If you’re like me, you use Google every day to find things—news, technical support, events, tips, research documents and more.

Were you to master Google’s powerful search refinement operators and lesser-known features, over a year’s time you could save days scouring over irrelevant results. Perhaps even more enticing is the promise of elusive nuggets of market research and competitive intelligence out there waiting to be discovered. This five-part series will show you how to find what you need quickly and with laser-like accuracy.

With over 6 billion documents in its index, Google is a veritable treasure trove of information. Yet finding just the right document out of those billions—the one that answers your question—can be daunting. There’s good news for you, however. The search results you seek are about to rise to the top of the results, thanks to some of Google’s search-refinement operators that I’ll talk about here, in part one, titled “15 Ingredients to More Refined Searches.”

Next week, I’ll introduce you to the world of Google’s advanced search operators, such as filetype:, intitle:, inurl:, site:, and daterange:. And in part 3, we will address various features available from Google’s interface, such as Search Within Results, Similar Pages, SafeSearch filtering, spelling corrections, “I’m Feeling Lucky” and the Advanced Search page.

Part four will cover Google’s many other search properties, including Google News, Google Local, Google Personalized, Froogle, Google Directory, Google Catalogs, Google Groups and Google Images.

Finally, in the five and final part you can look forward to learning all about third-party tools and resources that enhance Google searching in various amazing ways.

15 Ingredients to More Refined Searches

If your search yields millions of search results, your search query is probably too broad. Rather than culling through pages and pages of search results, use these 15 ingredients to refine your search:

  1. Multiple words: Avoid making one-word queries.

  2. Case insensitivity: There’s no need to capitalize.

  3. Stop words: Drop overly common words.

  4. Exact phrase: Put quotes around phrases.

  5. Word order: Order your words in the order you think they would appear in the documents you’re looking for.

  6. Singular versus plural: Use plural if you think the word will appear in that form in the documents you’re looking for.

  7. Proximity: Words close together in your search will favor documents with those words close together in the text.

  8. Wildcard: * can substitute for a whole word in an exact phrase search.

  9. Number range: .. between numbers will match on numbers within that range.

  10. Punctuation: A hyphenated search word will also yield pages with the un-hyphenated version. Not so with apostrophes.

  11. Accents: Don’t incorporate accents into search words if you don’t think they’ll appear in the documents you’re looking for.

  12. Boolean logic: Use OR, NOT, (), |, and - to fine-tune your search.

  13. Stemming: Google may also match on variations of your search word unless you tell it otherwise by preceding the word with +

  14. Synonyms: ~ in front of a word will also match on other words that Google considers to be synonymous or related.

  15. Query length: 10 words are the maximum for a Google query.

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Stephan Spencer is the founder of Science of SEO and an SEO expert, author, and speaker.

LinkedIn: Stephan Spencer

Twitter: @sspencer