The most powerful skill I’ve developed is using Google Search to learn difficult subjects, discovering much more information than I can find anywhere else.

I’ve been meaning to write and learn more about the subject of searching the web, for a while. Once I came up with the idea of creating digitalskills.info (a not-for-profit educational organization) meant to address the incredible inefficiencies I perceive in institutional education, I knew this post would become its cornerstone.

Motivation

I’ve been using internet search since the days before google. In those times, persistance was required if I wanted to find even a single result that met my needs. I’m sure that has something to do with how I developed this technique. I’ve also always put a high value discovering truth above ideology or what an authority figure wanted me to believe.

After 12 years in school, from the primary grades through highschool, I was massively unimpressed with the education I received (and went to decent public schools). However, I was always encouraged to read, growing up. As a big reader, it was clear than my public education was inferior to the knowledge available at the library, consumed in my free time.

As far as college\university goes, I suppose it was different in years past when a college degree was a ticket to prosperity. That ship has sailed. Now, students go into tens of thousands dollars in debt for a diploma, and afterwards still have to figure out how to find a job and learn basic life skills.

For all the money spent on education across the world, you could learn all of that, and plenty more, for free online.

Another thing thats changed is the idea that you can’t focus on your passion because there’s no money in it. Today that’s just not true. Online, you can earn a living pursuing a hobby like latin or philosophy. However, there’s no clear path to follow if you wanted to do that. That’s another problem DigitalSkills.Info is meant to address.

If you know how to search the web, you can learn anything. It's not always as fast as other learning techniques, and doesn't necessarily result in any authoritative certification. However, searching the web is free, full of opportunities, and draws upon a wealth of knowledge amassed across the globe, recently become available to anyone with a mobile phone.

Table of Contents

This is my process for deep exploring any topic, by searching the web. I describe my search practices, and making a list of my best findings, exploring further on related topics I discover along the way.

  • Tools for collecting links
    • If you don’t save the results of your search it can be difficult to know how to find what you’ve learned. Especially for big subjects, as any subject becomes, if you dig a little it’s essential to keep track of where you’ve found useful information.
  • Getting started with Google Search
    • In this section I go over some of my basic philosophy and practices when using Google Search.
  • How I process search results
    • If I’m trying to learn a deep subject, I never use a single search term. I always end up trying multiple searches, with different terms, informed by the results of my previous attempts.
    • How I’m using HackMD
      • A visual demonstration of the work I’ve been describing.
    • Narrowing down the initial results
      • Once I’ve got a few links I think will answer the core question I’m searching, I’ll scan their contents to verify my intuition and add more order to the list of resources I’m creating.
    • Organizing the list
      • Through this journey I’m collecting and organizing links, by topic, the whole time. The point of all this isn’t only to answer the limited question I began with, but also explore it’s boundaries, and discover related topics I didn’t think to look for. I’m organizing search results into an ordered list, sorted by category, and then dig deeper on tangential topics, later.
  • Google Search Operators
    • These are variations on a standard search that refine your search results and provide tons of value, without much effort.
  • Completing and Publishing the list
    • Once you’ve got an Awesome List put together, don’t just keep it to yourself! Publish it and share with the world. Not only will this help others, it will help you gain traction in the digital sphere.

Unlike a regular school that insists that repetition and memorization is the only way to learn, at DigitalSkills.Info we’re focused on making it easier to find the information we need, when we need it.

For this, I’m sharing a couple tools that I use to keep track of useful resources I find along the way.

HackMD.io

Ultimately, there are a variety of applications you could use for collecting sources while learning on the web. However, HackMD is a simple but powerful tool that I enjoy for the purpose.

HackMD is a collaborative markdown editor. You can create an account simply using your google account, and create a document with a funny looking address like the link to this post I’m writing:

https://hackmd.io/p6mEJJztQdWE1cmLSHHOrA

By default, anyone can see your work by following that link, and if they’re logged in, you can both edit at the same time. You can also configure your content to be private, or to allow anonymous editing. It keeps version history so you won’t lose any of your work.

The split view is selected now (probably only available on desktop), in this way you can see the markdown, and final rendered view. On mobile you’ll open directly to view mode, represented by the 👁 (eye) icon. Or click the ✎ (pencil) for edit view.

Markdown is great because it can be dropped into almost any website builder. You can even publish right from HackMD if you prefer.

One feature I really enjoy is you can take a screenshot and paste it into the text editor, it will automatically upload to imgur, with proper markdown so the image shows up on the view side of your screen.

