Did You Know? Ten Google Tips for #OSINT Research

booleanstringsBoolean, Google, OSINT 1 Comment


Here are ten less-known facts about Google search. (How many of these are you aware of? There are some subtleties there.)

  • You can restrict page dates either by selecting them under “Tools” after searching or using the operators before: and after:. However, you will be missing the pages that did not clearly tell Googlebot about their dates. Lots of public LinkedIn profiles “do not have” the dates and will be missing.
  • “show results with the omitted included” seen on the last results page is an important parameter. You can also set the parameter by adding &filter=0 to the end of the search URL. It is good practice to “include omitted” if you are looking for as many results as possible from each site (or the one used along with the site: operator). Do not use the setting when you want to see representative results from various sites or just one correct answer to a question.
  • Google’s numbers of results higher than a hundred or so are meaningless. Never estimate the number of matching pages looking at the number of results. I can show strings producing few results and starting to produce more if I add extra conditions (which shouldn’t happen). In reality, any search will get fewer than 500 viewable results (that Google will try its best to select).
  • Images form an Index that is separate from Google’s main Index. This means that you will get a set of different – sometimes very different – results if you repeat a search in Images. The same is true about other specialized searches like Google Scholar.
  • Travel! You will also get a complimentary set of results if you “travel” to a different region. Google’s advanced dialog’s “region” parameter and switching your IP address to your research destination are both good ideas.
  • The Asterisk * means “one word or a few shorter words” and allows searching for term proximity. You can vary the number of Asterisks between words to get extra results. It is more reliable than using the operator AROUND (which has worked on and off). Additionally, using the Asterisk, you can manipulate snippets to display info (such as email addresses) for easy scraping.
  • Combine the operator site: with reverse image search as a search technique. Applications include not only searching for pages on a particular site with someone’s photo but also, for example, finding certified people by certification logos or employees by the company logos on a site like LinkedIn.
  • Up until recently, Google ignored insignificant (“stop”) words, but it no longer does. It tries to make sense of what you type in as a phrase; compare nyc to boston with nyc from boston.
  • You can search by Emoji. Applications include looking for contact emails and phone numbers or country flag emojis. You can’t, however, look for emails by using the symbol @ in your searches. This symbol is ignored unless it is at the beginning of a search term. In the latter case, Google will try to find a Twitter account. Google ignores most symbols unless they have a special meaning (like the Asterisk or colons after operators). This post will also not be found by searching for “@” 😉
  • You can use advanced search operators like site: to control results. We call using it X-Ray. (There are collections of strings out there called “Google dorks” with operator examples but I do not like the word.) Google Custom (or Programmable) Search Engines, a software layer on top of Google’s search, allow you (much) finer control of the results than Google.com.

You can find more info about these and other Google qualities as well as sample links to search strings in my older posts.

Following my recent presentation at the SANS Institute OSINT conference, which attracted significant interest (they had 4,000-plus logged in), I plan to share relevant tips in posts like the above on the blog. I am also offering a new 90-minute in-depth webinar for everyone who is interested in OSINT and wants to master Google and LinkedIn. Our presentations include the slides, recording, and one month of support (answering your questions). Please register at

Advanced Google and LinkedIn for #OSINT Research – Thursday, February 25th @ 8 to 9 AM Pacific time. Seating is limited.

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