Searching the unsearchable.
But that got me thinking …
As long as you can reach Google, you can still search my site. In fact, you can search any site that is searchable.
It’s a handy trick to know.
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Use the “site:” operator in a Google search query to search the contents of any site, whether or not it has a search box of its own.
In addition to just searching for whatever words you throw into Google’s search box, there are a number of special instructions you can include. They’re called “search operators”.
Google has a handy list.
You probably know some already. Things like the quote operator, using “OR”, or perhaps the “cache:” operator and the like.
The one we care about here, however, is the “site:” operator.
Using “site:” to search a site
“site:” causes Google to restrict its search results to pages from the site you specify. For example, searching for “site:askleo.com word” will return results only from askleo.com1.
In other words, it’s a way to search a specific site, whether or not that site has a search function of its own.
In the case of Ask Leo!, my search function is implemented using Google search, so the results from using “site:” versus using the search box at the top of the page should be relatively similar.
What I’ve found, however, is that even when a site has a search function of its own, using Google often gets me better results, or at least presents a different view on those results.
The one exception to all this is if a site has told Google it does not want to be included in Google search results at all. In those cases, the “site:” operator on Google search won’t help. You can try other search engines, like Bing, which also have the “site:” operator, but typically, if a site has specifically told Google to ignore it, it’ll have told all the major search engines the same thing.
Another interesting use of “site:”
“Site:” is actually a pretty interesting tool to find out if a site has been indexed by Google at all.
Just search for nothing, using the site: operator.
If there are results, then the site is in the Google index. If there’s nothing, it’s not. This can happen for new sites that are waiting for Google to discover them and get indexed.
By the way, the actual number shouldn’t be taken as accurate. It’s an approximation at best and can be off by quite a bit, particularly for large sites.
Footnotes & References
1: Turns out that subdomains are considered part of “the site”, so searching site:askleo.com will also return results from newsletter.askleo.com and similar. The reverse is not true, so searching site:newsletter.askleo.com will search only newsletter.askleo.com.