But what problem is AI-search technology trying to solve? One seems to be giving a single pat answer to what is traditionally multiple time-consuming searches, letting you ask questions naturally instead of using existing search shorthand and tricks. They also build on something search engines have already been doing, excerpting the most essential parts of existing content to save you a click. For example, you can skip right to the recipe for a killer oatmeal cookie recipe buried under lengthy personal stories about the baker’s childhood.
For now, most people are still doing their searches the old fashioned way. Here’s how you can search better using what you already have, until something better comes along.
There are a ton of old-school tricks you can use to make your searches more effective. These shortcuts, including search operators, have been around for as long as Google. Most people already know and use the basics, but if you’re struggling with subpar results, it’s time to dust them off and try again.
First, take advantage of the built-in filters on Bing, Google and other search engines. Narrow down the date so that you only see results posted recently or things that happened during a specific time. If you’re trying to find a specific type of content, click on those tabs such as News, Images, Videos, Maps or Shopping.
Next, use quotation marks, the minus sign and the site operator, liberally. Put any specific phrases you are looking up in quotation marks, like “cocktail recipe,” and results will only include options with those words in that exact order. If you know you definitely do not want a word included, add it after a minus sign — type in -rum and you’ll get pages without the word rum on them. Finally, if you know you are looking for something on a specific website, write site with a colon and the URL. The final search bar will look something like this: “cocktail recipe” -rum site:washingtonpost.com.
There are many other search operators that can help narrow down your searches, including AND (both terms are included) and OR (either one is included). For more extensive options, check out this list maintained by Daniel Russell, a senior research scientist at Google.
Mix up your search engines
Don’t rely entirely on Google — try other options as well. Microsoft’s big announcement doubled as a reminder that Bing has been around for 13 years. It’s used to power other search engines like Yahoo and is the default search engine on many Microsoft products. Try using both to see if the answers are different. Other options include DuckDuckGo, You.com and Brave. Keep in mind that many smaller search options are based on Google and Bing themselves.
Screen your results carefully
Just because a site shows up at the top of your search results doesn’t mean it is trustworthy or high quality. Many first pages of results are excellent at playing the SEO game with well-placed keywords, links and metadata.
To vet a site, use the same techniques you should have on deck to screen misinformation. Look at the URL and see if it’s something you’ve heard of. Beware of anything that seems custom-made to capitalize on popular searches (for example, if you look up “best T-shirts for dogs” and see a site called bestdogshirts.com, investigate further). If it’s not a site you are familiar with, look up how long it’s been indexed by the search engine. Click the three dots to the right of the result on Google or the little lightbulb on Bing to bring up detailed background information, including its age. Be wary of recently created sites.
Don’t fall for ads, which can look indistinguishable from real results. On Bing, any ad should have a tiny hard-to-see icon that says “Ad” before the description. On Google, the word ad is bolded and above the site’s name.
This neat trick that has been popularized by, yes, Redditors themselves. When you type in a search term add “+Reddit” to the end to see results from the massive online community. Reddit has its own struggles with spam and bots, but there’s an increased chance you’ll see an answer or conversation about the exact topic you’re looking into. A recommendation from real people, often times with subject-matter expertise, can be more valuable than what search engines have automatically determined is the most highly ranked result.
Search social media instead
Similar to searching Reddit, many people skip Google and Bing altogether and search on YouTube or TikTok. This is especially helpful for how-to content or anything that’s best explained in a video form. It’s also great for getting the latest tea on something that’s going viral — subjects that typically take much longer to show up in a search engine’s usual results.
There are drawbacks to searching social media. It’s harder to verify if sources are reliable — sometimes the most popular video or creator for a subject is not the most trustworthy. It can also mess up your algorithmic feed. For example, if you search TikTok for crochet instructions, you will start seeing crochet videos on your For You page — and they’ll be there long after you gave up on the hobby.
One workaround is to search while logged out, or use the search shortcuts for social media on search engines. Type in the phrase you are looking up (“crochet tutorial”) and then include the at sign (@) and the name of the social media platforms you want to search (@instagram, @tiktok, @Twitter). You can also search hashtags directly from search engines, like #cats.
If you’re eager to see how AI chatbot results might feel, or just wonder if it will make you less lonely, you can test out some AI chat tools now — just be sure to use results as entertainment and fact-check anything important. Sign up to be on the Bing waitlist at Bing.com/new. You can experiment with existing AI chat tools, though keep in mind that they are not designed to be used as search engines in these forms. Sign up here to test ChatGPT and start asking questions or try out other tools like Replika and Character.ai.