They are called advanced search operators, and are very specific commands that allow us to filter, deepen and refine our online searches. In addition to being useful for standard navigation, these commands are particularly interesting to observe the search results with professional purposes and meet various SEO needs, because they allow you to get more granular and hyper-focused answer.

How to use advanced search operators for SEO

To put it in simpler terms, Google’s advanced search helps us fine-tune searches to find exactly what we are looking for. Knowing how to exploit these commands is particularly useful if we want to quickly find small, but valuable information directly on the search page of Google, without relying on external tools.

For instance, advanced search operators on Google can help us filter and refine searches to find duplicate content that could damage the site rankings, uncover internal link opportunities that we have overlooked or, still, spy on competitor strategies and spot guest post opportunities in our niche.

Main Google advanced search operators

It is directly Google to give some indication on the use of its advanced search operators, with a guide that lists the most common parameters that we can use in search queries to analyze in more depth particular aspects of a site and launch a filtered scan of the content inserted in the Index of the search engine.

We already know, for example, the site command: which can be used to check if the pages of the site are properly indexed on Google (but not only, as we are going to see), as well as multiple functions for image search and those to perfect the answers of the search engine with prices (£ symbol in front of a number), hashtags (# symbol in front of a word) or to search on social (@ symbol in front of a word).

The list is long, but there are at least 10 advanced search operators that the SEO should know and master to refine the answers and find exactly what they need to improve their work and strategy.

direttamente Google a dare qualche indicazione sull’utilizzo dei suoi operatori di ricerca avanzata, con una guida che elenca i parametri più comuni che possiamo usare nelle query di ricerca per analizzare in maniera più approfondita particolari aspetti di un sito e lanciare una scansione filtrata dei contenuti inseriti nell’Indice del motore di ricerca.

The site: operator for searches about the single site

The first operator to know is the already mentioned site: command of site search, which allows us to recover the results from a single website that we enter in the search query.

All we have to do, as explained by Aditya Sheth on Search Engine Watch, is to type on Google, without using spaces between the symbol or the word and the search term (it is not valid, then, the command site: nor any http://, https:// or www prefixes.

If at the basic level this function allows you to discover all the pages of the site that are properly indexed, by inserting a keyword we have access to much more interesting and useful data for SEO. For example, we can find out if (and how many) indexed content has the site for a specific keyword and what kind of coverage it has devoted to a topic, and then skim with a simple click all the content of a site and have an idea of both its editorial strategy, or any holes in the content.

The quotation marks to find an exact match

There is a big difference between searching on Google a word simply entered in the bar and enclosing it instead between double quotes: as the screen shows, just look at the number of results to understand it immediately.

Differenze tra ricerca su Google con e senza virgolette

The classic quotes “” are useful to limit the answers only to the results that present an exact match of the inserted terms, that is that they bring back in the text the key phrase to which we are interested mentioned exactly as we have written it (without any variation). This operator is also particularly powerful to identify if our site has duplicate content that could sabotage rankings.

The asterisk to widen the search

If we are not interested in an exact query, but on the contrary we intend to find wider sentences, we can use the asterisk * within the phrase to obtain further declinations of the query, which include any search term other than those typed.

The minus dash to exclude a term

The – (minus dash) advanced search operator allows you to exclude certain keywords from display in search results and is useful for perfecting our query.

The plus operator to include other specific terms

In the exact opposite mode, the + (mathematical sign plus) operator allows you to add words to the original query and get a different set of results.

To understand how to exploit these operators we see the image below, in which the author used the site operators: less and more in combination to “find articles that relate strictly to search engine marketing but not to SEO on the blog Search Engine Watch”.

Esempio dell'uso di operatori di ricerca avanzata

Performing a search in the cache stored copy

By typing cache: in front of the site address we can view the latest version of a site stored in the Google cache, a useful feature to find articles that are temporarily unreachable or deleted.

Using advanced search to find correlated sites

It does not always work for all sites, but if we use the related: operator in front of a web address that we already know we could get a list of “competitors”, or rather sites that Google identifies as belonging to the same topic.

Searches inside the title or URL with dedicated commands

Two other useful operators are inurl: and intitle: that have a similar operation; with inurl: we can view all pages that have in the URL the term inserted, while intitle: performs the same search on pages that have the term present in the title tag.

To find a specific file format

If you are looking for a file with a specific non-HTML format, simply enter the filetype: command in the search bar followed by the file extension (such as PDF, PPT, DOC or XLS) to get the relative results. It is a useful function especially when combined with the site: command so to perform this search on a single specific site.

Advanced search and SEO, 6 easy tactics to improve strategies

Now that we know a (minimal) part of Google’s list of advanced search operators (here on Moz’s site there is a wider list), we can take advantage of them to access exactly what we are looking for and waste less time searching.

