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My Completely Unscientific, Unsophisticated Hack Search Tips

My Completely Unscientific, Unsophisticated Hack Search Tips

Had a feeling you readers out there, and you know who you are, have been sitting around breathlessly waiting for me to finally reveal some amazing, time-tested tips for effective Google search best practices.

Well, I haven’t had the time to research those, so we’ll just need to muddle through those I’ve stumbled upon myself.

A Little of This, A Little of That

A Little of This, A Little of ThatLet’s start off with a few simple ideas I use to compare things on the web.


This versus that. What quicker, easier way is there to compare products and services? I compare items by simply using the word versus (or even just vs) in my search terms.

Here’s a real life example. We’re big users of an online collaboration tool called Basecamp to manage all our company’s projects. Well, there was a time a couple of years ago when Basecamp decided to launch a whole new fancy version of itself. Problem is, they did so without including an integral private messaging component that allowed us to comment on projects internally with our team. Tons of Basecampers, including yours truly, had no interest in using the new system without that feature. I got so ticked off waiting to see whether or not they’d add it, I grew tired of waiting and (gasp) starting looking for a possible project collaboration replacement for Basecamp. I conducted searches with terms like this:

  • Basecamp versus Podio
  • Basecamp versus Asana
  • Basecamp versus Zoho Projects
  • Basecamp versus Wrike



Try these searches yourself and you’ll discover a bunch of blog articles where other people have done all the comparing for you. So, take that extra coffee break!

Well, luckily for Basecamp (and Marketing In Color), the private messaging feature was eventually re-introduced just before I had pulled out the last of my hair.

In short, the versus method of search gives you an easy and quick way to compare products.

Bonus: If you’d like to compare the act of searching itself, search terms on Google and Bing at the same time here.

An Alternative Search Method

Another broad way to do a similar search is to add the word alternative (or the plural alternatives) to your search term.

Not to pick on Basecamp (which we’re now back to loving using), but the way I found a lot of competitive project collaboration products out there was to simply search “Basecamp alternative.” It works better in some categories than others, but overall is a great way to find similar products and services to make comparisons.

Here’s a site that takes alternative searches to a higher level, comparing alternative software solutions. It’s called BestVendor. Just search software products you’d like to compare with other similar products. You’ll find user reviews on the results pages, as well as alternative solutions that are listed at the bottom of the sites pages.

Product Reviews

Speaking of reviews, if you want to find out more about products you’re interested in, just search the product name and add the word reviews to it. Boom! You should instantly get a whole list of reviews to choose from. The trick here is to read several reviews to get different perspectives – thus arriving at a consensus about said product.

Just like all movie reviewers can’t seem to agree on anything, the same can be true for product reviews. So, just because you land on a bad review, it may not necessarily mean the product isn’t for you. Keep searching, get a consensus, and draw your own conclusion. 

Another reality is that a lot of vendors write reviews of their own products or perhaps exercise influence over bloggers at independent review sites, in which case the stories can be “surprisingly” favorable. Imagine that. Figuring out which of the reviews are real or manufactured or biased is not always easy. Again, this is where reading several reviews can help you get closer to the truth.

And, of course, you can always shortcut things with customer reviews at Amazon if you’d like, since they sell virtually everything in the world at this point. But even there, you’re likely going to want to read several reviews before forming an opinion.

Let’s Narrow Things Down A Bit

Let's Narrow Things Down A BitWhat Year Is It?

Have your ever searched for something and after finding and reading the resulting article felt the information was stale and out-dated – only then realizing the article is dated from seven years ago? I don’t know about you, but in my experience, Google results aren’t always that chronological. If I find myself getting frustrated with how recent my search results are, I just add the current year to my search term. That seems to help filter out horse-and-buggy stories, instead focusing on fresher content.

How to …

One of the great all time standbys. If you’re trying to figure out how to do something, add how to to the beginning of your search term. Works especially great in YouTube. Which is relevant to this story, since (in case you didn’t know) YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.

Find the Best

I’ve found best to be about the worst search word out there. Everyone thinks whatever it is they’re hawking is the best. It isn’t.

Be a Freeloader

Adding free to your search term works sometimes. But, as you know, there’s no free lunch. You’ll probably only get so far before a sales pitch reveals itself.

Where the Heck Am I?

You may not have even noticed, but Google results are very localized these days. Search restaurant and you’ll pretty much see results for eating establishments in your area at the top of the list. But what if you want to have your gastronomic destinations picked out before arriving in another city? Just add the name of the city (or better yet, zip code) after restaurants in your search, and you’ll be golden like fries.

Breaking News

Is there some breaking news out there which is actually still breaking? Forget Google. Head over to Twitter for the most up-to-the-minute information.

Name That Tune

With Shazam and other such apps out there, this tip is fairly obsolete. But sometimes I’ve heard a song and didn’t have the app handy (especially before Shazam came along), I’d do my best to try to memorize a distinctive line of lyrics from the song. With that in mind, I’d do a Google search and find the lyrics online, which of course revealed the song title and artist. Then it was off to iTunes to purchase (or at least wish list) the song. Again, with Shazam around these days, not as necessary, but effective.

Start Like A Conversation

I often will write out search queries in conversational sentences. Especially whenever I run into any computing issues. And in especially in the form of a question.

Why can’t I get my $&@$#% Mac email to work?!

Okay, maybe I leave out the cursing. But the point is, if you dish up an array of words like that, you’ll often find other beleaguered people out there asking similar questions that get served up to you in forum results. Loading your question with specific terms helps. For example:

Why can’t I get my email to work?

… is not as good as …

Why can’t I get my Mac email to run more quickly on Yosemite?

It gives searches more to latch onto and narrow your search.

Happy hunting!

Okay, Here Are A Couple of Other Ideas I Borrowed

Okay, Here Are A Couple of Other Ideas I BorrowedGoogle Images or Pinterest

Looking for creative inspiration? Many of us go to Google Images to get the party started. But have you ever considered using Pinterest? I’d like to say this one was my idea, but I’ll give credit where credit is due: Pinterest Accidentally Built A Better Search Engine Than Google – BuzzFeed News.

Depending on what you’re searching for, Pinterest isn’t always better than Google. But, to test the theory myself, I came up with this random list to test. Search each of these terms in Google Images and Pinterest and compare the results for yourself:

  • Hollywood
  • Pickle
  • Hay
  • Snowflake
  • Home

If you’re a conspiracy theorist, using DuckDuckGo as your search engine may be for you. Unlike Google, it doesn’t track your search activities at all. It just gives you answers and you can waddle along your way unnoticed.

There, now you’ll never get lost on the internet again. (Yeah, right.)

See Also: For All Intensive Purposes, It’s Time for a Grammar Lesson, Irregardless of What You Think

About The Author

John Parrish
John Parrish is Vice President, Creative Services for Marketing In Color and has worked on brands such as Outback Steakhouse, Madico Window Films, Pitney Bowes, Progressive Auto Insurance, Edwards (United Technologies), Kash n’ Karry Food Stores, Home Shopping Network, The Villages of Florida, CareCredit, Dollar Rent A Car, Super Kmart, and dozens more.
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