Many of you are familiar with Google’s operator define, useful for a quick lookup of an unfamiliar term. Unlike other operators, define doesn’t need a colon after it; here is an example: define SEO.
Google includes a link along with the definition if there’s one specific website it “thinks” provides the best answer. If you are searching for something common, such as Engineering, it provides a dictionary definition without a website reference. Recently Google has started adding a lot more information in addition to definitions, as you can see on this screenshot:
Google also now responds to a question “what is <…>?” in a similar manner, providing a definition, – and responds to some other searches that it “perceives” as questions, to which it knows of definitive answers.
Google’s answer is combined with the usual search results and is shown just above them. In some cases the answer for a “what is” question is the same definition as the operator define provides; in some, it’s a different one:
(Also try what is Engineering?)
The answers to “what is” questions are Google Quick Answers (sometimes also called Direct Answers). They can certainly be useful for research. As the time goes, “quick answers” expand way beyond “just” definitions and also beyond special Google search features like calculator, weather, etc., that have been around for quite a while.
Let’s take a look at some.
Of course, the question mark is not necessary; it is ignored. Using proper grammar is also not necessary; you can often just hint at a question. However, to get an instant answer, you need to keep it simple; using Boolean operators will take Google on a different path of interpreting what you are searching for.
Try these searches; at this point they all trigger “quick answers”.
- unemployed in us – Google Search
- how many days until christmas – Google Search
- how many users does google-plus have – Google Search (odd: it provides some outdated data)
- how many users does twitter have – Google Search
- how tall is brad pitt – Google Search
- how old is brad pitt – Google Search
- what is the salary of microsoft ceo – Google Search
- who is the president – Google Search
- (this is an odd one, currently providing an answer: who is king of the us)
- what are most common names in the us – Google Search
- what are signs of diabetes – Google Search
- where is Jamaica – Google Search
- finally, here’s a fun question: how to search (look what the answer is pointing to… OOPS, Google)
Can you come up with some other search strings that will trigger Google Quick Answers today?