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The Ground Rules for Effective Google Search

By Susan P. Joyce

People often express frustration when they can’t find what they want on Google. Google is not perfect, no question. However, it is very, very good.

Often when someone is describing their Google “problem” they demonstrate some confusion with how Google works, so here are some “ground rules” to keep in mind when you are using Google for search.

How Google Search Works

Understanding how Google search works can help you be much more effective.

1. Google assumes you mean “and.”

Google assumes that when you type two (or more) words into the search bar, you want to find pages containing all of those words, regardless of how close they may – or may not – be to each other on a page.

Google thinks you are using an “and” between those words, even if you don’t type that word into your query.

Assume you want to find a job located in Milwaukee, Indianapolis, or Chicago, and you type job Milwaukee Indianapolis Chicago into Google, it will assume you really mean Milwaukee and Indianapolis and Chicago and job. So, it will show you web pages containing all 4 of those terms scattered across the content.

2. Capitalization doesn’t count (most of the time).


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Google ignores capitalization used in queries in most circumstances. So, Google will find the same pages whether you type "Chicago" or "chicago."  Makes no difference to Google, with these exceptions

The 3 exceptions to the capitalization-doesn't-count rule:

Capitalization DOES matter in some situations.  Using capitalization allows you to give Google some direct instructions.

  • Either/or queries -

    Going back to our example above, if you wanted Google to find jobs for you in Milwaukee, Chicago, or Indianapolis, Google could find jobs for you in those cities if you typed the word “or” in all capitals between the city so your query would look like this:
    job (Milwaukee OR Chicago OR Indianapolis)
    Be sure to put a space on either side of the "OR" and enclose the optional terms inside a set of parentheses, as above, to be sure that Google understands the terms that may replace each other.

    If you don’t include the “OR” (in all capitals, as in the example above), Google assumes you intend an “and” between those words, so it would find only those pages which contained all the words – Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Chicago, and job.
  • Must be included -

    If you want your search results to definitely include some terrms, make that clear to Google by using "AND" in all caps, with a space on each side of it, into your query. For example, assume you wanted a job in Milwaukee, you would structure your search like this:
    job AND Milwaukee
    If you don’t include the “OR” (in all capitals, as in the example above), Google assumes you intend an “and” between those words, so it would find only those pages which contained all the words – Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Chicago, and job.
  • Must be excluded -

    If you want your search results to definitely include some terrms, make that clear to Google by using "AND" in all caps in your query. For example, assume you wanted a job in Milwaukee, Chicago, or Indianapolis, but you didn't want a temporary job, then you would structure your search like this:
    job AND (Milwaukee OR Chicago OR Indianapolis) NOT temporary
    Then, Google would find you the jobs in Milwaukee, Chicago, or Indianapolis that are not temporary.

    [MORE: Google-ize Your Job Search with These Tips and Tricks.]

3. Google will correct your spelling errors.

Most of the time, Google will correct what it thinks are your spelling errors. If it is pretty sure it understands what you want, it will provide results for the correctly-spelled term, but offer you a link to the spelling you specified, “Did you mean…”

4. Google uses “stemming” to find many variations of a word.

Google tries to help you find what you are seeking by sometimes showing you variations of what you want.  If you search on the word “job,” it will typically also show you pages containing the word “jobs.” A search on “engineer” will typically also find “engineers,” “engineering,” and “engineered.”

5. Google ignores some words.

Just as you always suspected, Google ignores some of the words in your queries that it considers unimportant. It’s usually right. It ignores words like “the,” “in,” “of,” “for,” and other similar words. Use them if it helps you, but Google will ignore them.

What if You Don’t Want Google to “Fix” Your Query?

Sometimes Google can drive you crazy helping you. When that happens, try "Verbatim" to force Google to search for EXACTLY what you type into the search bar.

Finding and Using Google Verbatim

The smart people at Google have figured out that they don’t always know what you really want. So, they now provide a way for you to over-ride their “fixes” to your queries. It is called “Verbatim.”

When you want Google to search for exactly what you type into the search bar, you find “Verbatim” (currently) in at the top of the search results page when you click on “Search tools” and then select "All results" from the options it shows you.  That link opens up a drop-down list containing the word “Verbatim.” Click on "Verbatim" and Google will run your search exactly as you specify.

[MORE: How to Find Jobs Using Google and 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers.]


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


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