Search engines have a variety of ways for you to refine and control your searches. Some of them offer menu systems for this. Others require you to use special commands as part of your query.
For most people, the basic commands covered on the Search Engine Math page will be sufficient. I encourage you to read the search engine math page first. Get comfortable using the commands that are described. If you need more power after that, then review the other options on this page.
Boolean commands are NOT shown on this page. See the separate Boolean Searching page for information about these. If you don't know what Boolean commands are, don't worry about reading the page on these commands. You probably don't need them.
Not every power searching command is shown on this page, only the main ones that are most likely to be used. Read the help files at each search engine for more detailed coverage about what they offer.
Sometimes you want pages that contain any of your search terms. For example, you may want to find pages that say either Ireland or Eire. The Search Features Chart shows which search engines will do this type of search by default, without you needing to specify any commands.
At some search engines, you can do a Match Any search by using a menu next to the search box or on the advanced search page. The Search Features Chart lists where this is possible.
Keep in mind that most search engines will automatically first list pages that have all your terms, then some of your terms, when you perform a Match Any search.
Some search engine specific notes are below:
At AltaVista, testing shows that Match Any is most likely what will happen in response to a default search. Earlier in 2001, AltaVista had said that Match Any would only occur if you searched for five words or more. This no longer seems to be the case. The article below explains what AltaVista previously said would happen:
Blending Vertical Results & Other AltaVista Improvements
The Search Engine Report, March 5, 2001
This is a search for pages containing all of your search terms, rather than any of them. For example, you may want to find pages with references to both Clinton and Dole on the same page.
Practically all major search engines support the + symbol as a means of doing a Match All search. These are listed on the Search Features Chart. The chart also shows which search engines will perform a Match All search by default, even if you don't use the + symbol.
See the Search Engine Math page for more specific help on using the + symbol. Some search engine specific notes are below:
By default, AOL Search will look for any sites in its Open Directory information that contain all the words you enter. It will check both the words in the Open Directory listing and the words on the page that the listing leads to.
AOL Search will not check for matches in its Inktomi listings UNLESS there are absolutely no Open Directory listings that match all words. However, if you use AOL Search's advanced search page (see the Search Assistance page) and choose the "On the Web Only" option, then your search will be conducted against only Inktomi's listings.
Most major search engines allow you to exclude documents that contain certain words. This is a helpful way to narrow a search.
For example, you may want a page about the philosopher Calvin, not the cartoon character Calvin. By excluding pages that mention Hobbes, the cartoon character's sidekick, you will get better results.
The best way to do this is by using the - command, which is supported by practically all major search engines. These are listed on the Search Features Chart.
See the Search Engine Math page for more specific help on using the - symbol.
One of the most powerful features available is the ability to control what sites are included or excluded from a search. For example, imagine you wanted to see all the pages from the Mars Exploration web site run by the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At AltaVista, you could use this command:
In response, AltaVista would display all the pages it has indexed from the mars.jpl.nasa.gov domain. More about using the site search command to find web pages from a particular web site is described on the Checking Your URL page.
Now imagine you wanted to find all the pages from the Mars Exploration web sites that also mention Venus and Jupiter. You could do that this way:
host:mars.jpl.nasa.gov venus jupiter
That tells AltaVista to list pages with the words "venus" and "jupiter" that are within the Mars Exploration web site.
You can even combine other commands, such as those described on the Search Engine Math page. For instance, look at this example:
host:mars.jpl.nasa.gov -"mars pathfinder"
Here, we are telling AltaVista to list all pages within the Mars Exploration web site that do not contain the exact phrase "mars pathfinder."
Now, imagine you are looking for information about Mars landings but are getting overwhelmed by results from NASA. You can get rid of NASA pages by doing this:
"mars exploration " -host:nasa.gov
In that example, we are looking for the phrase "mars landings" but excluding any pages from sites that end in nasa.gov. That means we will NOT get pages from sites like these
We could even decide to see all pages about Mars landing from US educational sites, which end in .edu, like this:
"mars landings" +host:edu
Finally, imagine you live outside the US and want to see results that are predominately from your country. Here's how someone in the UK might search for football (soccer) information:
"football scores" +host:uk
This finds pages that say "football scores" and which are from sites that end in the .uk domain, which is used for UK-based sites.
