How to get better search results in Google

Try these refinements to your keyword search to improve the relevance of Google search results.

A keyword search on Google.com can be a great way to learn more about many topics. Enter a few terms and receive results in under a second or so. Typically, the displayed results will either give you the answer you seek or provide a link to a relevant page.

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But when you want to explore a topic in depth, you can improve the usefulness of your results with a few simple search techniques. For example, I was helping a non-profit organization identify potential case management software solutions. The basic search of the three keywords returned more than 2 billion results. A few search refinements narrowed the results to just over 76,000.

The following five-step approach will help you refine your search with the use of quotes to group terms, combined with methodical exclusion and inclusion of keywords.

1. Adjust Google search settings

For serious searching, I suggest you modify your default Google search preferences (Figure A). While on Google.com in a desktop-class browser, select Settings (lower right corner) then Search Settings. In most organizational environments, I recommend the following adjustments:

Enable SafeSearch to exclude explicit content from the results,Adjust the number of results per page to 50 to display a significant number of results,Select “Do not show popular searches” to reduce the impact of trending topics, andSelect the “Open each selected result in a new browser window” so you may explore links without having to repeatedly re-enter your search.

Scroll to the bottom of the page and select Save after you make these changes.

Figure A

2. Put search keyword phrase(s) in quotes

When you enter your initial search, put quotes around keywords to indicate a specific phrase (Figure B). In my example, results for three keywords with no quotes (i.e., case management software) return more than 6 billion results. Why? Because a page only needs to have any one of those three terms on it to merit inclusion. Results for the three keywords placed in quotes (i.e., “case management software”) requires a page to contain these three specific words in sequence. In this example, the use of quotes narrows the number of results to a little less than 2.3 million. 

You may use multiple sets of quotes to return links to pages that contain both phrases (e.g., “quantum computing” “quantum supremacy”).

Review the returned results — all the way to the bottom of the page. If you detect several results that are not what you want, make a note of common keywords in these unwanted results.

Figure B

3. Exclude certain results with –

Next, modify your search a bit. After your initial keyword phrase (or phrases) in quotes, add a – followed by a word you noted in the undesirable results. In my example, “case…

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