Using boolean search operators for SEO

Using boolean search operators for SEO

Whether you’re an SEO expert or a startup founder wearing a lot of hats, if you want your website to be visible in search, you need to know how to use SEO to its full potential.

This doesn’t mean simply trying out different combinations of the same target keywords in Google until you find a specific page or category, but rather using Google like the piece of software it is, understanding how it interprets various inputs in order to serve up the most relevant results to users.

Boolean operators are one of the most important, yet underutilised tools for SEOs and business founders. Boolean operators will help you identify opportunities by filtering search results and targeting specific keywords related to your overall SEO strategy.

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into what these operators are, what they can do, and how you can use boolean search operators to support your organic marketing efforts.

What are boolean search operators?

Boolean operators are text elements that consists of words and symbols that allow you to either expand or restrict the parameters of results returned by a search engine.

By using specific parameters alongside keywords, you can:

  • Filter out irrelevant search results.
  • Make the returned search results more expansive and diverse.
  • Identify a specific set of results more efficiently.

The most common boolean operators

In the context of Google, some of the most common boolean operators include:


The AND: function returns results for all the search terms specified in the rest of the string.

Example: productivity AND: time management will return results which contain the terms ‘productivity’ and ‘time management’.


The OR: function is used to search for either one term or another.

Example: if you’re looking for information on search engine marketing (SEM), you might want to use the boolean search operator PPC OR SEO.

Google will return pages relating to either marketing discipline, but not necessarily pages that talk about both.

Quotation marks:

Quotation marks can be used to restrict search results to pages that contain a specific string of text in a specific combination, as they appear within the quotation marks.

Example 1: Looking for results on a public figure? Use the boolean search operator "Steve Jobs".

Example 2: Looking for webpages online that mention your brand? Use “{brand name}” in Google.

For instance, if we were looking for all incorrect mentions of Hive19, we could use the boolean operator "Hive 19" (with a space) and compile a list of all the opportunities where a webpage has formatted our brand name incorrectly. We would then look to reach out and ask them to update it to ensure consistency in our brand name online.

Aside from these core boolean operators, there are various other commands and parameters that searchers can use to bring up highly tailored SERPs.

Here’s a brief run-down of the other types of search operators you may find useful:

Basic symbol boolean operators

Basic symbol boolean operators can serve the same functions as the core boolean operators, or complement them to further refine the results that Google serves up in the SERP.

Here’s a list of some of the most common and useful symbol boolean operators:

Pipe (|)

The pipe operator serves the same function as “OR”, and can be used in searches such as desktop|mobile.

Brackets ( )

Brackets or parentheses can be placed around text strings or operators to separate then from the rest of the search and control the order in which the search engine receives each part of the query, similar to the way that parentheses work in a mathematical function.

Example: (ahref OR moz) domain authority

Minus (-)

By placing a minus sign in front of any term or boolean operator, you can exclude that part of the query from the SERPs.

Asterisk (*)

The asterisk is known as a wild card operator, which will match this part of the query to any other word, usually with a contextual relationship with the rest of the query.

Example: if you were to search notion * clickup, the results are likely to fill in the asterisk with the word “and”. Expect to see posts appearing in the SERP covering topics such as ‘Notion vs. ClickUp’ and ‘How to integrate ClickUp with Notion’.

Advanced search functions

Advanced search functions, or advanced search operators, are more specialised commands allowing you to perform searches where you need a more specific kind of result. This includes pages from a specific domain or pages with a specific string of text in their URL.

Here’s a few advanced search operators to use as part of your SEO research and planning:


The intitle operator, e.g intitle: using google operators, restricts Google to only searching a page’s title for the exact-match keywords or phrases that come directly after the colon.

Example: If you used the following advanced search operator intitle: creating and building topical authority you would see our blog post rank in first position in the SERPs.


Somewhat similar to intitle:, the inurl: function allows you to search for specific terms within page URLs.


Intext: restricts the search to the body text of pages.


This function will restrict your search to specific file types, for example:

  • docx
  • pdf
  • xls

A complete filetype search might read: AI marketing whitepaper filetype:pdf


The related: function can be used in conjunction with a URL in order to find pages that are related to the specified domain.

