Google's reach into the depths of the internet seems unlimited. Enter practically any term and you'll find a page that matches what you're interested in. I often think about how rare it is to have to venture beyond the first couple of results.
But, sometimes you want to niche down and focus on results from a single web domain. Instead of scouring the entire internet, you might want to just scan a single URL for results that match your term. If you already know what you're looking for, using a Google site search can yield the fastest and most accurate results.
While Google certainly shines for its ease of use and simplicity, the search engine does feature some more advanced options hiding below the surface. In this tutorial, I'm going to teach you how to perform a Google site search. We'll also cover advanced techniques so that you spend less time searching and more time on the content you find. Let's dive in!
Watch & Learn
The quick screencast below will show you how to perform a Google site search. Learning how to Google search a specific website ensures that you can spend less time scouring for what you're looking for and get back to task. In the screencast below, I'll show you how to do just that and focus on a single domain.
Want to learn more? Read on in the rest of this tutorial to see the illustrated guide to advanced Google site search.
Why You Should Do Google Site Searches
As mentioned in the intro to this tutorial, there are other ways to search with Google than letting it crawl the entire web. You can focus your search on a single domain, like tutsplus.com for example, and only return results from the matching domain.
Even though Google typically helps me find the correct content right away, it can't always pinpoint something specific that I might have seen earlier while web browsing. In my mind, there are two great reasons to do a Google site search:
- You remember the website you saw the content on, but not the specifics of the page. In this case, searching for the content with a single domain focus can help you pinpoint what you're looking for much more quickly.
The site you're searching has poor (or no) search functionality, and it's much easier to outsource the work of digging through a site's hierarchy to find what you're looking for to Google. Let's face it: the search feature on most websites doesn't work nearly as well as Google does, so use a Google site search instead.
In either case, it's easy to Google search a single website so that you don't have to sift through many pages of results. Keep reading to find out how.
How to Perform a Google Site Search
If you use Google, you're used to typing in your search terms at Google.com, or perhaps right into your web browser's URL box. You hit return, and boom! The entire Internet's results are at your fingertips.
But sometimes, those results are so lengthy and broad that you need a way to refine the results. You've returned so much data that you now have to spend time scrolling and reviewing a lengthy list of results. In contrast, searching specific websites for results can greatly reduce the number of results and therefore, the amount of time it takes to find what you're looking for.
Searching specific sites comes down to restricting the URLs that are included in the search. Let's walk through an example.
If I wanted to search for PowerPoint results that are only published on the Tuts+ network, here's the term that I would enter:
PowerPoint tutorials site:tutsplus.com
The "site:tutsplus.com" at the end of that search term is where the magic happens. Instead of searching over the entire web, Google will only search on the domain you specify with the "site:" operator.
In the case of sites like Tuts+, there are many subdomains that we publish across, like Business (at business.tutsplus.com) or Computer Skills (at computers.tutsplus.com.) The search term that I showed in the example above searched all of the subdomains.
If you wanted to refine your search even further and focus in on only a single one of those subdomains, here's an example of the search term that you can enter:
PowerPoint tutorials site:business.tutsplus.com
This search will return content only from the Business section of the site instead of the broader Tuts+ network. Large sites with many subdomains really benefit from this more specific search approach.
Advanced Google Search Features
Still not finding what you're looking for? No worries, Google has more advanced features that can help you home in on the content you've got in mind.
Search for Specific Phrases
Sometimes, I find myself remembering really specific phrases from articles I read. An author will word something in a way that makes perfect sense and that sticks with me.
This search technique is one of the most important ones to find exactly what you're looking for using a phrase. To search for a specific phrase, simply bracket it in quotation marks, such as:
"add animations in Keynote"
You can also combine this with a specific URL search to refine your results:
"add animations in Keynote" site:tutsplus.com
When you use this search operator, your search results will only include pages that contain this exact phrase. If the site had the term "add animations in Apple Keynote," it wouldn't be included in the search results because of the difference in search terms.
Sometimes, I know exactly what I'm not looking for. In these cases, it helps to search a website with Google and exclude specific phrases or results. By using the "-" (minus sign) in front of a URL or phrase, you can exclude results from Google's list of results.
There are a few ways you can use this technique. First, you can exclude all sites from a specific search if you know a site that isn't helpful to your search. For example, I often will skip YouTube tutorials because I prefer written versions of instructions. To exclude an entire domain, here's a search phrase I could use:
PowerPoint tutorials -site:youtube.com
You could add multiple operators to this exclusion if you want to skip over multiple domains:
PowerPoint tutorials -site:youtube.com -site:tutsplus.com
Exclude specific phrases from a search result with this type of search term. This totally excludes any pages that would contain the "PowerPoint for Mac" phrase within them.
PowerPoint tutorials -"PowerPoint for Mac" -site:youtube.com
I don't typically advocate for being negative, but these operators will help you exclude the cruft from your search.
Searching in Titles, Text, and URLs
Let's get really advanced by specifying if we're searching the page title, text, and URL. Just to level our understanding here, these are the differences in those terms:
- Titles. The page's title shows in the search results, as well as on your web browser tab. It might not actually be anywhere on the page itself.
- Text. In this case, the text refers to any of the text that's on the page in the body of the article or page.
- URLs. URLs have dashes between the words in them, but you can still search for specific words in a site's URL to find matching results.
The good news is that Google is smart enough to parse these separately, which means that you can search rather specifically over these parts.
To search within an article's title, try this term out. If the header tags of an article include this text, Google will include it in your search results.
To search within the body of an article, you can use the intext phrase at the start of a search term. This is helpful to home in on the text included in the body of a post instead of the title or URL.
And finally, try out searching the terms included in a site's URL with the following structure:
Again, you can combine these with other techniques in this tutorial. Try searching within the text or title and also adding a specific domain that you'll search over to really refine the results that Google will show in the search results.
Make sure to check out Bob Flisser's tutorial below that touches on these advanced techniques and others. Learning a few extra Google tricks can help you spend less time searching around.
Search sometimes seems like magic. How do pages end up at the top of the results? What other search engines are worth checking out? For a look at those questions and more, check out the other featured learning resource on the Tuts+ network below:
- The State of SEO in 2018Kevin Vertommen14 Feb 2018
- How to Change the Web Browser Default Search Engine in OS XJohnny Winter20 Jan 2016
- How to Set Up Custom Searches in SafariHarry Guinness24 Mar 2016
How do you find something specific or unique when searching online? Let me know in the comments section below if you've got a favorite tip to share with other Tuts+ readers.