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It depends on where you're doing your search. Different search engines have different approaches to specifying "negative matches."

An old friend has the same name as a famous person, so when I try to find anything about her the results are 10,000 hits on the famous one. Is there any way to search for people with except "movie star" or something?

In this excerpt from Answercast #52, I look at ways to exclude search terms when searching the web for information.

Exclude words from a search

Well, first of all it really depends on where you're doing your search. Different search engines have different approaches to their ability to specify what are referred to as "negative matches."

Now, "except movie star" doesn't really make sense. I mean - "movie star" is a very, vague term. There's no real rock solid definition. Computers need things to be very, very specific. By being specific, what I mean is that:

  • You need to specify criteria that either match or don't match.

  • Words that either match or don't match.

And by words I mean literally the words that you're expecting or wanting to exclude from the web pages that you visit.

Negative matches on Google

On Google, you can use the minus sign. So, you could, for example, search for "Leo" and there would be a bunch of Leos. Most of them aren't me.

You could search for "Leo -ask" (so Leo, space, a minus sign in front of the word "ask".) That will return all pages that have the word "Leo" and don't have the word "Ask". So you would not, for example, find Ask Leo!. Hopefully, in that first one you would.

You could, of course, search for "Ask Leo!" and Ask Leo! will come up first. But if you just put a minus sign in front of the word "Ask" then all of a sudden pages that have the word "Ask" are excluded from the results.

Finding the right terms

Now, what does this mean for your movie star problem? Well, I'm not really sure. It kind of depends on the specifics of the movie star that you keep seeing.

You can't just say -"movie star" because the word "movie star" may not appear on all of those pages that are in fact, about that movie star. So what you need to do is take a look at the kind of pages that are coming up for that movie star and identify a couple of words that are on all of those pages - but then are not on the pages for the friend that you're looking for.

So you might see perhaps, that a movie star is known for a specific movie, right? Maybe the movie star starred in a movie called "Colossus". So what you might do is you search for the name of your friend and then include -Colossus.

That way all of the pages about this movie star that happen to mention this movie star's movie, "Colossus" would automatically be excluded. You can have multiple minuses so if there's a handful of movies, you could specify specific titles or specific words from those movies. That would cause those pages to get excluded.

Google "minus" syntax

Google actually has a fairly robust search phrase syntax with lots of different options. Minus is a very interesting one that I recommend you look into for exactly this kind of a problem.

It will take a little bit of work because, like I said, you can't remove a concept like "movie star'. You have to remove specific words that are appearing on web pages. But once you get the hang of that, it may very well help you refine your search - and actually find the pages talking about your friend and not this movie star.

Article C5801 - September 12, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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