2022/01/10: Attachment is Suffering: Google Search Operators That No Longer Work

Buddhism teaches us that attachment is suffering. Among OSINT practitioners, such attachment is particularly acute when it comes to obsolete or unreliable Google search operators.

Google indexes more of the web than any of its competitors. It stands to reason that good OSINT practitioners master Google's search operators before moving on to those provided by Bing, Yandex or DuckDuckGo.

However, a great many resources - web articles, blog posts, guidebooks, cheat sheets, etc. - recommend search operators that no longer work or no longer provide a consistent set of results. To be fair, given how often search algorithms change and how complex they are, no operator is truly consistent. Nevertheless, some are more reliable than others, while others still have long since been deprecated.

Below we list those operators that Google has consigned to the dustbin of search history, or which yield inconsistent results.

The + Operator

"+" was used to search for a specific term or a specific spelling (e.g. defence rather than the defense). This operator was deprecated in 2011 with the launch of Google+. Researchers wishing to search for the exact version of a keyword should use quotation marks instead (e.g. "defence").

The ~ Operator

The tilde operator was used to search for synonyms of a keyword. It was deprecated around 2013. Google now provides synonyms by default.

The info: Operator

The info: operator was placed before a URL and used to generate information on a specific domain. It was deprecated by Google in 2017.

The link: Operator

Also placed before a URL, the "link:" operator was used to identify pages that linked to a specific domain. As "info:", it was deprecated by Google in 2017.

The inanchor: / allinanchor: Operators

These operators were once used to identify websites containing specific keywords or phrases in the anchor text. Although not officially deprecated, they are no longer consistent in returning results.


The hashtag operator did just that - search for hashtags. This operator has also been deprecated. To look for hashtagged content, place the query within quotation marks. Thus, type "#OSINT" rather than #OSINT.


Finally, Google no longer supports the use of brackets or parentheses for nested searches. We routinely see search guides recommended the use of parentheses to construct complex queries, e.g. ("Climate Change" OR "Global Warming") Switzerland. We would love to see the return of this feature, but for now parentheses are no longer supported by Google, even if their use appears to yield at least some relevant results.

If you would like to learn more about online research and investigations, join our virtual OSINT courses.