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:
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:
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:
Then the next step is to click on the “Anytime” link.
The third step is to enter a custom date range in the pop-up calendar box.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
Works the same way as this:
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?
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.
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:
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.
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