Search For Phrases

Searching for phrases is one of the fastest ways to narrow down results. You can specify a phrase on most search engines by placing it in double quotes. Because they are a form of unique identifier, phrases are very useful at filtering search results to just pages that contain that exact, specific string of characters.

The longer the phrase, the fewer and more relevant the results returned… until the phrase is so specific there are actually no pages that match. In the middle is the perfect search query.

Some of the very best phrases are full person names. While there may be many people named Winston, or Spencer, or Churchill, there is only one savior of liberal democracy named Winston Spencer Churchill. Therefore, if you search for that name as a phrase, you ensure that all pages returned contain that exact name:

“winston spencer churchill”

You can also add phrases to existing searches. For example, the following search only returns pages that contain the word “biography” and the exact phrase “mozart was born”:

biography AND “mozart was born”

You can combine several phrases with the and operator to make kind of a meta-phrase and greatly narrow the number of pages returned:

“sherlock holmes” AND “221 B, Baker Street”

You can widen a search by looking for several phrases at once, by combining several phrases with the oroperator in a separate term in brackets:

biography AND (“mozart was born” OR first learned” OR “when mozart was”)

“richard burton” AND ( “doctor livingstone, I presume” OR “dr. livingstone, I presume”)

Song lyrics are great unique phrases, if you can get them right. You can either search for a long phrase if you know the whole thing, or several short phrases combined with AND:

“how many roads must a man walk down”

“anything goes” AND “glimpse of stocking” AND “good authors too”

The best phrases are specific enough to get the pages you want, while filtering out pages you don’t want. At the same time, they should be common enough to actually be found. For example, the following phrase is too specific, because there isn’t any text on the Internet that contains that exact phrase:

“mozart was born at a very young age”

The power of phrase searching is also leveraged by another search technique, the use of questions and answers.