Also refer to "Search Techniques" page

Power Searching

Search engines have a variety of ways for you to refine and control your searches. Some of them offer menu systems for this. Others require you to use special commands as part of your query.

Not every power searching command is shown on this page, only the main ones that are most likely to be used. Read the help files at each search engine for more detailed coverage about what they offer.

Match Any

Sometimes you want pages that contain any of your search terms. For example, you may want to find pages that say either Ireland or Eire.

At some search engines, you can do a Match Any search by using a menu next to the search box or on the advanced search page.

Keep in mind that most search engines will automatically first list pages that have all your terms, then some of your terms, when you perform a Match Any search.

Match All

This is a search for pages containing all of your search terms, rather than any of them. For example, you may want to find pages with references to both Clinton and Dole on the same page.

Practically all major search engines support the + symbol as a means of doing a Match All search.


Most major search engines allow you to exclude documents that contain certain words. This is a helpful way to narrow a search. For example, you may want a page about the philosopher Calvin, not the cartoon character Calvin. By excluding pages that mention Hobbes, the cartoon character's sidekick, you will get better results. The best way to do this is by using the - command, which is supported by practically all major search engines.

Site Search

One of the most powerful features available is the ability to control what sites are included or excluded from a search. For example, imagine you wanted to see all the pages from the Mars Exploration web site run by the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At AltaVista, you could use this command:

In response, AltaVista would display all the pages it has indexed from the domain. More about using the site search command to find web pages from a particular web site is described on the Checking Your URL page.

Now imagine you wanted to find all the pages from the Mars Exploration web sites that also mention Venus and Jupiter. You could do that this way: venus jupiter

That tells AltaVista to list pages with the words "venus" and "jupiter" that are within the Mars Exploration web site. You can even combine other commands, such as those described on the Search Engine Math page. For instance, look at this example: -"mars pathfinder"

Here, we are telling AltaVista to list all pages within the Mars Exploration web site that do not contain the exact phrase "mars pathfinder." Now, imagine you are looking for information about Mars landings but are getting overwhelmed by results from NASA. You can get rid of NASA pages by doing this:

  "mars exploration"

In that example, we are looking for the phrase "mars landings" but excluding any pages from sites that end in That means we will NOT get pages from sites like these;

We could even decide to see all pages about Mars landing from US educational sites, which end in .edu, like this:

  "mars landings" +host:edu

Finally, imagine you live outside the US and want to see results that are predominately from your country. Here's how someone in the UK might search for football (soccer) information: "football scores" +host:uk This finds pages that say "football scores" and which are from sites that end in the .uk domain, which is used for UK-based sites.

Search Engine Specific Issues

The examples shown above all use the command that works at AltaVista. The same examples work at Google, FAST Search and some Inktomi-powered search engines, if you use the corresponding site search command that these each offer. Often, search engines that support a site search command also make this possible to do using their advanced search pages. In addition, I'd highly recommend downloading the Google Toolbar. Once you've done this, when visiting any web site, you can use the toolbar's "Search site" button to search within just that web site. Finally, for search engines that don't offer a site search command, you may find that there is a URL Search command that provides a similar ability.

URL Search

Several search engines offer the ability to search within the text of a URL. This is very similar to performing a site search. The Search Features Chart shows which search engines have this capability and the exact command to use. Some additional search engine specific notes are below: Excite Excite has a "site" command as explained in the Site Search section, but this command cannot be combined with search terms in an attempt to locate pages on a particular topic from a particular web site or to filter out pages from a particular web site. For example, this query wouldn't work:

  mars exploration

However, you can use the URL command to get a similar result. For instance:

  mars exploration

would work to list pages about "mars exploration" but would remove any that came from the site. Be aware that when using the URL command in this way, only the exact site listed will be removed. For example, this query:


would remove pages from but still allow pages from to appear, since that is a different web site. However, when using the + command, then any sites containing the core domain will be included. In other words, this command:

mars exploration

would bring up pages with the phrase "mars exploration" from any site that has in the URL, such as

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Copyright © 2001, 2004    Thomas M. Nobles
Build Date: February 15, 2001
Last Updated: December 4, 2005