While Google isn't in any danger of being dethroned as the go-to search portal of choice for most people, results on the site are definitely more hit and miss than they used to be. A typical Google results page these days is packed with advertisements, recommended results, and websites that are the best at search engine optimization rather than the most reliable, accurate answers to your questions.
To get good results out of Google, you need to go beyond simply typing out a few keywords and hoping for the best. Using the tips we've outlined below, you should be able to find what you're after faster and more easily.
Run More Specific Searches
One of the most effective ways to narrow your search is to put your search terms inside quotation marks: From song lyrics to movie titles, this can cut a lot of the clutter from results pages, because Google knows exactly what you're looking for. It's particularly effective when the keywords in your search aren't often used together.
By putting a minus ("–") sign immediately before a keyword, you can exclude results that include that word. This works really well when you want to avoid a particular association that your other keywords have, or you want to filter out a news story that's dominating the headlines (and the search results.) On the flip side, add a plus ("+") sign in front of words you definitely do want to include and match (by default, Google can treat some of your keywords as optional.)
In general, the more keywords you use in your search, the better. You may think that Google knows what you're looking for just from one or two terms, but you'd be surprised at how much better the results are if you are more specific. This can really help when you're getting a lot of hits that aren't closely related to what you hope to find.
Focus on Individual Sites
A lot of the time you'll want Google to scour the entire web for search results, but not always. If there's a particular site you want to look at or that you trust above all others, type site: followed by its main URL after the keywords you're looking for. Google will return only results from that specific domain.
This can be handy when looking up results on Wikipedia, for example. Running a regular search might well bring up a lot of sponsored, optimized, and biased sites ahead of the online encyclopedia, but if you add "site:wikipedia.org" you'll get results only from Wikipedia—and you can still take advantage of Google's excellent capabilities when it comes to search and page ranking.
The same trick works for just about any site that you consider to be an authority. You might want to focus on a certain news site that you trust, for example, or maybe you want to see results from an official website related to your search rather than matches from elsewhere on the web.
Use the Advanced Search Tools
In your haste to search the web, you might not have noticed the small cog icon at the top right of the Google search results page. Click this and then choose Advanced search, and you get access to a whole host of additional parameters that will make your searches more precise and effective.
You can use the Advanced Search page to include or exclude certain words, as we've already mentioned. You're also able to restrict your results to a particular language or a particular region—again, helpful when you're getting a lot of redundant results. Another useful option here is the file type drop-down list, which lets you look for PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, GIFs in image search, and other file types rather than webpages.
The Advanced Search page also has options for showing pages that have been updated recently, for looking for keywords in a particular part of a website, and for returning content that's got a Creative Commons license attached to it. Once you start using these advanced features, you might wonder how you ever did without them.
Add More Search Operators
You can deploy a number of search operators to dig deeper into Google results and to return page matches that you otherwise wouldn't get. Put "OR" between your keywords to search for several different terms at once that don't have to all be matched. Alternatively, use the asterisk ("*") as a wildcard that Google will use to return all the most popular hits for—"how to learn * on YouTube" for example.
Use the "before:" and "after:" operators to limit results by a specific date (the Tools button on the results page gives you the same options), which is very handy for cutting out very recent or very old results. If you want to search social media, use the hashtag (#) symbol to look for hashtags, and if you're interested in the price of something, put a dollar sign ($) followed by the number that reflects the budget you're working to.
You can actually look for matches that cover a range of numbers: Try "camera $50…$100" for example, replacing the keyword and price bracket with whatever you want. Finally, you can look for results on a site related to another site by putting "related:" followed by the URL at the end of your search query.