In particular, these commands can help us to quickly perform 6 tactics and SEO tasks that will help our visibility gaining strategy on Google.

  1. To quickly analyze competitors

A first practical and useful possibility is to exploit Google’s advanced search operators to conduct basic analysis on competition: nothing to do with the depth of competitor analysis of tools like SEOZoom, but the information obtained in this way may still prove valuable.

What we need to do is to use the related: search operator followed by the URL of a website our competitor, which allows as said to find sites closely related to a specific URL, obtaining a list not only of direct competitors, but also of other sites “indirect peripherals” we don’t know.

Moreover, this operator also helps us understand how Google classifies our site and those of competitors, coming to have a better understanding of the competition regarding SEO.

  1. Spying on the competitors’ content strategy

Still on the topic of competition monitoring, the use of advanced search operators offers us a practical way to spy on the content strategy of competitors, simply by combining the site: command with the date range filter (for customized days, months or time periods) present in Google’s advanced tools.

In the example provided by the American article, the author focused on the production of content on the Piktochart site, limiting the search to the only results related to the blog by entering as url the subdomain /blog instead of the general website.

The first information we got was that there are 790 indexed pages of their blog, but using the tool to fix a specific range of give we can further analyze these results and identify which content they have published only in the last month, thus obtaining information about Piktochart’s content strategy and the keywords to which it turns its attention.

If we then include an exact matching keyword (then, in quotes), this analysis becomes even more in-depth, as in the example on the focus on “content marketing”, which allows us to find out how much content Piktochart has published on a given topic and then guess their strategy of topic cluster.

Ultimately, the combined use of Google advanced search operators as site: plus “” plus time filters allows us to get information on:

  • How much content has published a site competitor to date.
  • The frequency with which it publishes new content in a given period of time.
  • What kind of content you publish in a given range.
  • How many times the competitor wrote on a given topic / keyword.
  1. Finding guest posting opportunities

Guest posting continues to be a common solution to increase site authority and get quality traffic, collect valuable backlinks and place us better on Google (obviously without “miracles” nor prohibited techniques).

Google’s advanced search operators offer several ways to discover guest blogging opportunities in our niche or industry, thanks to the use of some targeted advanced search queries.

For example, Sheth recommends to use the following formulas:

  • Keyword of primary site interest plus “guest post opportunities” (e.g., SEO “guest post opportunities”)
  • Keyword plus “guest post”
  • Keyword plus “submit guest post”
  • Keyword plus “submit blog post”
  • Keyword plus intitle:“write for us”
  • Keyword plus intitle:“guest post guidelines”
  1. Internal linking missed opportunities

Internal linking plays a small but important role in the ranking factors that determine positioning on Google, as well as representing a way to improve the user’s browsing experience.

Regardless of how well designed and easy it can be to navigate our site, organizing a large internal link structure can make the difference in driving traffic from one post to another throughout your blog, and at the same time creates a relevance of the topics by creating supporting content for the main topics of the domain.

The advanced search on Google with the site: operator allows us to find topics related to a keyword that we can link in other content or, on the contrary, allows us to find occurrences in which we mentioned in the past the keyword of the new article, which we can then add to create a good link structure (as also suggested in our recent article about the SEO value of a site structure without errors).

  1. Identifying duplicate content on the site

We define duplicate content the ones appearing in more than one location within a website or multiple sites; such technical error – frequent for blogs with thousands of pages or e-commerce sites with the same product descriptions – can confuse search engines when it comes to deciding which page to rank higher, creating the problem known as cannibalization.

To provide an example of duplicate content, the author shows the effects of searching for a short copy of the Apple Airpods product description from the Walmart site, entered into the search bar using the site operator: to investigate the exact match. It emerges that the same piece of text appears on six other pages of Walmart, a scenario that is certainly not ideal.

But the next discovery is worse, made by performing the analysis no longer on the single site but on the entire Web (using the command to exclude Walmart): there are in fact about 19 thousand websites that use the same expression, thus creating duplicate content.

  1. Recovering opportunities on missing content

The last trick presented by the article is about using the filetype: advanced search operator, which can help us find non-HTML content on your site, such as Word documents or PDF files, which are not optimized for search (for example, Analytics does not show and calculate the traffic that generates these files) and that should never be the only version of the content (but an alternative, printable and downloadable version of HTML content).

Learning how to master Google search

Knowing what to look for and how to look for it with the help of Google’s advanced search operators will help us harness the true power of Google and, not a secondary element, to grow our site.

Google’s advanced search is not just a fun skill that we can learn to use in our free time, but a real SEO tool that can help us discover hidden opportunities in plain sight and be more effective in our work, to tinker with Google’s algorithms and keep up with the latest search trends.


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