Search Engine Specific Issues
The examples shown above all use the command that works at AltaVista. The same examples work at Google, FAST Search and some Inktomi-powered search engines, if you use the corresponding site search command that these each offer. The site search command for each of these search engines is listed on the Search Features Chart. The Checking Your URL page provides some additional search engine specific guidance.
Often, search engines that support a site search command also make this possible to do using their advanced search pages. In addition, I'd highly recommend downloading the Google Toolbar. Once you've done this, when visiting any web site, you can use the toolbar's "Search site" button to search within just that web site.
Finally, for search engines that don't offer a site search command, you may find that there is a URL Search command that provides a similar ability.
Several search engines offer the ability to search within the text of a URL. This is very similar to performing a site search. The Search Features Chart shows which search engines have this capability and the exact command to use. Some additional search engine specific notes are below:
Excite has a "site" command as explained in the Site Search section, but this command cannot be combined with search terms in an attempt to locate pages on a particular topic from a particular web site or to filter out pages from a particular web site. For example, this query wouldn't work:
mars exploration -site:mars.jpl.nasa.gov
However, you can use the URL command to get a similar result. For instance:
mars exploration -url:mars.jpl.nasa.gov
would work to list pages about "mars exploration" but would remove any that came from the mars.jpl.nasa.gov site. Be aware that when using the URL command in this way, only the exact site listed will be removed. For example, this query:
mars exploration -url:nasa.gov
would remove pages from nasa.gov but still allow pages from mars.jpl.nasa.gov to appear, since that is a different web site.
However, when using the + command, then any sites containing the core domain will be included. In other words, this command:
mars exploration +url:nasa.gov
would bring up pages from any site that has nasa.gov in the URL, such as
Google's advanced search page uses the allinurl command for finding URLs that contain certain words, as described more on the Checking Your Listing page. However, it is the undocumented "inurl" command that you should use, if you want to find both web pages with words in the URL and within the pages themselves.
For example, let's say you want to find PDF files about mars exploration. Entering "mars exploration" isn't enough, because that could bring back both HTML and PDF pages. To solve this, you can use the inurl command to specify that URLs must have the word "pdf" in them, which will increase the chances of getting PDF files. Here's both commands, combined:
mars exploration inurl:pdf
If you used the "allinurl" command rather than the "inurl" command, this search wouldn't work.
By the way, the "allinurl" command takes its name because when using it, you are requiring that ALL the words appear IN the URL. In contrast, the inurl command means that ANY of the words you specify should appear.
Google also has a command that lets you narrow your search to find documents in particular formats, such works better than forcing the URL command into this role. The command is filetype:, and you follow it with the extension you want to search for. For instance:
california power crisis filetype:pdf
brings back PDF files that contain the words "california power crisis." In contrast:
california power crisis filetype:asp
brings back Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) files, while
california power crisis filetype:html
brings back ordinary HTML files that end in .html, that contain the words. It will not bring back HTML files the end in .htm, however. Technically, Google considers those to be a different file type, simply because the ending is different.
Several search engines offer the ability to search for all the pages linking to a particular page or domain. The Search Features Chart shows which search engines have this capability and the exact command to use. The Measuring Link Popularity page provides some specific examples.
Updated: March 11, 2003
Many of the major crawler-based search engines allow you to search within the HTML title of a web page. This is the text that appears within the title tag of a document. For example, this page that you are reading now has an HTML title like this:
If someone were to do a title search for "power searching," then this page might appear, because those words appear in the HTML title. To learn more about the title tag, see the How To Use HTML Meta Tags page.
All the major crawlers offer a title search option, though the exact command and how it operates varies, as explained below.
AllTheWeb, AltaVista & Inktomi (via HotBot)
AllTheWeb, AltaVista and Inktomi (as accessed via HotBot) use the title: command, where you follow the command with the word you want to find in the title of documents. For example, if you wanted to find all the pages listed that had the word "mars" in their titles, you would do this:
What if you wanted to find pages that had two different words in their titles, such as "mars" and "landings"? Then you need to prefix both words with the title: command, like this:
That will bring back pages that have both words in their titles, regardless of where exactly the words appear within the title. In other words, pages with these different titles would all be found:
Future Mars Landings
Mission to Mars: The Landings
China targeting landings on the Moon, Mars
What if you wanted pages that had the words in particular order, such as "mars landings" in that order? Then use the phrase search command (described more on the Search Engine Math page), prefixed by the title: command, like this:
Performing a search like that means that only pages with those words, in that exact order, would be found. In other words, in the example page titles shown above, only this page would be retrieved:
Future Mars Landings
Please note that searching for phrases within titles as shown above does NOT work with Inktomi, but testing shows it does work with AllTheWeb and AltaVista.
