Google published an Advanced SEO Help page about using Google search operators to debug a website.
Google search operator search results are not tied to Google’s regular ranking algorithm and the index used is limited and not up to date.
Yet even with those limitations the search operators provide useful information that can be used for search engine optimization related purposes
They aren’t useful for trying to learn about Google’s algorithm. But the search operators are very useful for learning more about a website.
The new documentation contains a statement about the limitations of the data:
“Because search operators are bound by indexing and retrieval limits, the URL Inspection tool in Search Console is more reliable for debugging purposes.”
Search operators can however be used to discover interesting information about a site.
The new documentation covers the following search operators:
site: Search Operator
The site search operator shows a sample of the pages in Google. It’s not all the pages, as Google’s caveat makes clear when it stated that the search operators “are bound by indexing and retrieval limits.”
Site Search does not use Google’s regular ranking algorithm and only shows a SAMPLE of pages that are indexed.
There’s always been a random quality to all search operators and that make them unreliable in terms of completeness and especially for trying to find out ranking or algorithm related factors.
This has been true for all of the search operators.
I use site: search as a quick and dirty way to find pages with specific keywords in them but I do that with the understanding that there are pages that might be missing.
For example, I had an issue with Users Generated Content where members on Apple devices were cutting and pasting non-UTF letter characters into the web page, resulting in symbols instead of letters.
Using a site: search operator I was able to find many of them and have the site software rewrite the symbols back into letters sitewide.
Google’s new support page says:
“Find search results from a particular domain, URL, or URL prefix. For example:site:https://www.google.com/"
cache: Search Operator
The cache: search operator shows you Google’s cache of a web page, a copy of what the page looked like when Googlebot last crawled it.
The cache is a great way to figure out if a site is hacked and showing different content to Google (cloaking).
Google’s support page for the cache search operator has a warning:
“The actual cached version might look incomplete or even empty in certain cases.
related: Search Operator
The related: search operator is a nice one. It tells you what other sites Google identifies as related to the site being searched.
The related: search operator can be useful for telling you if there’s something wrong with the content relevance if Google shows wildly unrelated sites as being related.
This is how to use the related: search operator:
Google also has a caveat about this search operator, too:
“The lack of your URLs showing up for related: queries is not an indicator of the quality of your pages, nor any other search signal.
The relatedness of URLs is generally only calculated for the most popular URLs on the internet.
Moreover, the data that powers the related: query operator is not refreshed real time, so recent popular URLs might not show up in results for the related: search operator.
The related: search operator is not a good tool for debugging specific URLs.”
src: The Hotlink Finder
The src: search operator finds pages that hotlink to an image.
This is the example that Google’s src: search operator support page uses:
The imagesize: search operator finds images with a specific size and is typically used with a site: search operator.
The two image search operators also have limitations.
Google’s caveat is similar to previous warnings:
“Because image search operators are bound by indexing and retrieval limits, you might not see all of the results that may appear for a standard search query.”
Use Google Search Operators
Google’s search operators have many uses although not all of the uses might be apparent at first glance.
For example, I’ve never had a use for the imagesize: search operator but there may come a day when I need to know if Google has crawled or indexed an image with specific image dimensions.
Read Google’s brand new search operator overview
Overview of Google Search Operators