Example 1: returns results for:

  • The Washington Post

Example 2: returns results for:

  • The Times
  • The Sun
  • The Financial Times

This advanced search operators has fairly limited functionality, and there has been talk from Google about removing this function altogether:

Speak to Louisa about using Boolean search operators

Using boolean operators for SEO

As you’ve read through the preceding content, you’ve probably played around with a few of these operators and discovered the scope of using search functions for your business or a client’s website.

There are countless ways that boolean search operators can be used in the context of SEO including carrying out competitor research, checking for unlinked brand mentions, and many more.

The full scope of boolean operators for SEO has enough material for a whole other guide, but we’ll leave you with some pointers for using one class of search operators for the SEO work we specialise in.

Here’s some of the ways you can use boolean operators for the purpose of link building and digital PR.

Find guest blogging opportunities

One of the most universal uses for boolean search operators in SEO is finding guest blogging opportunities.

To do this, you’ll need to use the boolean quotation marks function alongside a couple of advanced search functions, prefaced by the subject that is relevant to your industry, offering or niche.

If you’re looking for opportunities to write a guest post on ‘How to start a SaaS company’, you might want to execute a search that looks something like:

"SaaS" + intitle:become a contributor OR intitle:writeforus OR inurl:become-a-contributor

This will bring up results with opportunities relevant to the initial keyword, “SaaS”, but only those that contain the phrase “become a contributor” or “writeforus” in the page title and “become-a-contributor” in the URL.

It’s worth playing around in the SERPs, inputting different combinations of boolean search operators. Doing so will help to narrow down your search to the most relevant and viable opportunties for guest blogging as part of your off-page SEO strategy.

Remember that sites that accept guest posts will call this type of partnership a little different to each other. It’s important to be aware that using the boolean search operator intitle:"become a contributor" in quotation marks won’t give you an exhaustive list to work from.

Experiment with other phrases such as “write for us” “contributions” or “guest post guidelines”, and you’ll be able to find a wider range of potential referring domains for this stretch of your link building campaign.

Find resource link building opportunities

Resource link building involves finding pages designed to collate large numbers of reliable content resources, and reaching out to the relevant webmasters to try to get your content featured alongside the others.

Using boolean operators to look for these opportunities will not only help you discover opportunities for link building, but can also be a great starting point for effective competitor research.

It will help better understand the current state of high-performing content on topics that you may be looking to cover, or fresh angles you may want to consider for related content in the future.

When searching for resource pages that will represent strong link building opportunities, let’s say for a guide on SEO for startups, your use of search operators may look like this:

Startup SEO (intitle:"resource" | intitle:"resources" | inurl:"resources")

Though the results from this one example may not be super relevant to the resource you’re trying to build links to, the structure will give you a good starting point which you can then tweak and expand to zero-in on more specific resource pages.

Find places to pitch video content

When it comes to using video content as a linkable asset for off-page SEO, nailing a viral YouTube video with a link in the description reigns supreme in terms of gaining traffic, brand awareness and authority. However, there are many more video-hosting platforms out there where you can pitch your video content and earn some highly relevant links.

Here’s an example search showing how you might want to use boolean operators to find link building opportunities centred around video content:

CRM Tutorial for Beginners intitle:videos inurl:videos

This search will return a whole host of video-hosting sites with some kind of topical relevance to the keyword “CRM”, many of which will be spammy, but others that might be your next best referring domain.

As with the other uses for search operators, there are many ways you can expand this search or make it more specific, for example searching for “tutorial videos” “recipe videos”, etc.

Experimenting by a couple of details at a time will help you get closer to the specific type of referring domain you’re looking for, and help you achieve a link that’s particularly strong on topical relevance.

Final Thoughts

When used correctly, boolean operators can be an immensely powerful tool in finding new link building opportunities, getting a feel for the current state of popular content, and getting ahead of the competition.

For more support on understanding how search operators work and finding your next big link building opportunity, get in touch with our link building experts today and find out how we can support your campaigns.



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Louisa Delpy

Operations Director

Louisa is the systems and processes specialist and the brains behind HiveRank®

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Louisa is Operations Director

and is the systems and processes specialist and the brains behind HiveRank®