I’ve always enjoyed tweaking Google queries to give more focused results. When you find the right search, the results can be magical.

Google lets you search for very targeted subsets of things

For example, take a look at the difference between these two searches:

For someone tasked with writing up corporate governance guidelines, the second search might make their task easier. But for a long time now, if you use advanced search operators (like filetype:pdf) too many times in a row to find the best results, Google will block you from searching. That’s right, Google won’t let you search Google anymore if you’re trying too hard to find the best results.Google Search

Take, for example, this aggregation of business news curated by the New York Times. They have used a special compiling feature popular with most news organizations around the world called a “Twitter List.” Powerful and easy to use even if you don’t use or care for Twitter itself.

Searching URLs for synonyms

So today I was trying to search for word synonyms in Twitter Lists compiled by people around the world. On Google, you add a tilde in front of a word to ask Google to show you more synonyms for that word. More importantly, by adding a query to search a particular URL string on the Twitter domain, you can force Google to search only the names of Twitter Lists. For example, to find every Twitter List in the world with the word “news” in it, you start with a query like this: site:twitter.com/*/news

After a half-dozen variations or so, I was trying searches such as site:twitter.com/*/* inurl:~news (which no longer limited the results to Twitter Lists) and then instead of getting search results, what I got was this:

Arggh, no, I’m human!

Really, I don’t type and think all that fast. I tried waiting ever longer periods of time, but was not “allowed” to search Google. Very frustrating. Finally I got this instead:

This I can accept. Why doesn’t Google do this first? I can’t believe they simply block you instead. Over the last year or so, I have been using Google less and less because it won’t let me do more than a few advanced searches in a row anymore. It’s almost axiomatic that as companies get bigger, they become less helpful and less useful, but it’s sad to watch it happen to Google.

What does Google say about this?

photo by Raúl Ochoa

Laughably, after I was “allowed” to search again, I tried to find what Google guru Matt Cutts had to say about this. (Maybe I could sign up for some Google program that actually lets users use the Google search engine.)

I tried the basic query Matt Cutts automated queries to get some ideas on how to narrow down the results, and then tried the query “matt cutts” “*** automated queries” …and was blocked again.

Not only won’t Google let you use their search engine, they they won’t let you ask why not.