If HackMD is too wild and crazy for you, just use your favorite text editor while following this guide. Then again, you might like the next tool I’m sharing and use that for everything.

Notion

Notion is another collaborative content creation \ personal management tool made to be easy for anyone regardless of how technical you are.

It’s available as a mobile app that integrates with your share button, so you can save links to it while scrolling Facebook, Twitter, or Google Search.

It also has an incredible desktop client. Both desktop and mobile have more useful features you can shake a stick at, and can be used to create web-pages with a simple graphical interface, without markdown or any other code.

See Notion in action

Notion is far more incredible than it initially reveals, and plenty of people are using it to organize their entire lives.

I have multiple Notion workspaces on different subjects, each with multiple pages covering different aspects of the subject. On desktop, whenever I find a page I need to save for reference, I simply click the browser extension, select the workspace and page in that space where I want to save the link.

Later it’s easy to find in Notion with search or navigating to wherever it’s saved.

Getting started with Google Search ^

It’s a lot easier to find what your looking for once you know how and where to look. This process has helped me learn where to find the information I’m looking for, and learn a ton more than I would using the conventional method of moving on once I found what I’m looking for in the moment.

Essentially, the use of Google’s search engine revolves primarily around keywords and key-phrases made of one or multiple words.

If your initial query doesn’t provide the answers you’re looking for, find the most helpful post in your results and see if it has a different search term in the title that you can use for better results.

Another helpful technique is paying attention to autocomplete while you’re typing in the search box. It’s likely to give you relevant search terms. You can play around with autocomplete to refine your search before submitting the query.

For demonstration, I’m going to begin with a basic and less useful search term, and work my way to more useful terms, as required when searching a topic I’m unfamiliar with. Later we’ll get into some more advanced queries.

Before we begin

I like to begin with the shortest query possible, or if not the shortest, certainly not the longest. The longer your search query is, the more you’re likely to get results unrelated to your needs.

Avoid Filler Words

“and” “of” “the” “if” “when” “too” google pretty much ignores these words, either way, they’re not providing any value to your search results.

Helpful keywords for learning

There are a few keywords I try out while fine tuning my search query.

  • how to
  • tutorial
  • tips and tricks
  • guide
  • ultimate guide
  • advanced techniques

You get the idea, it’s something you just have to play around with, until you get closer to what you’re looking for.

How I process search results ^

I want to learn any special techniques for getting the most out of Google Search. The term I’m starting with is Google Search. Lets see what I come up with.

When I’m searching a new subject, I don’t go through the results one by one reading one article at a time. Instead, I go through a few pages of results opening promising leads, each in a new tab, to sort them in bulk, after I’ve got a bunch of tabs open.

One thing to note here, is I typically avoid videos in the beginning, and am only looking for articles. Videos are great for certain subjects, but they usually have 5-10 minutes of filler at the beginning, and are hard to search.

With an article I can quickly scroll\search the page to see if it has what I’m looking for before devoting much time to it.

You can see by the initial search results that we can learn lots about Google and how it works, with this query, but not much on how to use it. This time I’ll try ultimate guide google search.

You can see we’re getting closer, since there is at least one useful result in the top 5. We could go on just ignoring the adwords guides, but lets try a new trick.

This time I added quotes around “Google Search”, meaning that exact phrase will be found in the results, and used a minus next to adwords that eliminates results containing that word.

The top 3 results are on target, so we’ll continue with this query for now.

You can see I already opened the “Ultimate Guide to Google Search Operators” from the last search, since I know from experience that Semrush is a leader in SEO that creates excellent content.

Below the post by SEMRush is one by Ahrefs, and next is SEOQuake, three of the top SEO companies\tools around. While we’re not trying to learn SEO, these companies are authorities on content creation.

Without even opening, I can confidently say that those three guides contain more than enough to keep us busy for quite some time.

Now, I’m going to go through the first 3 pages of search and open everything that looks on target in a new tab. This won’t be necessary for this particular query, but I’m not just looking for tips on how to use google, but demonstrate how I use google, generally speaking.


I got through to the 4th page of search, and there are tons of results about using Google Search to optimize my website to appear higher in the search results. I did get one more guide from, Moz, another leader in the field of SEO and content creation. This isn’t what I was looking for, but interesting nonetheless, so I’ll hang onto it for now (a recurring pattern, you’ll see).

Now I’m going to add -SEO to our query so I can remove SEO content from the results, and see what else I can dredge up.


