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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 11 Issue 12
December 2017
Google: How to Search Inside a Specific Web Site Using the "site:" Operator

The problem

Have you ever visited a web site, tried to use its built-in search function, but were confused or frustrated by the results? You clicked in the site's Search box, typed a keyword or two, and clicked the Search button, but you didn't find what you're looking for among the results. This would have been especially frustrating if you were trying to return to an interesting product or article that you had previously seen on that web site.

Wouldn't it be great if you could somehow make that web site's search function work better?

Wouldn't it be great if there were a consistent, uniform way to search inside any web site?

The solution

Some of the most popular search engines already have a solution to this problem.

Google, Bing, and Yahoo all offer the special operator "site:" that you can use to restrict their search results to a particular web site. You simply add a keyword like the following to any search query:


Note that there should be no spaces between the colon (:) and the web site address, and it doesn't matter where you put "site:example.com" in your list of keywords.

Like any other search-language keyword, you can also use this on other sites that serve as a "front end" to Google, Bing, and Yahoo, including http://www.startpage.com, http://duckduckgo.com, and others.

Using the "site:" operator

If you go to google.com, bing.com, or yahoo.com
and search for: junk email
you'll find millions of web pages containing the words "junk" and "email."

However, if you search for: junk email site:kadansky.com
you'll find 6 web pages on kadansky.com containing the words "junk" and "email."

That's how powerful the "site:" operator is.

Here are more examples:
  • standard mileage rate 2018 site:irs.gov
  • buy cable modem site:comcast.net
  • site:microsoft.com error 0x800CCC0D
Searching with more control than a web site's built-in search

If you go to amazon.com
and search for: sweater wool
you'll find tens of thousands of matches.

But suppose you don't like wool.
If you go to amazon.com
and search for: sweater not wool
or: sweater and not wool
or: sweater NOT wool
or: sweater -wool
you'll still find thousands of matches on amazon.com, including many wool sweaters, which seems to indicate that Amazon's search function doesn't have any way to "exclude" matches from its search.

However, Google, Bing, and Yahoo have a "not" operator (the "minus sign") which you can combine with "site:" to perform such a search:
Search for: site:amazon.com sweater -wool
and you'll find thousands of web pages on amazon.com containing the word "sweater" but not the word "wool."

Looking at the results, you'll then probably want to refine your search further to exclude other types of wool.
Search for: site:amazon.com sweater -wool -cashmere


Using the "site:" search operator is useful, but it's subject to the same limitations that you'll experience using any search engine, so it won't work (or give you the results you might expect) on every web site, including:
  • A web site that has changed since the last time that the search engine has examined its contents. This problem will clear up once the search engine gets around to that web site again, but you may not be able to predict when that will happen.
  • Web sites with password-protected or paid content, which don't permit search engines like Google to index their restricted pages.
  • Very private web sites whose owners don't permit indexing by search engines at all.
Where to go from here
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2017 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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