Become a Google Master

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Illustration by Stuart Bradford

Google is a phenomenon, an essential tool, a noun turned into a verb. Lawyers and judges, like most of the rest of Internet users, have grown to rely on Google search results, and good Google skills are now a required part of the legal research toolbox.

That’s welcome news to lawyers who infinitely prefer Google’s ease of use to the world of queries and Boolean searches they grew up with in Lexis and Westlaw.

Unfortunately, today’s Google results can be cluttered, confusing and imprecise. In part, that’s a matter of mathematics. Google indexes zillions of pages. As I write, a search on the words construction law returns more than 20 million results. For the term best evidence rule, 1,700,000 results. While for needle in a haystack, it’s only 1 million.


But there’s good news. with a few simple steps, you can greatly improve your Google searches and become a Google master who can amaze friends and colleagues.

  1. School it. The excellent LifeHacker blog has a collection of all of its posts on Google tips and tricks collected in one place called Google School. You can find lots of great info here, including one of my favorites: using, in quotes, “better than keyword” to find reviews and comparisons. Google School is a fantastic resource for any serious Google user.

  2. Quote it. The easiest way to increase accuracy and reduce the number of extraneous results is to put quotation marks around key terms in your search. Adding quotes, i.e., “best evidence rule,” results in a 50-fold decrease in the number of results. Think of your searches in terms of phrases rather than just words, and use quotes around the phrase.

  3. Plus or minus it. If you are searching for information about apple, the fruit, good luck. You will be overwhelmed with results for Apple computers. In Google, the plus sign (+) is a shorthand way of saying that a word must be in the result. A minus sign (-) means that a word must not be in the result. Thus, searching without quotes for apple + fruit will give you better results, as will apple - computer. Even better, try apple + fruit - computer.

  4. PDF or PPT it. If I’m looking for a basic overview or introduction to a topic, I like to find a presentation on that topic. If I want a detailed analysis, then I’ll look for an academic ar­­ticle or white paper. Simply adding the term PPT to my search brings up PowerPoint presen­tations (PPT is the file format for PowerPoint slides). Adding PDF to a search request gives you a list of portable document format files, which are commonly used for extended articles. Adding these terms is simple but effective.

  5. Blog it. As a general principle, you’ll find the most recent information on a topic in blogs. There are two great techniques to find this type of information. One is just like the PDF/PPT trick: Simply add the word blog to the end of your search request. Most blogs contain the word blog somewhere on the page, so you’ll pick up blog posts. Even better, Google has a blog search tool at

  6. Advance it. Just to the right of the Google search box, you’ll see in very small print a link to the Advanced Search. Click on it and you can transform yourself into a power Google searcher. Advanced Search lets you quickly and easily fine-tune your searches in many powerful ways. Spend some time there to see what will help you most, but the ability to limit your search to a specific website can be especially useful.

Ah, Grasshopper, with these six simple steps you can jump to the head of the class and move forward on the path to Google mastery without any concern about a query or Boolean deflecting you from your path. Happy searching.

Web extras:

Google School

Dennis Kennedy, a St. Louis-based computer lawyer and legal technology consultant, is a regular contributor to the ABA Journal., his website, is the home of his blog. Contact him at [email protected].

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