So, you’ve typed something into the Google search bar and the results not even close to what you were looking for. It happens to everyone. Google has worked hard to understand the way we ask questions: natural human language full of vague ideas. And it does this remarkably well. But you can improve the odds of finding what you’re looking for by adding basic symbols you already know to your searches.
Symbols Are Clues To Google
By placing some of the basic symbols you find on your keyboard at the beginning of your search terms you can instruct Google to look for things in a specific way. This is a handy way get more of the stuff you want and less of the stuff you don’t in your searches.
The Mighty “-“ Symbol
The most common problem I run into in my work as a researcher is too many unrelated results. For example, type “Tesla” into Google and hitting ‘return’ spits out links to the Tesla car company, Nikola Tesla the inventor, and Tesla the 80s hair metal band. While that would make for one hell of an action movie, odds are you’re going to be looking for far more narrow results in your searches. That’s where basic keyboard symbols come in.
By placing “-“ before the things we don’t want, we can eliminate them in our search results. Our search query for Tesla the 80s band, and not the car company or inventor, would look like this.
“Tesla -nikola -car -Elon -musk”
You’ll notice a few things right away. I’ve added the name of the car company’s founder to further filter the results (I’m after rock-n-roll, not cars). And there is no space between the “-“ and the words I want to eliminate from my search.
Here are the results.
Nope, not here. Keep going...
Here they are, way down on page two.
The Powerful “+” Symbol
That’s pretty good, no sign of the inventor, but the first result for Tesla the band is way down the page. And my results still show a few Tesla cars mixed in with articles about their energy division. I could remove all of the different Tesla car models and every energy venture the company is undertaking with more “-“ symbols, but that’s a lot of typing. We’re after quick and accurate results. Let’s add another symbol to our search to make things easier: “+”.
I’ll emphasize the results I do want by adding “+band”. That will tell Google to focus less on cars and more on Tesla the band. I could also have added names of band members or songs, too.
Let’s see what our new and improved search returns.
“Tesla -nikola -car -Elon -musk +band”
Boom. As you can see, cars and inventors have been removed from my results and it’s all rock-n-roll, baby! (Devil horns🤘)
A Powerful Pair
Telling Google what you do and don’t want in by adding “-“ and “+” to your searches greatly improves the results. Try different words based on what you’re looking for. Change it up. Have fun. With a little experimentation you’ll quickly get a feel for how Google responds to these two simple but powerful symbols, and you’ll find what you’re looking for faster.
For more useful symbols to help you find what you’re looking for, check out this Google support page.