When you’re searching for information on a subject in your investigation, you want to find as much evidence as you can, as fast as you can. But did you know that you don’t need fancy tools to do it?
Google and other search engines are free to use and provide a wealth of information, if you know the right tips and tricks. Using these underused Google search skills will help you maximize your search effectiveness to speed your investigations along.
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1. Site Search
By typing site:website.com into your search query before or after a subject’s name or other information, you’ll only receive results on your subject that appear on that website.
For example, do you want to find posts from and/or about your subject on Facebook? This basically tells Google, “I only want you to spoon feed me all the Facebook.com matches,” according to Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE.
Hetherington says that the site search command has a few key uses:
- Searching social media (by hashtag, user name, email, phone number, or keyword)
- Going beyond what is searchable through website search bars
- Searching for people or specific text on a website
- Finding information on a site that requires a subscription
Sometimes information you need for your investigation isn’t easy to find because you don’t have an account, don’t want to search through your personal account or the website’s search function doesn’t work well. Site search lets Google uncover this for you quickly and privately.
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Another useful Google command (or operator) is the asterisk (*). Add this symbol between two words of your search query, with a space on each side, to bring up results where they are found within 15 words of each other on a page.
The asterisk can be useful for a variety of searching situations.
For instance, name variations, whether you know them about your subject or not, can make searching feel never-ending. Maybe they use a middle name or initial. They might switch their first and last name order, depending on their culture. However, if you search “George * Washington”, Google will find every name variation possible for your subject.
This also eliminates any pages where “George” and “Washington” are both on the same page, but the name “George Washington” might not be.
By using the asterisk more than once in your query, you can narrow your results even further. Say you’re looking for a George Washington who lives in Fairfax, Virginia. Searching “George * Washington” will find you every mention of George Washington in the world. However, searching “George * Washington” * Fairfax only brings up pages that mention George Washington within 15 words of Fairfax. This greatly reduces the number of results, making your search faster and easier.
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Finally, Hetherington suggests setting up Google alerts to keep up with new information on your subject.
If you have multiple investigations on the go, you probably don’t have time to search for evidence on every subject every day. But if you set alerts for your search queries, Google will tell you when new information pops up that could be important to your investigation.
Alerts can bring you updates as broad or as specific as your queries. If you set an alert for “George * Washington” * Fairfax and select “News” as your desired source, any new news stories that are published about George Washington in Fairfax will be sent to your linked email account.
Or, if you want to know every time George posts on Twitter, find out his handle using a regular search, then set an alert for his profile: site:twitter.com/georgewashington1776. To make sure you only get helpful results, you can filter your alerts by language, type of result (video, news, blogs, books, etc.) and region.
To learn more helpful Google search skills for investigators, watch Hetherington’s full webinar for free here.
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