Get to Know the Before and After of Google: Search Operators

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Google offers a lesser-known advanced search command that could make your Google search much easier.

While it’s possible to use Google’s Tools menu to do the same thing, it takes six clicks to do what advanced search operators accomplish with a single click.

Advanced search operators

Advanced search operators (also known as search commands) are ways to refine your search to get a more specific result.

For example, if you want search results from a specific website, you can use the to place: search operator.

Example site search operator:

apples site:example.com

The search above will return all web pages from the example.com website that contain the word “apple”.

Now here’s how to do the same search, but this time we want to find results on “apple” but not example.com.

For this, we do the same search but with the minus sign (-).

Example of a site exclusion search operator:

apple -site:example.com

Before: and after: search operators

The advanced search operators introduced by Google in 2019 are called the before: and after: orders.

These search commands make it easy to find web pages published during a given time period.

These types of time-based searches help a user find web pages that were posted during a specific time period.

There was already a way to accomplish this temporal task using an advanced search tool available on the Google homepage.

But, using these tools takes six clicks to perform a time-based search.

The old way is to first click the Tools button below and to the right of the search field:

Screenshot by author, May 2022

Then the next step is to click on the “Anytime” link.

Screenshot of the Google Tools button for advanced searches showing the time-based search toolScreenshot by author, May 2022

The third step is to enter a custom date range in the pop-up calendar box.

custom date rangeScreenshot by author, May 2022

It’s a lot of typing and clicking to find a document that was published in a specific time frame.

The new way to perform time-based searches

The new search method is similar to using other advanced search operators, such as the “site:” search operator example above.

The search before and after commands look like this:

before:

after:

Here are examples of using the search before and after commands:

spider man before:2005
spider man after:2005
spider man after:2005-01-01 before:2019-31-12

To note: If you use full dates, the search must be done in year/month/day format.

forward search operatorExample of Spider-Man before: 2005
multiple date search operatorExample of multiple calendar dates

What do the search operators before and after mean

The advanced search operator “before: 2019” means before 01/01/2019.

Here is a screenshot of a search using the “before:” advanced search operator:

Screenshot from before: advanced search operatorScreenshot of search, Google, May 2022

Notice how the search result above has a date of November 16, 2018? Indeed, Google returns web pages older than 01/01/2019.

This is the same search, but limited to results prior to 2018:

Screenshot of before: advanced search operator for pages published before 2018Screenshot of search, Google, May 2022

Similar to the previous search, what Google does with the search operator “before: 2018” returns web pages that were published before 01/01/2018.

How dashes and slashes work

What’s really cool is that a dash (-) and a slash (/) in the date also work.

So for this search:

avengers endgame after:2019/03/01 before:2019/03/05

You get this search result:

slashes and dashesScreenshot of search, Google, May 2022

Time-based search operators are flexible with numbers

Another useful feature is that when entering a date, it does not matter if single digits are written with or without zero.

This:

07

Works the same way as this:

7

Are the dates sometimes wrong?

The publication date of search results pages will not always be displayed.

This was the case in 2019 when the search commands before and after were announced, and it continues to be the case today as of the publication of this article.

In addition, sometimes search results do not match.

For example, to search Spider-Man like this:

spider man after:2005-01-01 before:2019-31-12

Search results must be no later than December 31, 2019.

But, if you look at the example below, there is a result of 2021. Is the search operator broken?

Bad search result?

wrong search result?Screenshot by author, May 2022

The search result above is not broken. The above search result from the IMDB website appears to be from 2021, but this page was originally published in 2019.

Screenshot of the Archive.org cache of the Spider-Man 2019 IMDB pageScreenshot of the Archive.org cache of the Spider-Man 2019 IMDB page

So, although the current web page seems to indicate that it was published in 2021, the actual publication date was late 2019 (as seen in the cache saved by Archive.org), when the IMDB created the webpage for the (at the time) untitled film, which came to be known as Spider-Man No Way Home.

Before and after works in Google News

Date-based search operators also work in Google News.

This should make it easier to find reports on specific time periods.

For example, WordPress is updated to version 6.0 (named Arturo) at the end of May 2022.

If I search Google News for WordPress Arturo from before 2022, Google News returns search results where the words WordPress and Arturo are on the news site. But nothing about the WordPress 6.0 Arturo update.

But, if I search for WordPress Arturo for dates after March 2022, I get news search results for WordPress update.

Search Google News like this:

wordpress arturo after:2022-03-01

Returns the correct search results:

Search Google News by date range

Before and after dates are considered estimates

At the time the search operators were announced, Google’s Danny Sullivan said that Google might not be doing it right because sometimes it’s hard to analyze the actual publication date.

Thus, it was said at the time that the publication dates of search results that used date-based search operators should be understood as more of an estimate.

But as can be seen with a little digging, some of what appear to be errors in the date range are actually correct. It’s just that the articles were updated afterwards.

Save time with search operators before and after

I must admit that I forgot the search operators before and after. I haven’t seen anyone mention it since the announcement of these search operators.

Still, searching with date restrictions is a useful way to search, and it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these search operators again.

Quote: Read it tweet from SearchLiaison which announced the search operator before and after.

More resources:


Featured Image: Golden Dayz/Shutterstock

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