Up Close With Google Search Options

Now that Google Search Options has added new features, I thought it was a good time to revisit how everything works — and in some cases, doesn’t work. Let’s get up close and personal with all the filtering options!

NOTE: See Meet The New Google Look & Its Colorful, Useful “Search Options” Column for important updates on how Search Options described below now work.

By the way, this is a long article. If you want a digest of what’s new today, then see the much shorter companion piece, Google Adds Visited Pages, Past Hour & Fewer Shopping Sites Filtering.

Using Search Options

The Search Options panel is available after you do a search. Look near the top left-hand side of the search page, just below the search box, and you’ll see a “+ Show Options” link:

After you do this, a series of options will appear to the left of your search results:

Selecting any of these will cause the results to change, based on the filter you choose. Not shown in the illustration above are the Viewed / Not Viewed choices, but those will be explained (and illustrated) below. This article will run from the top of the Search Options panel to the bottom.

Filter By Result Type

The first set of choices allows you to filter the results to show specific type of content:

  1. Videos
  2. Reviews
  3. Forums
  4. Books (New)
  5. News (New)
  6. Blogs (New)

Video Searching

Video filtering was one of the first three filters available when Search Options launched. Select this, and the standard search results are filtered so that only video clips show:

Note that when you do this, as the arrow shows above, you get new “Any duration” filter options that let you further refine the video results to show clips that are short (0-4 minutes), medium (4-20 minutes) and long (more than 20 minutes) in length.

Video Searching Confusion

Like getting video results? Confusingly, the Search Options feature means you now have two different ways to get them on Google, which in turn produce different experiences.

Look at the very top of the search results page, and you’ll see a Videos link in the navigation bar (the top arrow in the screenshot below shows this). This was rolled out in May 2007 with great fanfare (see Google’s New Navigational Links: An Illustrated Guide). Click on that Videos link, and you get results back from Google Videos:

You’d think that for consistency, getting video results by using the top-of-the-page navigational link should bring back exactly the same thing you’d get by filtering for videos using the search options panel. But not so, as I’ve highlighted in the screenshot above.

For one, the ranking of results is different. Using the navigational video link, I got a result on replacing an iPod battery that did not rank in the top results when getting video using Search Options. Also, using the navigational link puts the first video results within a blue border, making it seem like an ad, even though it’s not.

More confusion. If you search for videos using the navigational link, you can still open up the Search Options panel — whereupon you find options that are NOT available if you do a regular search and then filter by video. In particular, the navigational link enables different display options (TV view, list view & grid view), along with options to see only high quality video, to filter by video source site (such as YouTube or Vimeo), to see videos with closed-captioning and more.

There are even more filtering options available for video searching, such as to filter by language or file type. However, to get these, you have to use the advanced search page at Google Videos.

Review Searching

Another filter available at launch is the ability to get back what are supposed to be product reviews. I used the word “supposed” because despite the promise, you’ll still get occasional “review” that can be puzzling. For example, here are “review” results for ipod:

Many of the results lead to good review sites (I’ve marked these “Good!” in the screenshot above). But down there at the bottom of the page? Yes, the web site that will not die — Wikipedia. I always joke that it’s required by law for Wikipedia to be on every Google search results page. Perhaps it really is a law.

I can already hear Google spam czar and all around debunker Matt Cutts winding up a defense. “If you look at the Wikipedia page listed, you’ll see there’s a criticism area and a useful history of the models.” True, but it’s still not what I’d expect when I’m thinking product review.

Neither am I thinking that the manufacturer of a product — in this case Apple — should be listed (twice). I went to both of those pages, by the way. Neither had product reviews.

In the middle of the page, you get a big huge shopping results OneBox unit. Hey, I thought I was getting review listings, not shopping listings!

As it turns out, those shopping results do have a nice collection of reviews, like you’ll see here, gathered from across the web. In fact, those listings seem better than some of the “review” listings that search options was giving me. So why aren’t these pages listed like “normal” pages rather than being confusingly tucked in a shopping OneBox? Why isn’t Google perhaps showing a better display of these (mostly user reviews) somehow mixed or set alongside editorial reviews?

Forum Searching

Forum searching was the third filter available at launch. It works well. You do indeed get back matches from online forums and other places where discussions are happening. Still, I’ve got gripes:

Note that the VMware Communities are both the second and the third major listings. Sandwiched between them are three more VMware Communities threads using the new forum sitelinks display. That’s five listings from the same site in all, showing up in three different places. Surely there could be more consistency here.

Book Searching

Last week, Google quietly added a book filter to Search Options. Select this, and you get back matching results for your search from Google Book Search:

Note that after filtering to matching books, you also get new options to see “Full View” books (that you can read fully online) or to show either books or magazines. The arrows in the screenshot above point to these.

