sure that you have a certain set of criteria when analysing a website for guest content placement. Below is some non-exhaustive criteria I like to use:

  1. Is the blog there for the sole purpose of advertising?
  2. Are there clear contact details for the author(s)?
  3. Is there an author page?
  4. Are there guest posts listed as sponsored posts?
  5. Does the blog have irrelevant or keyword anchor text links in the sidebar/footer?
  6. Do the articles themselves always have followed & exact match keyword anchor text heavy links?
  7. Is the author’s name attributed to the posts or is it simply posted by admin?
  8. Does the content within the articles read naturally or does it look like it has just been stuffed with keywords?
  9. Are the articles on the site all original content or are the duplicated across the site or Internet in general?
  10. When was the site last cached?

For more references I have linked out to a few posts and resources on guest blogging;

Search Operators for Contributor Opportunities

For the purpose of these operators I have chosen the legal industry to show live examples

intitle:law "guest post"

What this operator does

This finds websites that have the keyword “law” in the page title that also mentions the word guest post within the content of the site. It’s important to remember that in this case it might not always be a law specific website – for example it could be a business blog that has a legally related article present but also happen to host guest posts. The use of quote marks around the keyword guest post ensures that it returns results with that specific phrase – without the quotes it might return results with either of those words.

inurl:law "guest post"

What this operator does

This search operator finds websites with the keyword “law” with the URL of the pages. This operator can generally return more specific legal websites than the above intitle operator. I use the word can because it could still find some examples of non-specific law related websites that might just have a law section within the site. Again, it will also find sites that have the keywords guest post so is another useful one for the tool box!

intitle:law AND inurl:law "guest post"

What this operator does

This time we have drilled down so we are a bit more specific – now we are looking for sites that contain the keyword law in both the page title and the URL. This operator is more likely than the above two to return more specific law websites that contain the keywords guest post.

law inurl:guest-post

What this operator does

This search operator is searches for pages that contain the keyword law but actually contain the words guest post within the URL, I have made use of the hyphen in between the keywords as this is generally how it would be separated in the URL (there are other separators but this is the most common – an underscore would be the next choice). This operator is another variation of finding guest blog opportunities for your client.

There are many ways to find guest blog opportunities for your clients, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg here when it comes to search operator creativity. Hopefully you can use those operators and variations to create even more variations.

It is also worth noting that you should definitely use synonyms of the keywords so in this case you could use law, lawyer, legal, etc – I’ve stuck with one term for the purposes of this guide.

Niche Directories

This one of my favourite uses of search operators – the reason being is because, in my opinion, lots of SEOs and Internet marketers are now reluctant to use directories in fear of algorithmic or manual spam actions. It’s important to remember that when you are prospecting for websites you should have a valid and relevant reason for wanting a link from that site.

Disclaimer: I’m not by any means suggesting that the sites returned from these operators will always be of high quality and relevant to what you are trying to achieve. You will need to dig into the results and filter them to find the better quality sites.

law "add your business" site:.gov.uk

What this operator does

This operator looks for .gov websites that mention law and include the phrase add your business within the site’s content. This isn’t a guarantee that all the results returned will be law directories but it narrows things down for you. Another key thing to note here is that a lot of government directories are location specific so will only allow local businesses to request an inclusion. Some .gov directories may also ring the companies that are submitted to confirm the listings.

Not the easiest of links to get but this is why they are so valuable!

inurl:".gov.uk" "add your business"

What this operator does

Similar to the above, but the difference being that it searches for sites that specifically contain .gov.uk in the URL. This search does provide different results! I’ve also left the keyword law out of the search to broaden the search.

inurl:".gov.uk" "add event"

What this operator does

This operator will find sites that contain .gov.uk in the URL that also contain the phrase add event. The good thing about a lot of .gov.uk websites is that they allow local businesses to list events and sometimes (not always) they allow you to add your event and will give you a direct deep link.

