Anyone with access to a major search engine can execute powerful search queries and create custom search results pages with special text commands known as search modifiers.
The search engine results pages (SERPs) generated with typical keyword queries only scratch at the surface of the parsing capabilities that come packed into the Google and Bing search platforms.
What are Search Engine Modifiers?
Several major search platforms (including Google and Bing) can return ‘modified’ or ‘custom’ search results pages when normal keywords are combined and entered with specific text commands. We refer to these search engine text commands as advanced keyword search modifiers.
For example, if I zip on over to Google and place “related:” in front of The Wall Street Journal‘s web address and enter,
related:wsj.com, the results will look something like what we see in the screenshot below.
With the related modifier added to our keyword query, Google now returns a concise list of pages that are considered ‘related’ to WSJ,com.
Being that The Wall Street Journal is a publication centered on finance, it’s no surprise that Google returns a list of ‘related websites’ featuring content concerning or part of the international finance system.
Let’s now compare the modified search results from above with a standard search.
We find a vastly different and larger set of page results returned by Google when we simply enter “wsj.com“.
In the screenshot below, we find a much larger list of pages that begin relevant with the initial results and gradually become less relevant as we get deeper into the results pages.
For example, when researching a specific industry or market, I could use Google’s related search operator to get a sense of competition websites and overall saturation levels. I can also start to get a sense of how Google is categorizing a website in relation to its industry peers.
If I were to find that the list of ‘related’ sites was way off the mark in terms of relevance and related keyword targets, this could alert me to areas of a website that may need to be updated. I may identify areas of website content or structure that need to be overhauled.
Search Modifiers Have Many Names
Various terminology is used to describe the application of search engine modifiers to search queries.
Search operators, search modifiers, advanced search keywords, refined keyword searches, and advanced search options are just a few examples of the varied terminology.
These descriptors are referring to the same general principle; The process of adding a text prompt to a search engine keyword query to produce modified results listings.
Search queries are nothing new in the World of computing.
For anyone who works with or around databases, the notion of entering text commands to generate specific search results is not a foreign concept. It’s worth noting that the query results served by Google, Bing, and other search platforms, are akin to the results served via a standard database query.
Just like databases, the SERPs can be impacted using text commands. However, despite these similarities, there are major differences between search engines and databases, and it is here we’ll draw some important distinctions between the two.
Search Engines vs Databases: What are the differences?
Both search engines and databases are capable of searching and returning data with text queries, however, each relies on different models to achieve its end.
The term database refers to any type of structured information that is stored and searched electronically.
There are many distinct types of databases that allow for a wide scope of data storage. The types of data and functions performed on a database may go beyond that of what we consider a ‘search engine‘.
Before most databases can be leveraged for any type of practical purpose (such as providing a search that will return readable text) the information contained must be taken through any number of formatting processes.
Search engines, on the other hand, can parse several types of raw data. Most notably, search engines generate page list results with the use of algorithm technology. Apart from serving page listing results, search engines gather and store data on websites across the Internet. This data includes text, meta, images, products, etc. It’s safe to say that search engines utilize databases as a component of the overall functionality required to return the results to a search engine query.
It is the duty of algorithms to determine the quality and relevance of website data in near real-time with every search engine query.
The data computed by the search engine algorithms will determine which links, text, ads, images, products, and other website elements appear at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts, by and in large, are aimed at trying to appease search engine algorithms to achieve higher organic page rankings for targeted keyword searches.
With search engine modifiers, search engines provide researchers with additional tools that allow for the powerful, yet convenient parsing and populating of the data that directly impacts SEM & SEO efforts.
Google & Bing Search Modifiers
Search engine companies all differ in their approach to advanced text commands. The semantics surrounding ‘search modifiers’ will also vary from company to company.
Data is a dish often best served raw.
You’ll find there is no shortage of SaaS tools for SEM & SEO, and those can be great. But in many instances, we find some of our best and most reliable data is garnered straight from the source.
Search modifiers allow SEM & SEO researchers to tap into a plethora of priceless data. Much more data than could be touched upon in a reasonable amount of time for this single article, so it’s worth noting that the below is not an exhaustive list of modifiers or their applications. We’ll be returning to this topic repeatedly in our SEM Deep Dive knowledge base section.
Now let’s check out some of the most common search modifiers with a few examples from Google and Bing;
Google Search Operators
Search social media
An SEO project might use this social search operator to gather information on what Facebook trending topics are being ranked organically by Google.
Search a specific site
Place the term “
site:” in front of a URL. For example,
An SEO research project could use this search modifier to document a list of pages crawled by Google for a specific site or set of websites.
More Google Search Operators
Search for a price
$ in front of a number. Example:
# in front of a word. Example:
Exclude a word from a search
- in front of the word you’d like to omit. Example,
best cable -free
Search exact match
Place a keyword phrase inside quotes. Example,
Search a range of numbers
.. between two numbers. Example,
OR” between each query. Example,
tires OR wheels.
Search for a specific site
site:” in front of a site or domain. Example,
related:” in front of a web address you already know. Example,
View Google’s cached version of a site
cache:” in front of the URL.
intitle:” in front of the keyword search query to search for keywords contained in the titles of pages.
allintitle:” in front of the keyword search query to search page titles that contain all of the keywords.
inurl:” in front of the keyword search query to search for keywords contained in the URLs of pages.
allinurl:” in front of the keyword search query to search page URLs that contain all of the keywords.
intext:” in front of the keyword search query to search for keywords contained anywhere in the page content.
allintext:” in front of the keyword search query to search page content that contain all of the keywords.
Known as a ‘proximity search,’ to find pages containing two words or phrases within a certain number of words apart from one another. Add “
AROUND (your number)” between two search keywords. Example, “
mario AROUND(3) luigi“
In this example, we’d find results pages listed with the words “mario” and “luigi” contained in the text content but separated by no more than three words.
Search weather at a location
weather: in front of a search query. Example:
See stock information
stock: in front of a specific stock ticker symbol. Example:
Bing's Advanced Search Keywords
NOTE: Many of Google’s search operators will work with Bing and vice versa. Several modifiers are not available in specific countries and regions due to various restrictions. During our latest rounds of testing, we found that several Bing modifiers were no longer available for use with searches originating from the USA (as of December of 2022). To avoid confusion, we excluded any keyword modifiers that we found were no longer functioning.
Search a specific location
Let us cruise on over to Bing.com and put a location code in from of search.
This modifier will return webpages from a specific country or region using “
location:” or “
loc:” with a region or country code.
For example, to see webpages from Great Britain, you’d include”
loc:GB “To see results from Great Britain about new cars, you’d use “
loc:GB new cars“
filetype: with a filename type in combination with a keyword to return webpages with the filetype that you specify.
seo audit filetype:pdf
More Bing Advanced Keywords
intitle: with a keyword to return only webpages with the keyword that you specify in the title.
Search IP address
Finds sites that are hosted by a specific IP address. The IP address must be a dotted quad address.
Finds pages on a specific domain.
feed: returns the URLs for RSS or Atom feeds relating to the search term.
feed:search engine optimization