Could you be getting more out of Google's search engine? Some tips and tricks

Recently, the Wheat Law Library received a book titled Google for Lawyers: Essential Search Tips and Productivity Tools," by Carole A. Levitt and Mark E. Rosch. I instantly fell in love with it.

For those of you who don’t know, Google started off as a basic search engine but has grown into a means of categorizing and disseminating electronic information. Included in its bag of tricks are services for navigating the Web, media storage and retrieval, geo-location, home and office tools, social sites and specialized searching.

Google for Lawyers goes into great depth into how someone might be able to use Google and all of its services to practice law. What I would like to do here is simply show you how to use Google’s search engine more efficiently. If you find this interesting, then perhaps you should give "Google for Lawyers" a look-see. We have it on reserve, available for a four-hour checkout. Then, if you like it, go pick up a copy!

Basic skills

Don’t worry about spelling. Google's spell checker automatically defaults to the most common spelling of a given word, whether or not you spell it correctly.

Check your Web history. Web history offers you a log of websites you've visited, a timeline of your actions and the ability to search your own online history.

KISS. No matter what you're looking for, your motto should be, “Keep it simple, stupid.” Start by entering a basic name or word. If you're looking for a place or product in a specific location, enter the name along with the town or zip code.

Choose simple, Web-friendly words. Perhaps this goes along with KISS. A search engine works by matching the words you enter to pages on the Web. So using words that are most likely to appear on pages will yield the best results. For example, instead of saying, "My head hurts," say "headache," because that's the term a medical website would use.

Less is more. Simple, one- or two-word search terms will usually give you the broadest results. Start with short search terms, and then refine your results by adding more words.

Choose descriptive words. The more unique the word, the more likely you are to get relevant results. So [celebrity ringtones] is probably better than [celebrity sounds]. Keep in mind, though, that even if the word has the correct meaning, if it's not the one most people use, it may not match the pages you need.

Some advanced tricks

Search by file type. One of my favorites. Did you know that you can search for specific types of files, such as PDFs, PPTs, or XLS? Simply add filetype: and the three-letter file abbreviation. For example: negligence filetype:PPT

Find related pages. Use the related: operator to find pages that have similar content by typing related: followed by the website address. For instance, if you find a website you like, try using related:[insert URL] to locate similar websites. For example, related:simplyrecipes.com/recipes/perfect_guacamole/.

Let Google fill in the blanks. Put an asterisk * in a phrase or question you want completed and they will fill in the blanks. For example, you can find the lyrics to a song even if you only remember a few words. For example, I'll follow you * you * me.

Search within a specific site. Precede your query with site: if you know you want your answer from within a specific site or type of site (.org, .edu). For example: site:edu or site:nytimes.com.

Include or ignore common words and characters. Highlight common words and characters such as the and & if they are essential to your search (as in a movie or book title) by putting a + sign in front of them. You can also use plus + and minus - signs to specify particular items you want or don't want in your results, like ingredients in a recipe: salsa recipe +avocado –tomatoes.

Search images by color, size, style, or type. Use Advanced Image Search to find an exact size, color or type of photo or drawing. With the tools in the left panel, you can filter your search to include only photos with faces, clip art, high-res images or only images that are available for commercial use.

Search for numbers in a range. Stay within your budget by searching only for items within a number range by putting a string .. between amounts such as Sony TV $300..$500.

Track your packages. Track your UPS, FedEx, or USPS packages by typing the tracking number directly into the search box. The results will show you the status of your shipment.

Find public domain books. Read the complete texts of public domain works like "Moby Dick" for free by selecting "books" in the left panel of your search results.

Search along a timeline. Track a story or subject through time by using the timeline tools in the left column panel of your results page to zoom in on any time period, from "past 24 hours" to "past year," or a custom range.

Hone in on a particular range. To specify a particular number range, type “..” then a space, then the numbers in your range. For example, if you're searching for cars with over 300 horsepower, search cars "300.. horsepower". Here are some other examples: "220.. V" or "1.. RPM" or "8000.. mAh" battery.

Search for all similar terms. Get results that include synonyms by placing the ~ sign immediately in front of your search term. A search for Christmas ~dessert recipes, for instance, will return results for desserts, along with candy, cookies and other treats.

View population and employment trends. Search demographic terms like population or unemployment rate, followed by a county, state or country, and you'll get instant data about your chosen location directly from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From there, you can click through to compare rates in different locations.

Mobile devices

Search using your mobile camera. Want to search the Web using your mobile phone's camera instead of words? On an Android, open your Google Goggles app (on an iPhone, open the Google Search app and select Goggles), snap a picture of the item you want to search for, and wait for your results. No typing necessary.

Search by speaking. To search the Web by speaking, tap the microphone button on the Google search box on your home screen, or press down for a few seconds on the physical search button on your phone to activate the "Speak Now" screen. Voice Search for Android supports Voice Actions on Android 2.2 (Froyo) and above.

Search for places that are open now. Go to Google on your iPhone and Android devices and search for a restaurant or place. The "open now" feature lets you filter local search results to show only businesses that are open right now, based on their listed hours.

These are just a few of the tips and tricks available on Google. Do you have a favorite that has been left off of the list? Let me know!

W. Blake Wilson, Head of Instructional & Research Services