The ranking of results seems to match that as if you went to Google Book Search itself. What’s missing are the many more filtering options that Google provides through Google Book Search’s advanced book search page (such as by author or by ISBN).

News Searching

The news search filter was added yesterday. Select it, and you get back matching news results from Google News Search. The ranking and display is identical, as best I can tell, to what you’d get at Google News Search itself. The main difference is that if you search at the dedicated news site, the Search Options panel changes to provide additional date filtering options and the ability to filter to just news images:

See the year blocks, like 2008-2009 or 1980-1989? You only see these when using search options via Google News.

In either case, there are even more filtering options such as news source or author which only appear if you use Google News Search’s advanced search page.

Blog Searching

Blog filtering is supposed to be added sometime today. As it wasn’t live when I wrote this article, I couldn’t test it. I’d expect it to bring back results from Google Blog Search and for the Search Options panel to reflect some, but not all, of the filtering options at Google Blog Search’s advanced search page.

Date Filtering

Filtering search results by date is hardly a Google innovation. Many search engines offered this in the past. However, it never really seemed to catch on. My personal theory was that most of the time when people are wanting to filter by date, they want to have “recent” results — which means news results. In turn, that means they should be using a news search engine.

Another complication is that knowing the “date” of a page has long been a messy business. Is the date:

In most cases, Google tells me the date will be when it first visited the page, though it will try to combine various signals to come up with the best one to determine a valid date.

Date Inconsistency

That sounds good, but it’s pretty easy to demonstrate how messed up the date identification can really be. For example:

The first listing says “Sept. 15, 2009” but in reality, that page has been on our Search Engine Land site at that exact URL for nearly a year. So, the date isn’t the “first visited” date. If you go to the page, you’ll also see that it has content as of Sept 25, 2009 — so that isn’t a “last updated” date being shown. As for the web server, it spits out a date of October 1, presumably because the page comes from a database. Each time it’s requested, that’s the “date” of the page as far as the server is concerned.

This all means the date Google shows is the date of the last time its spider visited the page. If you view the cached copy of the page, you’ll see the date there is also Sept. 15. However, that’s misleading. The dates on Google’s cached pages can be days, weeks or even months out of sync with when Google last spidered a page to update its searchable index.

The second listing seems to use the date as published on the web page, the date displayed to readers, in order to inform them of when the page was written. But then the third listing ignores that and like the fourth listing, seems to use the last visited date. Then the authored date gets used again, then for no apparent reason, the authored date gets ignored and the last visited date appears.

Date Options

My Finding Search Engine Freshness & Crawl Dates is an older article that goes into depth about issues with dates, if you really want to know more. But despite the fact that dates might not always be accurate, I’ve personally used the filter by date option many times to successfully narrow down results in a useful way. Nor am I alone. The date and time options, Google tells me, are among the most used from those offered in the Search Options panel.

The date options are mostly self-explanatory. When Search Options was launched, these were offered:

At the end of July, a custom date range option was added, allowing for pages to be narrowed down between a specific period of time.

Today, a past hour option was added, allowing you to find pages dated within the past hour. That not good enough for real time search junkies? Last month, the Omgili Blog discovered a way to narrow results down to the last minute or even the last second, if you’re willing to play around with the URL that shows up after a search. It’s easy and safe. Our Hidden Google Feature: Find What’s New In The Last Minute Or Second covers it in more depth. For the record, Google confirms they work and simply calls them unsupported.

I joked about real time search junkies, but in seriousness, I have a severe allergic reaction to anyone who believes that Google finding a page in the last minute or second means it provides real time search. For me, real time search means finding a particular type of “real time” content. My What Is Real Time Search? Definitions & Players article goes into depth about this.

Finally, let’s have a look at all the date options in context:

The top arrow points to the narrowing options you have. But once you’ve selected these, the bottom arrow points to a sorting option. By default, results are sorted by relevancy. However, you can sort by date within the range you’ve filtered. Do that, and the most recent comes first. There’s no oldest to newest option, which would be useful, on occasion.

Visited / Not Visited Pages

To me, the new Visited / Not Visited Pages filter introduced today seems like a really useful feature. Assuming you use Google’s Web History feature, you can have Google filter out pages you’ve already clicked on from its results or feature those pages and hide those you’ve not seen.

For example, I was looking for information on how to add Twitter to Google Wave earlier today. I’d heard about a program called Twave, so started searching for it. By using the “Visited Pages” option (in the screenshot below, look in the middle of the left column), it was easy to get a list of what I’d been to:

Notice the two arrows to the top right of the screenshot. They point out how Google tells me when I last visited the page listed (me visiting the page, not Google’s spider) and the term I searched for when I clicked from Google’s results through to the page.