Now I have a dozen or so pages open in my browser. Usually I get more than that, but browsing their titles can provide what we need for a better query if we don’t find what we’re looking for

These are the pages I’ve saved, without paying much attention to their content. For now, I’m only concerned that they are on the topic of advanced techniques for searching the web, not an advertisement for a book I won’t buy or something else that only superficially seemed helpful.

Recalling our search query was ultimate guide "Google Search" -adwords -seo, lets consider these titles. If I wasn’t satisfied these results contained all of the information I needed, I would be looking for which keywords should become part of my next search query.

  • Advanced search
  • Search operators
  • Invisible web
  • Google tools

If I was starting over again, I might try one or more of the following

  • "Google Search operators" ultimate guide
  • "Google Search tips" tricks
  • "google advanced search" tutorial
  • "Google Search operators" complete

What I didn’t mention at the beginning, is I’ve really been looking for google search operators the whole time. You’ll notice that I saved links to pages that aren’t exactly on that topic, but will likely prove useful.

How I’m using HackMD ^

If I find a page that’s useful, but I don’t need immediately, I make a bulleted list, with a quote blurb of each page, describing what’s to be found. Then I can close that tab and move on.

Commonly I’ll repeat this process with perhaps 50 or 100 different web pages, until i’ve made a great list. I don’t want a bunch of pages with the same content, but I want to highlight the most comprehensive resources on a given subject. Since these 4 pages are unique compared to the rest of our results they’re a good place to start.

This first one is really interesting, and links to a guide on research beyond google, at the bottom. That’s definitely going to come in handy.

Next is a guide on Google Scholar, also not specifically what I’m looking for right now, but it’s another subsection of my overall search so I’ll save that for now and move on.

  • Google Scholar: the ultimate guide

    Google Scholar (GS) is a free academic search engine that can be thought of as the academic version of Google. Rather than searching all of the indexed information on the web, it searches repositories of publishers, universities or scholarly websites.

Up next is the ultimate guide to DuckDuckGo, a privacy focused search engine, and googles’ top competitor for search. It’s a tool I haven’t gotten too deep into, but clearly now is the right time for that. At the moment, I’ll simply save the link here.

  • The ultimate guide to DuckDuckGo

    If you don’t already have the scoop, it’s the search engine that can serve as a complete replacement for Google (and Bing and whatever else you like), except it respects your privacy and security. And while Google does some cool tricks, DuckDuckGo does some even better ones.

Finally, among our outliers is a guide to google tools, including search, covering the varieties of tools google makes available in exchange for spying on your every move.

  • A Guide to Google Tools: Tips and Tricks You Can’t Live Without

    There are many Google services that have come and gone through the years, but a few of them – like Gmail, Google Drive and of course Google Search – stay even more relevant as time goes on.

    The following is a comprehensive guide of tips, tricks, and hacks that’ll help you make better use of Google services you use. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned expert, you’re likely to find something here that you can add to your own productivity toolbox.

If you’re using Notion, you would skip this step of highlighting each page individually. Instead of copy\pasting title\link\description manually, after you click the Notion Web Clipper (Chrome and Derivatives or Firefox), you’ll click the “Add to” drop-down, then select “New links database” then save your page to the database.

Notion will give you the option to open that page in your browser, after saving your link, you can go and rename your database, and when submitting your next with the Web Clipper, select the database you just created, or make a new one if you’re on a different subject.

That saves the entire webpage in Notion. When you’re done, that database can be exported as markdown\csv to sort through and make your list that way, or managed directly in Notion.

I’ll have a similar guide to this one, specifically focused on how I use Notion, but that’s a little more technical and beyond the scope of this article.

Now I can close those browser tabs, and focus on the results that make up the core of our query.

Narrowing down the initial results ^

The next two pages seem like they’d be spot on, but aren’t exactly what I’m looking for. They go beyond the scope of our core query into other useful techniques, specifically “Advanced Search”, which is a graphical interface enabling some of the same features as the operators we’re looking for right now.

When working in another HackMD document, I’ll put these at the bottom of the page with their own header “Advanced Search”, and leave them alone for now.

I would have likely found better results on ‘advanced search’ if I’d been searching specifically for that subject, but it didn’t cross my mind, so it’s helpful to add them to our list to expand upon later.

Advanced Search

  • 23 Google Search Tips You’ll Want to Learn

    It’s easy to take for granted what a modern web search can do for you, but it’s truly amazing how seamless Google has made the internet. Google can tell you the weather, translate languages, define words, give you directions, and do so much more. When was the last time you argued with friends over something and didn’t check Google for the answer?