Google & Teoma
To title search at Google and Teoma, you need to use the intitle: command. This means to find a single word like "mars" within the title of documents, you would enter:
What if you want to find multiple words in the title of documents, such as "mars" and "landings"? At Teoma, all testing indicates that you can simply add these words after the intitle: command, like this:
With Google, use the allintitle: command, which means that Google will find doucments that have ALL the words you specify in their page title. The command would be used like this:
As for phrase searching within the title of documents, use the quotation marks to surround an exact phrase, prefixed by the intitle: command, like this:
Several of the crawlers listed above provide results to other search engines, so you may find the title command will also work at their partners. The Search Features Chart lists some of the major partnerships.
Don't forget that all of the search engines listed above, plus many of their partners, also offer advanced search pages that let you perform title searching without needing to know special commands. The Search Assistance Features page has a list of these advanced search pages.
You can search for plurals or variations of words using a wildcard character. It is also a great way to search if you don’t know the spelling of a word.
The * symbol is used as the wildcard symbol at several major search engines, as listed on the Search Features Chart. The format looks like this:
- sing* finds singing and sings
- theat* finds theater and theatre
Some of the search engines offering wildcard search also support what is called "stemming." That means they will find terms like "singing" even if you only enter "sing." This also means you may not need to use a wildcard symbol. See the Search Assistance page for more information on stemming.
Below are some important additional details about wildcard searching at specific search engines.
At AOL Search, the ? symbol serves as a wildcard and will replace any single character, such as:
s?ng matches sing, sang, song
This only works to find matches in AOL Search's Open Directory information. It does not work to bring back matches from Inktomi-powered listings, as explained further below.
Inktomi has two wildcard commands. The * symbol will match one or more characters, such as:
sing* matches sings, singers, singing
The ? symbol matches any single character, and you can use it more than once. For instance:
s?ng matches sing, sang, song
??ng matches ring, rang, sing, sang and
any other four letter word ending in ng
Both commands only work reliably at iWon, at the time of this writing. They fail to function properly at AOL Search, HotBot, MSN Search or LookSmart to bring up matches from within the Inktomi listings that they use.
They also do not appear to bring up matches in wildcard fashion from any of the other data sets these services use, with the exception of AOL Search (see AOL Search section, above).
Like Inktomi above, Northern Light has two wildcard commands. The * symbol will match one or more characters, while % is used to match just a single character.
Some search engines allow you to search specifically within the "anchor" or "link" text that appears on a web page. For example, consider this example:
Click Here For The Mars Exploration Web Site
Notice the words "Mars Exploration Web Site" are all contained within the hyperlink? This is the anchor text or the link text.
Search engines that support anchor text searching are listed on the Search Features Chart.
Some search engines let you indicate how close words should appear to each other. Most people do not need this type of control. Usually, phrase searching is all you need. If you still feel you need control over proximity, see the NEAR section of the Boolean Searching page.
More Power Search Commands
Several of the major search engines offer additional commands that allow you to search by media type, to search within ALT text or link text, and other types of queries. Several search engines offer dedicated help pages that explain these, as listed below. All links were verified as of March 11, 2003:
AllTheWeb: Query Language
AltaVista: Special Search Terms
Google: Advanced Search Operators
Teoma: Advanced Search Tips
Explore the help pages and advanced search forms at each service to better understand the additional options that are available. Also be sure to read the Search Assistance page for information about features designed to help improve searching.
Search Features Chart
Designed for searchers, an at-a-glance look at common commands and features.
Search Engine Math
This teaches you the basic commands that are all most people need to improve their searches.
Search Assistance Features
Several search engines offer special search assistance features that many users overlook. This page explains the ones that are particularly useful.
A rundown on the search engines that support Boolean searching, and the slight differences between them.
Search Engine Tutorials
Links to articles and web sites that offer help with using search engines.
Search Engine Reviews
Links to reviews about the major search engines, in terms of how effective they are.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!