Google, which started off as an upstart, stripped-down, super-fast search engine, has grown into a global juggernaut with expanding market positions in mapping, mobile phones, tablet computers, driverless cars and more.
Because the company is now something of a household name, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Google still has legions of engineers and software coders at work turning out new stuff all the time.
Although Google closed Google Labs last year, leaving behind only some application-specific labs (check out the one for Gmail users), there are still lots of interface and search enhancements being rolled out with some regularity.
Recently I’ve found three great tools I didn’t know about before. Or, if I did know about them, I hadn’t realized just how useful they could be.
Like search, a tool that does one thing really well can make a big impact on your work habits. This is obviously true if you spend a lot of time online, using software tools that seem to be constantly evolving.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re researching, networking, marketing or producing content, improvements in the tools we use almost always change the way we work for the better.
Here are my three recent discoveries:
- Domain search—(This only works in Google Chrome. If you’re not using Chrome, you might consider it.) It can take a lot of steps to locate something that you remember seeing on a specific blog or website, but you don’t remember exactly where.
It goes something like this:
- Open a browser window or tab,
- Type in enough of the URL to fill,
- Navigate to the domain in question,
- Locate the local search box,
- Enter your search query,
- Thus producing a page of search results.
But did you know Google has done away with all that?
First of all, you can always do a domain search very easily just by typing the domain and search term right into the address bar, like this, where I’m searching my domain for articles with the search term “casewrap,” which results in a useful page of search results like any Google Search.
But here’s the other way, with an example. I knew that Joanna Penn had an article or interview on her blog with cover designer Derek Murphy. But where?
Google to the rescue. Here’s how it works in Chrome:
- Type a domain in the Chrome address window and, at the end of the domain name hit the spacebar.
- The search bar will turn into a “search inside the domain” mode, and you can type your query right there in the address bar, then hit enter.
- You’ll land at the domain you’re searching, looking at the search results.
So, using this method to find the Derek Murphy article, I started by typing the domain name into the address bar, like this:
Then I hit the spacebar, and it turned into a domain-specific search:
I typed in my search term, “Derek Murphy”:
Hit enter and, instead of a Google search results page, it used the search engine built into Joanna’s site and presented me with the articles that were pulled up, right on Joanna’s domain:
And there was the article I wanted, right on top!
This neat trick is saving me quite a bit of time every day. Try it.
- Predictive Search—It’s awfully easy to get addicted to autofill, isn’t it? The way your email program or word processor seems to want to help you complete words or web addresses as you type them?
I think it’s the addiction to autofill that made me miss the power of predictive search when it first broke onto the scene some months ago.
Here’s my newsflash: predictive search isn’t autofill.
What you see when you start entering terms into your search bar is Google attempting to save you time and give you better results by showing you other popular searches.
Ho hum, you say? What’s the big deal?
Assuming these results are based on the popularity of the search phrases (keywords) what you’re actually getting here is a quick-and-dirty instantaneous keyword research tool.
Try this: Start typing a search phrase you think is common in your category, niche or genre. Watch what’s being presented by the prediction algorithms. Execute your search and note the number of results.
Now start again, but pick the most popular alternative instead of your phrase and compare the number of results.
When I tried this with the search string “pizza dough recipe” I received 5,640,000 results. When I tried the next phrase on the list, “pizza dough recipe no yeast” I got 1,520,000 hits, about one-quarter of the wider search.
Here’s what Google suggested for other keywords related to the one I typed in:
Although I’ve often used the “Related searches” links that appear at the bottom of Google’s search results pages as a shortcut to finding other popular keyword phrases, having this instant feedback right in the address bar is incredibly handy.
I’ve even used it for speedy keyword research when I’m pressed for time.
- Knowledge Graph—This is Google’s latest search enhancement, one they call “the future of search.” Why? Instead of indexing the keywords or phrases you use, the Knowledge Graph is a huge assembly of objects instead.
An object might be a person, a landmark, an event, or any other kind thing you might search for. The Knowledge Graph then makes connections between that object and all the other data Google has amassed.
It’s easier to see by example. For instance, I searched on “London Bridge” and got the expected Google Search Results:
But over on the right is a new pane, filled by the Knowledge Graph. Here’s what it looks like:
Google has pulled in maps, photos, snippets from Wikipedia and related searches along the bottom. All these objects have a relationship to “London Bridge.” This opens up lots of possibilities when you’re doing research.
Next I tried a search on “Daniel Day Lewis” and here’s the Knowledge Graph sidebar for this actor:
I think this Knowledge Graph has huge potential for going beyond basic words and phrases to locate the material we really want to find online, and that’s pretty exciting.
Also note the “Feedback” link in the bottom right corner. This will give you a chance to let Google know whether any of the associations they’ve found are incorrect. That’s neat.
Any one of these enhancements can help you get more done, or enjoy your work more. For those of us pretty much tied to a keyboard all day, that’s good news.
Have you found any small-but-important workflow enhancements using Google? I’d love to hear about them.