Make sure you don’t add something for the sake of it – make sure you have a legitimate reason for adding an event. Once you submit your event it will often go into moderation where it can be rejected.

inurl:"edu" "add site"

What this operator does

Pretty much the same as the .gov operator above it, this one finds sites that contain .edu in the URL and also that contain the phrase add site. This doesn’t always mean you will find .edu directories – it’s likely you will but you will but you might have to dig deeper than the first page of results.

.edu sites are generally US based but it’s still worth mentioning 🙂

law "add site"

What this operator does

This is a really simple operator that finds sites that have law mentioned along with the exact phrase add site. As you can see from the results it has returned some law related directories and a forum or two.

NB: In my opinion, directory prospecting is a little more difficult than finding blogs that host guest content. Again, these examples given are not by any means exhaustive – be creative with some different operators to see what you can come up with.

Unlinked Brand Mentions

This can be one of the easiest methods in the world for gaining links because if a website has mentioned you then most of the time they generally won’t mind linking to you to cite the reference. For the purpose of this guide I’ve used FireCask and firecask.com as an illustrative example.

Negative operators are used when you want to negate a certain keyword from the search – in the case of searching unlinked mentions we want to exclude the website itself from the results, see below.

intext:firecask -site:firecask.com

What this operator does

This is searching for mentions of the word firecask online whilst excluding firecask.com as a domain. Generally when this is done the social accounts will show in the top results (this is also a good way to see if there are duplicate social accounts as they will likely show up in the results). With this search you need to be aware that if they keyword is popular then you might be presented with results returned that are not what you are looking for. Here, it may be more useful to use the domain as the keyword rather than explicitly as a domain (e.g. intext:firecask.com) so you can be sure you are going to see more relevant results.

intitle:firecask -site:firecask.com

What this operator does

This operator finds mentions of firecask in page titles of external sites but excludes results from the FireCask website itself. This is a great operator because the results shown generally will be articles on external websites about your brand. If your brand is similar to another online brand then you may see some results that are not as relevant, but on the whole it’s a useful operator to use.

If an external website has written an article on your brand online but not linked out to you this is again another easy way to request a citation link. Since the websites have written articles about your brand it makes sense for them to link to you.

inurl:firecask -site:firecask.com

What this operator does

This time we are looking at websites that contain the word firecask within the URL but exclude the firecask.com domain. Again, very similar to the above it is useful for finding websites that have written articles about your brand on external websites.

intext:"alex moss" firecask.com -site:firecask.com

What this operator does

This search operator looks for the keyword alex moss as well as firecask.com but excludes the FireCask website itself. This is useful if you are following an author or journalist who contributes to external websites. It can also be used to find mentions of your name on external sites. If it is a good unlinked mention then you can always politely ask for a link.

You can also use combinations of the above to get differing results – again remember these are merely guidelines so get creative with the combos and keyword variations.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is an essential task for anyone hoping to build an online strategy around organic and paid visibility. There are a couple of search operators I often use when performing keyword research that give me estimates on how competitive a keyword can potentially be, then use this data in conjunction with the Google’s Keyword Planner. It’s certainly not perfect but I find it’s much better than using Google’s keyword data alone – even moreso because the data provided within the Keyword Planner is for paid keywords rather than organic.

intitle:"criminal law solicitors"

What this operator does

On its own it’s a basic intitle: operator. What we are looking for, however, I want to look at the number of results returned on the search itself. At the time of writing this on the search above there are around 4,000 results.

Usually I have found that when looking at which keywords to target on a website, if the results returned are less than 2,000 for the given keyword, you stand a decent chance of ranking for it without intensive off-site work. This search returns all sites with your given keyword in the page title exactly as you have written it.

If the number of results are over 2,000 then you generally have more work on your hands off-site in terms of getting to rank for that chosen keyword.

Disclaimer: I am by no means saying that if a site returns less than 2,000 results its easy to rank for that keyword – you still have to put quality work in and should compare this with a list of other keyword tools. It is also worth noting that this search only returns the keywords in page titles in the exact order you have searched them in. You need to also find other variations of that keyword and look at the average number of results overall before making your decision on whether to target the given keyword or not.

