3 Google search tips from NPR's Research Strategy & Archives Team

Everyone knows Google is a powerful portal to digital information, but a more daunting task is sorting through results to find the exact piece of information that will make your piece fuller and more informative.  The NPR Research Strategists are here to share three tips we use to get more precise and relevant results.

Searching across domains

Google returns search results from all the websites it indexes, which can mean searches return hundreds of thousands of results. Try the searches “Elk River Spill” or “Student loan default.” (Please note we have edited out ads from our screenshots).

These results can be a great place to start, but you might need more in-depth information, or information from a specific type of source.  Google allows you to specify the type of website it will return in your results.  For example, if you want only results from government or educational sites, you can use the search string, “site:.gov elk river spill” or “site:.edu student loan default.”

You now get focused results that are more relevant to your needs. Example:

Student Loan 1


Student Loan 2

Searching one website

Many websites have built-in search capabilities, but they do not always offer the precision of a Google search.  Never fear, Google has a search feature where you can apply its search capabilities to another website.  Use the command “site:” with the specific website following the colon.  For example, “site:www.epa.gov elk river spill” or “site:www.cuny.edu student loan default.”

Compare to EPA’s search, where the first result is about Elk River, Idaho, not Elk River, West Virginia. Compare to Cuny’s search results. Example:

Student Loan 4

Student Loan 3

Searching for an exact phrase

A quick way to simplify your search results is to make sure Google is looking for an exact phrase, and not just individual words.  By placing your search string in quotation marks, Google will match only that exact phrase.  For example, compare the number of results from our original searches with the same searches in quotation marks.

Student Loan 5

Jane Gilvin is a Data & Search Strategist at NPR.