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5 Ways to Boost Your Google Search Skills

google2.gifAs a journalist and blogger, it seems as if half my life gets spent on Google. I'm always researching information, looking for relevant news items, hunting down expert sources, and digging for compelling images and ideas.

But there are plenty of other professionals who rely on Google as well, not to mention everyone else who uses the search giant to find takeout sushi in an unfamiliar city, seek out new travel destinations, or try to explain why Pluto is no longer a planet.

Given how much you probably use Google, it's smart to make your time there as productive as possible. These five tips and shortcuts will help you run down what you're looking for in less time than ever.

  1. Get a Google toolbar. Normally, I hate all those add-on toolbars at the top of my screen; they cut down on valuable real estate and create visual clutter. But I've made an exception for the Google toolbar. I use it constantly and can't imagine life without it. And by my calculations, if I normally go to Google about 100 times a day (not at all unusual), and it takes just 3 seconds to open a browser window and get to Google, I've just saved 5 minutes per day by using the toolbar instead. Doesn't sound like much -- until you realize it's about a half-hour a week. I can do a lot with an extra half-hour; bet you can, too.
  2. Search images by type. Google recently expanded the parameters it offers for its image search. By using Google's advanced image search feature, you can narrow your request to search only for faces, clip art, line drawings, news, or photo content; find images in specific file formats or in certain size ranges; or even find only black-and-white results. For anyone looking for a quick picture to dress up an invitation, chart, or report, it's brilliant.
  3. Give your searches local relevance by simply typing in your ZIP code. For example, "movies 90405" will give you showtimes in and near Santa Monica, Calif.
  4. Track your UPS, FedEx, or USPS packages right from Google. Just type the tracking number into the search box.
  5. Get familiar with Google's cheat sheet of advanced operators. There's a cornucopia of great tricks to use here -- everything from searching the full text of books to finding pages that link to a particular site.
Oh, and a bonus tip: Did you know you could use Google as a calculator? Go ahead; type 5*9+(sqrt 10)^3= (or any other mathematical calculation) into the search box and put away your office clunker forever.

Got any other great Google tips to share? Post them in the comments section!

(image courtesy Google)

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