  • Google Advanced Search: Tips and Operators for Better Searches

    you don’t always want Google to give you 5,010,371 pages to choose from. Sometimes you want to know something precise. For example, which websites are linking to your store. Or how easy it is to find products in your store. Or what your competitors are selling.

Organizing the list ^

Now that I’ve narrowed down my results, I’m going to browse\scan the entirety of each remaining pages to see how they compare, and eliminate any with content are already covered by other guides in the results.

I’ve made a separate HackMD document for the list I’m creating as part of creating this guide. You can see from the following image, that the initial 4 posts I highlighted are all that’s left for our core query, but we’ve got another category, and an assorted section that reveals a few more categories I can dig into and expand upon later.


Source


For each item on the list I’m selecting a short section to quote that describes what I find useful about its content, while I decide if I should keep it, and if so under what category it belongs, creating and consolidating categories as I go.

What are Google search operators?

Google search operators are special characters and commands (sometimes called “advanced operators”) that extend the capabilities of regular text searches. Search operators can be useful for everything from content research to technical SEO audits

Google Search Operators: The Complete List (42 Advanced Operators)

In this post, I’ll share 15 actionable tips to help you master search operators for SEO

This result has 42 operators, and tips on using search operators for SEO. Despite the title, it’s not the most comprehensive list of search operators. I’d never even thought about using advanced operators to fine tune my website’s search rankings. This will make the start of a new category I’ll work on later.

Google Search URL Parameters [Ultimate Guide]

This page has awesome charts with the search operators and URL parameters. This is more advanced, yet, and another section for the list I’m working on.

The basic Google search is https://www.google.com/search?q=. It uses only one operator “q= phrase of interest”(or as_q). The use of advanced search operators works like a password. Google clearly understands what you want from it and gives you the results for which the usual search would take much more time and filtering.

Before we get to actual search operators I use, here’s the list I’ve been working on.

You can see I’ve taken what was an unorganized list and broken it up into sections, while looking for the best guides on Google Search operators.

I’m not going to share every screenshot showing process along the way, however, if you visit the document above, you can click the hamburger menu, and select “Versions and GitHub Sync” to follow my journey every step of the way.

I’ll be repeating the process described above, continuing the creation of a curated list that will be useful to myself, and others. Variations on above steps will be covered next, now I’ve settled on a guide to Google Search operators.

Google Search Operators ^

I’ve narrowed down our results to this post by moz which is reasonably comprehensive, without being bogged down by extraneous details.

The following search operators take you a long way towards more accurate search results. I’ve taken the most relevant from above Moz post, and even includes a couple they didn’t mention.

You’ll see from the examples below this search could have been accomplished much more efficiently using these special search commands. That’s all part of the process, and hopefully illustrates the usefulness of this process.

Basic Search Operators

Some of these have alternative expressions, as is the case for AND, OR, and NOT, which you’ll see may also be expressed as . | and -, respectively.

  • " " Example"search operators" google
    • As mentioned earlier, using quotation marks gives you only pages with an exact match for a term or phrase, avoiding synonyms. As you saw, you can put quotes around only part of the phrase and include additional terms outside of the quotes that aren’t essential but you’re hoping will narrow down results.
  • OR Example"search operators" google OR duckduckgo
    • |Example"search operators" google | duckduckgo
      • “OR” Must be in all caps. This query finds all pages with the terms “search operators” including results with either google or duckduckgo.
  • AND Example"search operators" advanced AND parameters
    • .Example"search operators" advanced . parameters
      • Google defaults to AND for every word in your search, but this is useful for more complex queries when combining operators, as we’ll see next.
  • NOT Example"search operators" google NOT duckduckgo
    • - Example"search operators" google -duckduckgo
      • Minus operator must be placed directly in front of term you want excluded from the results.
  • ( ) - Example"search operators" (google OR duckduckgo) advanced
    • The parentheses group operators together, so you can be sure google knows you want ‘google OR duckduckgo’ also containing advanced, rather than ‘google OR duckduckgo advanced’.
    • Parentheses also “controls the order in which they execute”
      • Search Protocol Reference

        Boolean operators are left associative with equal precedence. You can use parentheses to change the order of precedence. For example, A . (B | C | D) evaluates the OR (|) operators in the parentheses before the AND (.) operator. It is advisable to use brackets, braces, or parenthesis to clarify the precedence in complex queries.

