Hello, search operators.

SEO expertise isn’t only about high-level strategy, it’s also about muscle memory. That’s what Google search operators essentially are: our most basic of digital reflexes. With them, digital marketers efficiently sift through information, switch between perspectives, and diagnose problems.

It can be difficult to slow down and learn a new habit, but it’s worth it. The advanced search operators save you time and make you nimble. To make the process more palatable, we’ve rounded up the seven Google search operators that we find indispensably helpful.

1) Define:

If you’ve ever been on the internet for longer than five minutes, you know that it’s a treasure chest of weird and wonderful marketing innovations. One beloved marketing tactic is combining two generally liked but dissimilar items. Take, for example, chocolate bacon.

By using the define: search operator with any term you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll get a dictionary definition (or due to its novelty in this case, Wikipedia). Oftentimes you’ll get back a SERP bundle: the origin of the word, an option to translate, and the word’s use over time.

Define: is a useful stepping stone for quickly orienting yourself with SEO terminology, and potentially tracking the use of SEO buzzwords. (Search define:cache and you’ll see roughly when the term took on its popular digital definition.)

2) Inanchor:

The Chocolator is an (inedible) calculator that looks and smells like chocolate. To find the authority on the Chocolator on the web, we can search for sites that are receiving branded backlinks with the inanchor: operator.

The sites that appear in the results have links with “chocolator” in the anchor text directed towards their page. The inanchor: operator is a good way to start link prospecting. For in-depth suggestions, check out Garrett French’s Search Engine Watch article.

3) Site: / -Site:

Let’s not forget that, wildly successful as Cadbury has made them, chocolate eggs are not actually found in nature. We can use the site: search operator to look at what Cadbury has to say about its own product (Cadbury eggs site:Cadbury.co.uk) or what everyone except Cadbury has to say about it: (Cadbury eggs –site:Cadbury.co.uk). Another useful iteration gives you Cadbury’s subdomains:

Use this search operator to filter for topics, find mentions and identify copied content.Site: can also give you a rough estimate of pages that are indexed on that domain. For more accuracy, you’ll have to use Google Webmaster Tools.

4) Cache:

See your site through Google’s eyes with the cache: operator. After you type in your cache: search operator and URL, Google will take you straight to indexed version of your page, rather than to a standard SERP. Make sure you don’t use a space after the colon.

cache: google search operator example
Results for cache: http://thatslikewhoa.com/swiss-chocolate-knife

This search operator can help you verify that your content is being crawled, and how often. If cache: does uncover a problem, you can manually request that Google crawl the page.

5) Filetype:

If you’re auditing a site, you need to be certain you track down the whole range of files hosted on the domain. That’s what makes the filetype: search operator so handy. You can restrict this with the site: search operator, or just search the web generally.

filetype: google search operator

6) Intitle:

As SEOs know, title tags are an aspect of the page that matters to the Google algorithm. It follows, then, that a great way to track the competitive use of keywords you’re targeting is to use the intitle: search operator.

Here’s the competition for that breakneck chocolate cologne corner of the market:

intitle: search operator example

There are other, similar search operators; use inurl: to search for terms in urls, and intext: to search through page copy.

Arguably as desirable as chocolate, backlinks are bread and butter for an SEO. The link: search operator will show pages that point to the URL that you specify. Use the –site operator to exclude your (or your competitor’s) domain from the SERP. So, who, exactly, is talking about (and linking to) chocolate sushi couture? (We own that in this case, chocolate sushi refers to a clothing brand.)

link: google search operator

Like the other Google search operators, link: provides a sampling of results, it is not comprehensive. Search operators are shorthand; an in-depth audit or competitor SEO analysis requires more time and resources. Still, these can help you initially orient, maneuver, and make calculations.

Let us know how you use these and other search operators on Twitter or in the comments. And good luck out there.

chocolate bar