All’s not perfect, however. Notice the three arrows further down. Technically, I told Google to do a search for “twave” and then filter out only pages that I’d visited when doing that particular search in the past. So why’s Daggle, my personal blog, showing up? Look at the bottom two arrows. They show I last visited the page on September 12 for a search on “daggle email,” not on “twave.”

The answer is shown in the description. See how I’ve boxed and pointed at the word “Twave.” I wrote a post about Twave on my blog. Google visited my blog, saw that word and so considers it a page I’ve visited before for a search on “twave” simply because that word is on the page — NOT because I actually searched for “twave” in Google and found my blog that way.

I especially liked the Not Visited option:

I can think of so many times I’ve done a search, then realized I was “done” with some of the pages I’d already seen but kept getting them back when I searched again. That was the case this evening, when the pages I viewed didn’t really have the answer I wanted. I need to look at some more.

Unfortunately, most of the other ones I hadn’t visited because I could already tell they were junk by looking at them. Yet the only way to remove them from the Not Visited list is to actually visit them? Ugh.

An easier solution would be if Google enabled its SearchWiki feature when you’re using Search Options. Then you could easily delete pages you weren’t interested in. For some reason, SearchWiki isn’t active when Search Options are used (for more about the service, see my Google SearchWiki 101: An Illustrated Guide article).

Finally, you’ll only see the Visited / Not Visited pages option if you’re logged into Google and making use of its Web History feature. That will have an ick factor for some people, the idea that Google’s watching what you search for and click on. If you’re among them, well, don’t sign in and don’t use Web History. All the other search options will work just fine for you. My Google Search History Expands, Becomes Web History story goes into more depth about the Web History feature. Like really, really in depth. It makes this article seem short.

View Options

Further down in the Search Options panel are four ways to view your search results, all of which were present when Search Options launched:

I’m not going to drop a ton of screenshots and explanations about how these work, because I’ve already done that in my Google Wonder Wheel & Other Search Refinement Features article. Check that out. The only difference is in that article, the “Related searches” option was called “Search suggestions.”

Results Options

Just below the view options area are results options, like this:

It’s confusing, I know. Didn’t we have a filter by results area at the top of the Search Options section? Yes, we did. And isn’t “More Text” a view option. Yes, it is.

The “More text” and “Images from the page” options were present when Search Options was launched. They show longer description for results and thumbnail images alongside results, respectively. That Google Wonder Wheel & Other Search Refinement Features article I mentioned earlier explains more about the options, complete with illustrations.

If it were me, I’d move both of these options into the View Options section. As for the other two related to shopping, I’d put them into that other results options area — the one where you can get news, video, blog results and so on.

Let’s talk about those shopping optons. They’re brand new: “Fewer shopping sites” and “More shopping sites.” I’m sure they’ll also freak out some site owners who’ve long suspected that Google’s wanted to decommercialize (if that’s even a word) its results in order to push businesses into buying ads. And in fact, to some degree Google admitted that type of shift back during the major “Florida Update” of 2003. Not to boost ad sales, of course, but because sometimes people may want less commercial results. Well, now you can overtly drop shopping-oriented sites from your results or conversely, pump them up.

Here are standard results for rollerblade speedmachine, which as you can see are loaded with shopping results:

When I apply the “fewer shopping sites” option, however:

Away go some of the sites, with the boxes showing where new forum threads or blog posts have come in. Shopping results are still there, though kind of sad, I noticed a good dependable store I use personally disappeared. I’d like the feature better if it removed shopping sites with less reputation, if it’s going to leave some in. But I’ve also not done more than a few tests, so perhaps this isn’t the case with other searches.

Wondering what makes a site shopping-like? Google says prices are one of the key signals. You have a lot of prices, you may seem like a shopping store. Google also said things that just look and feel like shopping sites will get flagged. If your using certain words frequently associated with shopping sites, or a format that is commonly seen, that can also be an influence.

Conclusion

Don’t see some or all of the new options mentioned? Remember that for the Visited / Not Visited options, you need to be logged in. As for others, typically with these types of releases, it might take a few days for everyone on Google to see them.

Overall, I like that the new options are more visible, and it may perhaps be reversing the long standing conventional wisdom that searchers simply ignore options when offered through “advanced search” or other links. However, it feels like Google’s been so busy growing the Search Options panel that it’s failing to maintain consistency with the existing advanced search pages for some of its vertical search properties. I’d like to see them consolidate and be more consistent.

NOTE: Google’s search options have been updated. See: Meet The New Google & Its Colorful, Useful “Search Options” Column.


About The Author

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.