What is Google-Fu? — and How to Search with Google

I am grateful to have grown up during the transition of the digital age where schools moved students with malleable minds towards the use and reliance of the all-powerful computer.

In elementary school, my generation started learning how to use the first generation of Microsoft Office applications and floppy disks, and in middle school we needed to spice up reports with a mix of library books and online articles. Once I reached high school, Google was your mandatory best friend. Everyone in college recognized it as a hero.

Over 90% of the world now uses this search engine for various things, from product searching to cooking to life stuff. For some careers, especially in IT and cybersecurity, we also rely on this online resource to succeed in our work. But do you know how to effectively use Google Search?

Google Search — we just want to be able to tell if the tomatoes in the fridge are going bad!

We all probably share a moment of frustration trying to desperately find something online only to receive some wacky or interesting results instead…

Here is where Google-Fu, the art of Google searching like a pro, comes into play.

Below are some basic tips to get started with a better experience on the most widely-used search engine, sorry Bing. Also, try testing out the example text inside the outer-most quotes (e.g. “test me!”) via Google Search.

Narrow Down, and Order

The first and most fundamental thing to know is that you don’t need to literally enter what you want to search for in the search bar. What a relief! “Google, can you let me know what the weather is for Seattle, Washington?” is the same as “weather Seattle WA”. In fact, the less is better as more words may confuse Google and bring up some other bizarre results…

Hopefully someone remembers this one. Thanks, Meme Generator.

Order is also very important — (e.g. “Green Sea” vs “Sea Green”)

Also, there are some keywords you can use to pull up some basic information. Try some searches with the following:

  • movies <your zipcode> (e.g. “movies 89131”)
  • stocks (e.g. “stocks amd”)
  • package tracking (enter your package number in the search bar)
  • translate (e.g. “translate entschuldigung english”)

After getting comfortable with the basics, we can move on to the fun stuff!

Quotes and Other Symbols

Periods, exclamation points, and other snazzy sentence-spicing statement symbols are generally ignored by Google Search. Typing “HELP!” won’t return anything different from “…help?”. However, using other symbols, we can narrow down a search to be efficient.

Try these out:

  • Quotes “” will specify for Google to find the exact phrase or word(s). For this example, you will need the quotes included
    (e.g. “where is my phone”)
  • Number Range .. returns a range of numbers in the search results
    (e.g. “Obama mic drop 2010..2016”)
  • Asterisks * can be used to substitute a “wildcard” word or combination between two words
    (e.g. “cats * dogs”)
  • The hyphen — can be used to omit a word from a search
    (e.g. “bass -guitar”)
  • Two periods .. can be used to define a range between two years
    (e.g. “ted talk quiet 2012 .. 2016”)
  • Plus sign + tells the search to include a keyword
    (e.g. “Chernobyl +deer”, try without using + to see how results can differ)

Search Operators

Using Search Operators seems a bit more advanced, but can help save some time by really narrowing down searches based on an article name, desired site, etc.

  • allintext: | allintitle: tells the search to include every word specified that is found in the text body or title of a webpage.
    (E.g. “allintext:scale,test,banana” | “allintitle:cats,happy”)
  • intitle: specifies title of webpage you wish to have returned.
    (E.g. “intitle:Google-Fu”)
  • inurl: specifies text in a URL you wish to have returned.
    (E.g. “inurl:book”)
  • cache: returns the most recent cached version of a page
    (E.g. “cache:tryhackme.com”)
  • define: returns the definition of a word.*
    (E.g. “define:voracious”)
    *Entering the word alone in the search bar can also return the definition, but that is not guaranteed.
  • filetype: specifies the type of file desired.
    (E.g. “filetype:JPEG”)
  • link: finds a page containing the specified link.
    (E.g. “medium link:tryhackme.com”)
  • related: returns websites similar to the one queried.
    (E.g. “related:nytimes.com”)
  • site: returns results from the specified URL, can also be used to search a particular site for keywords.
    (E.g. “site:www.wikipedia.org” | “Patrick Mahomes site:nfl.com”)

Calculating & Mathematics

Some may not know this, but Google also functions as a calculator:

  • +-*/ can be used to add, subtract, multiply, and divide (respectively)
  • % of returns a percentage of a number (e.g. 8% of 60 will return 4.8)
  • cos() sin() tan() etc. return trigonometric values
  • Units of measure and currency can also be converted
    (e.g. “4 oz to cups” | “1 usd to gbp”)

There are plenty of Search Operators and combinations available that can be used which were not covered here. With your newly-found Google talents, hopefully you have a better idea of how to navigate this search engine and join the savvy 1% of internet users out there.

Want to keep learning about Search Operators? Check out some of these resource pages (more to be added later):

Upcoming infosec professional with a passion for learning and reading all things computers, gaming, art, and cats. https://tryhackme.com/p/awildespurr