Recruitment

That’s right, you can also use search operators when we are looking to recruit staff! You can nail down by job title, location etc etc.

See below for some examples. In this case I’ll use our industry as the majority of readers of this guide will generally be an online marketer. Also, we also recruit fairly often so keep an eye on our recruitment page – we are awesome 😀

site:linkedin.com seo "manchester"

What this operator does

This operator searches the domain linkedin.com for mentions of SEO but must also contain the word Manchester. This initial term is quite broad with it being SEO – it will still return people’s profiles but will also return a lot of company SEO pages and companies called SEO Manchester, Manchester SEO etc.

Pro Tip: The reason I usually opt for this is because within LinkedIn you can’t always view certain profiles of people (especially if they are 3rd connections) but I figured out that if you search via Google you can usually see their entire profile as it has been indexed. You can also send them connection requests through clicking on to their profiles using this method which sometimes you are unable to do through searching on LinkedIn if they are distant connections.

site:linkedin.com seo account manager "manchester"

What this operator does

Similar to the above, but this time we have been more specific with the search. Notice how I have left the quotes out on the keyword seo account manager – I’ve done this because I wanted to catch related broader match terms as well as specific SEO account managers in Manchester.

site:plus.google.com intext:worked at firecask

What this operator does

This time we are searching Google+ for potential recruits. The site: operator obviously states that you wish to search through Google+, the intext: operator finds the given text within the Google+ profiles on the site.

site:plus.google.com intext:occupation "seo"

What this operator does

This time we are searching Google+ for people whose occupation mentions SEO. We can add in location after this to give more specific results as required…

Buzzstream Applications

This is another short-but-sweet section on how to simply add in search operators when using Buzzstream. It isn’t advanced or anything too new but I thought I would add it for some of the beginners of the tool and hopefully you might find it of some use 🙂

Firstly you need to add a new link prospecting profile from your dashboard. Go to Websites >> Add websites >> Link prospecting >> Create new prospecting profile:

buzzstream-new-prospect

Add your chosen search operators into the box, one per line, then you set your country etc. It’s worth mentioning that you are limited to whatever plan you have in the way of prospecting searches so there’s really no point in adding too many search operators that may create limits to your plan.

The beauty of this tool is that you can combine the different types of search operators into one search. This means you don’t have to only look for bloggers but also niche directories; and these results will be returned in a single list. If you are looking to save time then this an approach you should definitely consider.

Subdomain Checking Operator

site:debenhams.com -www.

What this operator does

This operator enables us to see if a website has any other subdomains besides its root. It excludes all results that contain www. and returns all results without. One good use of this on a site could be if for example you have a development subdomain or any subdomains that you don’t want indexed, this search will show you all subdomains that are in Google’s index.

Depending on how many indexed pages a site has this might not be a feasible way to check but its good to give you an overview look at the index.

Document Finder Operators

filetype:pdf "search engine optimisation" OR "seo"

What this operator does

This operator helps find documents and other resources that have been uploaded and are available and indexed. In this instance I have used SEO as the related keyword. This can be useful if you are researching for content ideas or learning resources.

site:docs.google.com "search engine optimisation" OR "seo"

What this operator does

This search operator allows us to search through publicly available documents online hosted within Google Drive. Again we can look for resources, content etc. If you are lucky you can find some really great information using this search 🙂

Affiliates

intitle:affiliate "wordpress"

What this operator does

This operator searches for all websites that have the word affiliate within the page title and the word WordPress within the page content. Here you can find prospective affiliate sites for you to join, or conversely try to find sites that offer affiliate schemes for your site’s own products and/or services.

Depending on how many indexed pages a site has this might not be a feasible way to check but its good to give you an overview look at the index.

Conclusion

I hope you have all enjoyed reading this as much as I have writing it – the key takeaway here is to be really creative with these search operators. Use my examples as a starter template, then have a go at trying different results using combinations and other creative methods to see what you come up with.

Until next time 🙂

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