  • * Example"search * parameters"
    • The asterisk is a wildcard, finding results with any word between the search and parameters. This example would include results containing ‘search url parameters’ or ‘search advanced parameters’
  • #..# ExampleGoogle "40..100 search operators"
    • in the example we’ll get results including ‘48 search operators’, ‘55 search operators’, all the way from 40 to 100
  • $ Example "best laptop" $150
  • Example €5 cloud server
  • in Example 1 inch in pixels
    • The in operator converts different units of measurement. Result: ‘96 pixels’.

Even the basic search operators mentioned above can get pretty complex once you start combining them. However, even learning one or two can make your web-search a lot more effective.

Advanced Search Operators

Advanced search operators are special commands that modify searches and may require additional parameters (such as a domain name). Advanced operators are typically used to narrow searches and drill deeper into results.

  • intitle: Exampleintitle:"40..100 search operators"
    • This is a new one to me that I’ll definitely be making use of. It ensures the results have your search term in the title, not just anywhere on the page.
  • inurl: Exampleallintitle:(Google Search operators) inurl:2020
    • This time we’re finding results that have all the words ‘Google Search operators’ in the title and ‘2020’ as part of the url, in that case, a bit of a hack to search by date, but offering many more possibilities.
  • intext: Exampleintext:(parameters . operators . boolean)
    • Now we’re looking for an article with the words ‘parameters’, ‘operators’ and ‘boolean’ (AND, OR, NOT) in the text, regardless of its title.
  • filetype: Example"search operators" filetype:pdf
    • This returns results of a specific type of file, in this example PDF, but any text based file type can be found in this manner.
  • related: Example"search operators" related:google.com
    • Return sites that are related to a target domain. This only works for larger domains, in this example I’m looking for results found in websites connected to Google.
  • AROUND(X) Examplesearch AROUND(3) operators
    • Returns results where two terms are found within (X) words of each other. This can be helpful when you search for two words, but get a bunch of results where the words are so far apart they have no relation
  • site: Exampleintitle:"search operators" site:news.ycombinator.com
    • This query is a favorite of mine, and we’ll go into more detail below. In this case, we’re looking for posts on the Hacker News Forum with ‘search operators’ in the title.

Using the site: operator for different types of queries ^

This is my favorite, and I use it all of the time. It’s easy to think of times you want to find information from a specific site. I used to just type the name of the site in my search, but this is much more powerful.

Especially now that we know these advanced operators, even if an app has native search, it’s unlikely to be as powerful as using Google Search operators for your query.

Amazon \ Ebay

Amazon has a terrible search engine, or rather, it’s optimized to make them money, not help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

Ebay’s search is fine, but clearly no match for google.

Example: "hiking (shoes OR boots)" . (pink OR purple) site:amazon.com

Reddit

I like reddit for reviews and product recommendations.

Example: `($100..300) “best used (computer OR laptop)” site:reddit.com”

In this case, I’m going to filter the results by date, possible by clicking Tools > Any time > Custom range..., and typing 2018 in the From text box, and clicking go. This will provide results timestamped anywhere from 2018 till present. It’s a little harder on mobile, but totally possible.

Hacker News

This is a forum for computer geeks, software developers and hackers. Especially for niche technical topics, I always find it interesting to read the comments to learn what the readers have to say about it. I often read the forum just for the comments, and find it rather educational, although its not like everyone there is an expert on every subject, so results are mixed.

Example: Google Search operators site:news.ycombinator.com

If I wasn’t making this guide, but just wanted a quick answer, I may well have used this single query. Good thing I decided to try it out, since I’ve found another category for the list I’m creating.

  • dorking (how to find anything on the Internet)

    Software engineers have long joked about how much of their job is simply Googling things
    Now you can do the same, but for free
    Below, I’ll cover dorking, the use of search engines to find very specific data

Apple Podcasts

Podcasts are my favorite way to learn new subjects. Not always technical subjects, but more often psychology, philosophy, personal development, etc.

Example: web curation site:podcasts.apple.com

Publishing the list

You can find the “completed list” here:

Advanced Web Search - Operators, Parameters, Order of Operations - Google and Beyond

Not much more is required, but the most important rule of working online is to get your own domain name, and bring traffic there to a site that you own. Otherwise, all your hard work is going to improve someone elses brand. You can still re-publish the same post elsewhere, but it’s really important to have your own website.

But that’s a subject for another day :D

Once you’ve published, you can share your work on Reddit forums, add your link to an Awesome Lists, or other places online where similar information is found. I would recommend opening a GitHub account, even before you get your own website, and create your own awesome-list there, which can be included on the original awesome list at sindresorhus/awesome.

Subscribe for Updates

E-mail Subscription Form

Support this project on Patreon

Become a Patron!