Search Operators are powerful tools which give us more control over our search results. They are specially formatted words and symbols which when used with search engines yield different results to what we would normally get with just a free text search.
Search Operators are often referred to as ‘query modification tools’ or ‘boolean operators’. The term ‘boolean’ comes from the 19th century logician George Boole and is used to describe operations involving two or more variables. The two main types of search operators are prefix and suffix operators, and they’re often used in combination with each other, depending on what type of results you’re looking for.
Prefix operators are used at the beginning of a query and precede words and phrases in the query. They include all the most common search engine operators, like AND, OR and NOT, as well as the more specific LIKE, NEAR and BEYOND operators. They can help refine your search results by narrowing them down, or by eliminating terms that would return irrelevant results.
There are three main prefix operators that are used most commonly when using a search engine:
AND: This is the most basic prefix operator, and it’s used to combine two or more search terms. It will find only results that include all of the words specified. For example, if you searched for “dog AND toy”, the search engine would only return results that include both those words.
OR: The OR operator is used to indicate to the search engine that you want to find results that include either of the search terms you’ve specified. For example, if you searched for “dog OR cat”, the search engine would return results that included either the word “dog” or the word “cat” or both.
NOT: The NOT operator is used to indicate to the search engine that you want to exclude a certain term from the results. For example, if you searched for “dog NOT toy”, the search engine will return results that include the word “dog” but not the word “toy”.
There are other less common prefix operators too, some of which are specific to particular search engines, but these three are the most widely used.
Suffix operators are used at the end of your query and can help narrow down your results even more. They include more specific operators such as BEFORE, AFTER, and WITHIN, which let you refine your results by specifying a certain timeframe. They also include operators like SYNTAX, SORT and RESTRICT, which can control the way the results are presented and help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
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Some of the most popular suffix operators include:
BEFORE/AFTER: These two prefix operators let you specify a certain date or timeframe for your search. For example, if you search for “dog AND toy BEFORE 2020”, the search engine will only return results that include the words “dog” and “toy”, and which are from before the year 2020.
WITHIN: The WITHIN operator lets you refine your search even further by specifying an exact timeframe for your results. For example, if you search for “dog AND toy WITHIN 1 month”, the search engine will only return results that include the words “dog” and “toy” and which were posted within the last month.
SORT: The SORT operator lets you control the way your search results are displayed. For example, if you searched for “dog AND toy SORT BY Date”, the search engine will show you the results in order of date, so you can easily see the most recent results first.
RESTRICT: The RESTRICT operator lets you limit the sources of your results, so you can get more focused results. For example, if you searched for “dog AND toy RESTRICT TO Site abc.com”, the search engine will only return results from the website abc.com.
General Guidelines and Best Practices
When using search operators, it’s important to remember a few important guidelines and best practices:
Make sure to use the correct operator for the task you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you’re trying to narrow down your results, use a prefix operator like AND or OR. If you’re trying to refine your results, use more specific operators like BEFORE or WITHIN.
Always use quotation marks (“) around phrases when you’re using prefix operators. This will ensure that the search engine understands that the entire phrase is what you’re looking for, rather than just individual words.
Use parentheses ( ) to group different operators together when you’re combining multiple operators. This will help the search engine understand exactly what you’re looking for.
Don’t use too many search operators at once. Too many operators can make your query difficult to understand and can also slow down the search engine.