Applied Searching  «Prev  Next»

Lesson 1

Introduction to Applied Searching

To refine search queries and conduct advanced searches, you can employ a range of symbols and operators within most search engines. These modifiers enable you to specify the nature of your search with greater precision. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the most commonly used symbols and operators:
  1. Quotation Marks (""):
    • Use: Encapsulating a phrase within quotation marks instructs the search engine to look for the exact phrase.
    • Example: "specific phrase"
  2. Minus Sign (-):
    • Use: Placing a minus sign immediately before a word or site indicator excludes pages with that word or site from your results.
    • Example: python -snake, site:example.com -site:subdomain.example.com
  3. Plus Sign (+):
    • Use: Although not commonly used since it's implicit, in some contexts, the plus sign can ensure inclusion of a term.
    • Example: "must have" + "optional"
  4. Asterisk (*):
    • Use: The asterisk is a wildcard that can replace a word in a phrase when you’re unsure of the exact word or want to broaden the search.
    • Example: "three * mice"
  5. OR:
    • Use: OR (must be in uppercase) allows for the retrieval of results that include either of the search terms.
    • Example: education reform OR legislation
  6. AND:
    • Use: AND (often implicit in searches, but can be used for clarity) ensures that the results include both terms.
    • Example: Python AND Django
  7. Parentheses ():
    • Use: Parentheses are used to group parts of the search to control the search logic.
    • Example: (vaccine efficacy) AND (children OR adults)
  8. Site:
    • Use: This operator limits the search to a specific site or domain.
    • Example: site:edu
  9. Intitle::
    • Use: Searches for a particular word or phrase within the title of the webpage.
    • Example: intitle:optimization techniques
  10. Inurl:
    • Use: Searches for a specific word or phrase within a URL.
    • Example: inurl:conference
  11. Filetype::
    • Use: Limits search results to a particular file type.
    • Example: filetype:pdf
  12. Cache::
    • Use: Retrieves the most recent cached version of a web page (provided you know the URL).
    • Example: cache:www.example.com
  13. Related::
    • Use: Finds websites related to the specified URL.
    • Example: related:www.example.com
  14. AROUND(X):
    • Use: Finds pages containing two words or phrases within X words of each other.
    • Example: "climate" AROUND(10) "policy"

These operators can be combined in various ways to narrow down search results significantly. The precise syntax may vary slightly from one search engine to another, and not all search engines support all of these operators. Always consult the search engine’s help documentation for the most accurate and up-to-date information on supported search syntax.


In the last module, you were introduced to directories and search engines and how they are constructed. You performed searches through category selection and a simple keyword search. This module illustrates more advanced searching techniques by refining your queries. By adding symbols and operators to your search queries, you can screen out many of the irrelevant results that match a keyword-only search query. Searching services offer many of the same options for advanced searching (although some support more than others) and will let you select an Advanced Search or Power Search interface with many more choices. After completing this module, you will be able to:
  1. Explain how different search engines interpret simple search queries
  2. Use Boolean operators in search queries
  3. Use advanced searching techniques to narrow or widen the search scope
  4. List other restrictions you can put on search results
  5. Find out what searches and queries a search site supports
  6. Explain how Search Engine results are ranked

One problem in search is that when most searchers formulate their search queries, their input is limited to just a handful of words. Because most people do not have a keen understanding of how search engines work, they often provide queries that are too general or that are presented in a way that does not provide the search engine (or the marketer) with what it needs to determine, with 100% accuracy all of the time, their specific intent.
Additionally, search engine users may not have a specific intent for an individual search query beyond curiosity about a general trending topic, or subject matter. While this poses potential difficulty in delivering relevant results, it also poses great opportunity to capture the mind of someone who may not know what he is looking for, specifically, but who takes an interest in the subsequent variety of results the search engine (and search marketers) deliver in response.
These types of general queries are important to most businesses because they often get the brand and website on in the mind of the searcher, and this initiates the process of building trust with the user. Over time, the user will move on to more specific searches that are more transactional or navigational in nature.

Search algorithms

All of the parts of the search engine are important, but the search algorithm is the component that enables accurate search results. It might be more accurate to say that the search algorithm is the foundation on which everything else is built. How a search engine works is based on the search algorithm, or the way that data is discovered by the user.
In very general terms, a search algorithm is a problem-solving procedure that takes a problem, evaluates a number of possible answers, and then returns the solution to that problem. A search algorithm for a search engine takes the problem (the word or phrase being searched for), sifts through a database that contains cataloged keywords and the URLs those words are related to, and then returns pages that contain the word or phrase that was searched for, either in the body of the page or in a URL that points to the page.
Click the on the link below to consider what you would tell your keyword query to make it better.
Improving Search Results

SEMrush Software