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BACK TO BASICS: Researching with Search Engine Operators

BACK TO BASICS: Researching with Search Engine Operators

by: Eileen Kowalski, October 2004

Researching a search engine algorithm is kind of like atomic research. The search engine algorithm is a black box that you cannot see inside of, so you can only formulate theories about a specific algorithm by testing its behavior. This is why it is so important to know all of the different search engine operators and how they work. In this article, we will investigate search engine operators and how you can use them to enhance your search engine optimization efforts.

Boolean Search Operators

Boolean operators are really useful for investigating how your competition uses keywords on the page. The basic Boolean search operators are AND, OR and NOT:

  • AND or + yields results that contain both of the keywords on the page. Since all of the major engines automatically search for all of the words you enter into the search field, the AND operator is usually unnecessary. If you want to find pages that contain keywords as a phrase, you should put quotation marks around your keywords ("keyword1 keyword2").
  • OR yields results that contain at least one of the keywords on the page. The OR operator is good to use when you are searching for more than one keyword and searching without an operator yields no results.
  • NOT or − yields results that contain one keyword but exclude the other keyword. This operator is especially useful to see which competitors are not using specific keyword combinations which you can then target.

Many search engines have included AND & NOT on their lists of stop words, or words that are excluded from your search. We recommend using +, -, OR and quotation marks to investigate specific keyword combinations in Google, Yahoo, MSN and Gigablast.

Advanced Search Engine Operators

However, advanced search operators are what really allow you to dig deeper into specific aspects of each search engine’s algorithm. For example, if you are focusing on your link campaign, competitive research using the link: operator is essential. At SEOToolSet, we have aggregated all of the data that we could find on search engine operators and checked every operator to make sure it still works. We have also included some ideas on how to use these operators in your SEO efforts. Remember that these are just suggestions and are not the official use of any of the operators below. The table of search engine operators listed below is current as of October 2004. We will do our best to keep it updated, especially as a whole new range of operators come out with MSN (hopefully). If you know of any operators that should be on this list, please e–mail them to ekowalski@bruceclay.com and she will add them to this page.

Google Yahoo MSN Gigablast Search Terms Search Results SEO Applications
site: site: or domain: or hostname: site: site: url All pages within a particular domain and all its subdomains if you search without the www. To see how many webpages the search engine has indexed.
cache:       url The cached version of a page. To see the search engine’s cache of a particular page.
info: or id:       url Links to the cached webpage, inbound links to that page, related webpages and pages that contain the webpage URL. To see several types of information that Google has about a page.
  url:   url: url The listing for that specific URL in the index. (Note: You must type in http://.) To see if a particular URL is indexed.
      ip: 123.12.123 keyword Pages that contain your keyword inside an IP range. To see if duplicate content sites or spam sites exist in the same IP range as your client’s site.
related:       url Pages that are "similar" to a specified URL To see a small indication of what Google considers to be "related" content.
link: link: link: link: url Pages that link to a particular URL (Note: In yahoo, must use http://.) To see the number and quality of inbound links to your client’s site and their competitor’s sites.
        −link: Pages that contain your keyword and do not link to the specified URL. To identify relevant sites that do not link to your competitor’s site.
  linkdomain:     url Pages that link to a particular domain (Note: Do not type in http://.) To see the number and quality of inbound links to your whole website in Yahoo.
filetype: or ext: originurlextension:   type: filetype keyword Pages of a specific filetype that contain your keyword. To analyze your competition’s use of PDFs, Flash files, Word documents or Excel files.
define: define:     keyword Pages that contain your keyword inside definition tags. To analyze your competition’s use of definition lists.
allintitle:       keyword keyword Pages that contain all your keywords in their title tag. To analyze your competition’s title tags.
intitle: intitle: or title:   title: keyword Pages that contain your keyword in their title tag. To analyze your competition’s title tags.
allinurl:       keyword keyword Pages that contain all your keywords in their url. To analyze your competition’s urls.
inurl: inurl:   suburl: keyword Pages that contain your keyword in their url. To analyze your competition’s urls.
  originurlpath:     keyword Pages that have the keyword inside their directory names. To analyze your competition’s directory names.
allinanchor:       keyword keyword Pages that have inbound links that contain your all your keywords. To analyze your competition’s inbound anchor text.
inanchor:       keyword Pages that have inbound links that contain your keyword. To analyze your competition’s inbound anchor text.
allintext:       keyword keyword Pages that have body text that contains your all your keywords. To analyze your competition’s body text.
intext:       keyword Pages that have text that contains your keyword. To analyze your competition’s body text.
  stem     keyword Pages that contain the keyword and the keyword with different endings. To analyze your competition’s use of stemming.
      keyword Pages that contain the keyword and synonyms for the keyword. To analyze your competition’s use of synonyms.

Plus, Yahoo has additional feature: and region: operators that let you search for a keyword within a website with certain features or inside a specific region.

Yahoo Search Terms Search Results
feature:acrobat keyword Pages that contain your keyword and links to Adobe Acrobat files.
feature:applet keyword Pages that contain your keyword and embedded Java applets.
feature:activex keyword Pages that contain your keyword and ActiveX controls or layouts
feature:audio keyword Pages that contain your keyword and links to audio files.
feature:flash keyword Pages that contain your keyword and Flash files or links to Flash files.
feature:form keyword Pages that contain your keyword and use forms.
feature:frame keyword Pages that contain your keyword and use frames.
feature:homepage keyword Pages that contain your keyword and are seen as personal pages because they use a tilde ~ in their directory structure.
feature:image keyword Pages that contain your keyword and gif, jpg and other image files.
feature:javascript keyword Pages that contain your keyword and JavaScript.
feature:index keyword Home pages that contain your keyword.
feature:meta keyword Pages that contain your keyword and meta tags. (Note: This does not show if sites have the keyword in their meta tags.)
feature:script keyword Pages that contain your keyword and embedded scripts.
feature:shockwave keyword Pages that contain your keyword and links to or has embedded shockwave files.
feature:table keyword Pages that contain your keyword and tables.
feature:video keyword Pages that contain your keyword and links to or embedded video files.
feature:vrml keyword Pages that contain your keyword and link to VRML files.

Yahoo Search Terms Search Results
region:africa keyword Pages that contain your keyword with African country extensions.
region:asia keyword Pages that contain your keyword with Asian country extensions.
region:centralamerica keyword Pages that contain your keyword with Central American country extensions.
region:downunder keyword Pages that contain your keyword with Australian, New Zealand and other country extensions.
region:europe keyword Pages that contain your keyword with European country extensions.
region:mediterranean keyword Pages that contain your keyword with Mediterranean country extensions.
region:mideast keyword Pages that contain your keyword with Mideastern country extensions.
region:northamerica keyword Pages that contain your keyword with North American country extensions.
region:southamerica keyword Pages that contain your keyword with South American country extensions.
region:southeastasia keyword Pages that contain your keyword with Southeast Asian country extensions.

Official Search Engine Operator Pages

Most search engines list advanced operators on their websites, just not to the extent that we have listed them above. If you have have never worked with advanced operators before, you should definitely check out:

for examples and searching tips directly from the search engines.