Search Engine Tips and Tricks

Herein lies the secret to help find anything online.

Google-Fu is an amalgamation of the words Google and Kung-fu. It is a little known term to describe the ability to use advanced search engine queries to find exactly what you need.

Though Google-Fu was named from Google, it is actually applicable to most search engines. My personal favorite search engine is the privacy centered DuckDuckGo (DDG).

Many people just type a couple words into their search bar when looking for something. Sometimes however, this isn’t enough to find what you’re looking for, and can lead to frustration.

For those extra tricky searches, you may need a few tricks.

Going Back in Time

Sometimes you click a link, and you get a 404 error. This means file not found, or the page is no longer there, despite google saying it is. Sometimes search term you looked for isn’t even mentioned anywhere on the page. Sometimes the website you wanted is completely gone, and has been purchased by a different company. Fortunately, search engines have cached pages.

Search engines periodically take a snapshot of websites, and keep them stored on their own servers. This allows for faster searching. However, if a snapshot hasn’t been taken in a while, the content contained at the actual website could be different than what your search engine thinks is there. Clicking the cached pages button shows what your search engine thinks is there. This is a good way to go back in time and see a page before it was changed.

In the event your search engine didn’t cache the page you’re looking for, but you know it had the content at some point, you can also try the Wayback Machine but more on that in a future post.


When searching for a phrase, add quotes around the words. This tells the search engine to search for the words as a group, and not just see if they both appear somewhere in the website. For instance, a website discussing camping in the rainforest may contain the sentence: When camping in the Amazon, it may be difficult to find dry kindling, due to the humidity. If you just type amazon kindle into a search bar, this camping website may come up first, since it contains both those words. If however, you search for "amazon kindle", the search engine knows to search for those two words next to each other, as a phrase, which will take you to the Kindle website.

Quotes are also good for intentional misspellings. Before he was so well known, it was difficult for me to search for the R&B singer The Weeknd, because search engines always wanted to correct the spelling of his name. Searching instead for "the weeknd" always returned the desired results.


Adding the search term site: limits a search to a specific website. This can be extremely useful if you know that what you’re looking for exists in a certain place. If you’re looking for discussions about you’re favorite TV show character on reddit, you might type something like lemongrab into DuckDuckGo.


Using the plus sign (+) acts as a promoter. It says that the word (or phrase) it’s attached to is more important than the others. Use this to say the search must definitely contain this word, but some other words should also be included in the search. An example of this may be brooklyn "pet hotel" review +cats. It could be the greatest pet hotel in the world, but if they won’t cater to your cute little calico, it doesn’t matter.


Using a minus sign (-) or the capital word NOT acts as an excluder. It says to lessen occurrence, or do not include searches that have this word (or phrase). If you want a jacket of real leather, you might search for black leather jacket -faux or black leather jacket NOT faux.


Search engines index more than just web pages. They also index files that websites host. Different types of files can be specified when looking for something specific. Say you’re looking for a scholarly journal about cryptography, you might search for crypto filetype:pdf. In my younger days, I may or may not have used filetype:mp3 on a regular basis.

Logical Operators

This is where things can get a little confusing for those without programming experience. The operators (), OR, and AND can all be used with searches. || for OR and && for AND seems to also work sometimes, but I would just go for the words. If you use parentheses, then don’t put a space between it and the operator. The best way to explain them is to just give examples.

Find a restaurant menu that includes your favorite Italian food, but also search for it’s Americanized name:

capocollo OR gabagool menu filetype:pdf

Search for somewhere to keep your horse:

horse AND(ranch OR stable)

Look up variations of your favorite mythical creature:

(red dragon)OR(blue wyvern)


As seen in the above examples, all these tricks can be combined to further refine searches.

DuckDuckGo Specific

DuckDuckGo comes with a feature that other search engines don’t: bangs. By adding a “bang” or exclamation point, and a website identifier, DDG will use that websites search engine to query your search. By making DDG your default search, bangs make DDG much more powerful, since it can send you directly to the site you want.

For instance, if you want to look for a Khan Academy video on compound interest, use !yt to search YouTube as so:

khan academy compound interest !yt

This will direct you straight to the YouTube search results for that term.

I always try to use DuckDuckGo because I dislike Google’s need collect so much data on it’s users, and what it does with that data. But sometimes, DDG just doesn’t find what you need the first time. From DDG results page, you can add !g to your search, in order to rerun the search using Google. As DDG continues to grow, this will eventually be unnecessary, however it’s useful for now.

Most of the bangs are intuitive. I’m sure you can guess what !a, !imdb, !w, and !fb lead to. But for a full list of bangs, see DDG’s documentation on the subject.