Wildcard Search : When and How To Use It

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Sometimes you don’t know what exactly you are looking for. That’s when wildcard search may come in handy. Wildcard search can be used as placeholder for any sequence of characters or words. It is a seldom discussed search operator that can help a lot with SEO analysis and research.

Search engines treat wildcard search (an asterisk) the following way:

Search Engine NotesExamples
  • Wildcard matches one or more words
  • More stemming within search results.
  • Search terms in titles are less frequently bolded.

[theolog] and [theolog*]

[free degree] and [free * degree]

  • Seems to work with exact match;
  • Less bolding within the results.
[theolog] is identical to [theolog*]


[“online programs”] and [“online * programs”]

MSN/ Live Doesn’t seem to work at all[“online programs”] and [“online * programs”]
  • Replaces zero or more characters (works only at the end of a word);
  • No bolding within search results.

[theolog*] and [theolog]

Thus it makes sense to use wildcard search in Google for:

  1. Keyword research: find more long tail phrases based on your core terms. Be sure to play with numerous variations and try using exact match, e.g. [blue * widgets] vs [“blue * widgets”];
  2. Link building and link monitoring: try [submit * link] to get an idea of how much more results you can find.
  3. Brand evaluation: play with the brand name most powerful matches: [amazon.com *];
  4. Finding quick answers (in bold) – compare: [“google was launched in *“] and [“google was launched in“]
Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project, MyBlogGuest.com.
Ann Smarty
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  • http://articlewonders.com Raj Krishnaswamy

    Nice article. Good comparison with search engines besides google.

  • http://www.dotcominfoway.fr/ Mercy

    Hi Ann,

    Wildcard search in Google returns me 502 Server Error. I have chked with my colleague too.

  • Martyn P

    @ Mercy: Same here.

  • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Loren Baker, Editor

    Interesting, I’m now noticing the 502 error too.

  • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Ann Smarty

    Strange… I see no error when checking right now.

  • http://www.usereffect.com Dr. Pete

    Interesting comparison, Ann. I wish the wildcards on all of the engines were a bit more flexible and handled any sort of partial word. I suppose the computational requirements would be enormous, though, especially for Google.

  • Martyn P

    It’s fine again for me. Wierd.

  • http://www.dotcominfoway.fr/ Mercy

    Hello all,

    Its working fine now 🙂

  • http://www.webcareindia.com/ vargis


    Soory Ann i ddt get ur article .. . am doing webdesigning .. also interested and spending time to learn seo and doing some experiments on web .. ha ha..

    Ann can send me …. some simple ideas abt wildcard search

  • Mark Rice

    Wild cards don’t seem to work in Google. When I tried “wild car*, mostly what I received where items on cars, not items on “wild card”. I wish it worked like Unix wild cards.