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Google-fu: getting better at searching

Effective searching is an essential skill in a internet-centric world. Doing it well1) isn't magic or impossible to learn but it might seem that way. How did that person find it easily when you've been searching your brains out?

Learning a couple of easy skills will greatly increase search accuracy and decrease time spent searching. That means you get better info faster and have more time do other things.

exact phrases

When you type in free camping in Wyoming the search engine really doesn't know what you are thinking.2) It might look for pages with all those words, pages with those words near each other, pages that have certain phrases in them like in Wyoming. It might find a page about a guy who was set free after being arrested for camping somewhere illegal in Wyoming. Wrong kind of free!

You can help the search engine understand that free camping means something more than the two separate words: it means something special in that particular order.

The way we tell a search engine to search for an exact phrase is by quoting the phrase. For example, we might say
“free camping” in Wyoming
Why not quote the whole thing? Because that says that you want the entire phrase exactly, which will dramatically reduce returns. You'd miss pages where people say they are in Wyoming and and are free camping, etc.

ruling out unwanted words

Sometimes you are searching and totally unrelated topics keep popping up. For example, you may be searching for camping but you keep getting results about xbox games.3)

The way you rule out those xbox conversations is with a minus (-). So you could search for
camping -xbox
This would remove any results that mentioned that off-topic term.

Extra credit: some search engines will let you do more complex things like rule out phrases instead of just words :
camping -“paid campsites”.
This is a hint that different kinds of restraints can be combined.


Sometimes there are different but equally common names for the same thing. You could search for boondocking or “dry camping” separately, but you can also combine them:
boondocking OR “dry camping”
You might even try
boondocking OR “dry camping” OR “free camping”
Note that the all-caps OR is important; search engines often use that to understand you want either one.

Parentheses can help clarify your search (and your thinking!). If you wanted “tent” and either “nylon or canvas” you could search for tent (nylon OR canvas).

searching specific sites

You can limit search results to a particular forum (or any other website). This is done with the site: keyword. Let's say you want results from the CRVL forum concerning lithium batteries. You could search for lithium For technical reasons and ease of use you may want to use just the domain ( rather than or

intermediate skill: leveraging remembered details

With those technical skills in your toolbox, you are ready for the next step: guessing/predicting search results. This is a tougher skill because it requires changing the way we think about search. This sounds a bit pre-cog, but the trick here is guessing what the results will look like when you do find them. We can break this down into two skills based on whether or not you have ever seen the result before. Let's say you are trying to relocate a post you read one time. For example, something sternwake once said about AGM batteries. A search for sternwake agm will be too broad, as he discusses batteries and charging often.

If you can remember anything related to that post it will help zero in on the post you seek:

  • any other user that posted in that thread
  • any memorable word or phrase used in the post
  • etc

In this case, you remember sternwake said something about “princess” in that quote. Here is the targeted search: sternwake agm princess.
BOOM, it popped up in the top results.

advanced skill: guessing what people said before

When there is no other remembered detail to fall back on it can be productive to predict how people will be discussing the topic in the result we want. If we want to find out how to get our windows laptop to connect to a wifi hotspot (or figure out why a Winnebago Class C has no house power) we think creatively:

  • To find solutions rather than just descriptions of the problem4) add in keywords common to successful resolutions: solved, success, fixed, works, etc.
  • Try informal terms associated with an idea:
    • brands: winnie/Winnebago, jimmy/GMC, RT/roadtrek, winxp, win7, win8, win10
    • acronyms: sla for sealed lead acid, fla for flooded lead acid, LSD for limited slip differential, CC for charge controller, tt for travel trailer, etc.
  • if logfiles or error messages are present, try doing a phrase search on them

advanced skill: custom search keywords

The major browsers allow you to define custom searches and how they are invoked. The heavy lifter in custom searches is a substitution string, usually %s. This is replaced by whatever words you type. A custom search looks like this:

So when you type “crvl camp cooking” into the URL bar the browser expands the url to “” and executes the search. The configuration depends on the particular browser. Chrome does it under the search settings and firefox does it from bookmarks, as seen here.

variations in search syntax

Sometimes searche syntax is not spelled out by the site. You may have to use their advanced search option to create a test search then see what happens in the URL. Then you can start making your own advanced searches right in the search box.

Youtube generally follows Google syntax, as does Duck Duck Go and Bing.

eBay has a different alternation style: (this,that,“other thing”).

Craigslist uses this|that|“other thing”

having “good google-fu”, as in kung fu
AI will make them able to guess more accurately in the future
“camping” in online games means to stay in one spot and attack other players who arrive.
although the descriptions can help you find answers
communication/internet/search.txt · Last modified: 2020/10/11 19:48 (external edit)