Smarter File Searching in Google Drive

Chris BoulangerChris Boulanger | September 14, 2015

Try these search tips to speed up your document discovery, sharing and collaboration in Google Drive and other Google Apps.

Search Google Drive Like a Machine

Every file you add to Google Drive includes basic metadata about it’s origin, creator, creation date, who it came from, who received it, and what type of file it is. Because it’s Google, it also knows a lot about the text content of the file. Google Drive lets you use search operators to reference the same metadata and narrow your searches.

Here’s the list of search operators:
Google Drive Search Operators list

Real World File Search Scenarios

Individually, each of these operators can save you time by filtering results, but the real power is in combining them. Here are a couple of scenarios to help you get the idea.

Scenario 1: You need to find a PDF shared last year by your manager (call him John Drive) about expense reporting. And you don’t remember the file name.

Search to try: type:pdf before:2014-12-31 from:john@mycompany.com “expense reporting”

What it means:

  • type: pdf – because we know the format of the document, we can exclude docs, spreadsheets, etc.
  • before:2014-12-31 – we don’t know the exact date, but we know it was last year, so we exclude anything sent this year. We could also include after:2014-01-01 to make sure we’re only looking at last year and nothing earlier.
  • from:john.drive@mycompany.com – we know the sender, so lets look only at files they’ve created.
  • “expense reporting” – we know the topic of document even if we don’t know the title. The quotation marks (“ ”) lets us focus on documents that have the exact phrase.

Scenario 2 (Google Apps for Work or Education Users): Your team has been using Google Sites to share documents with different customers. You’re ready to update your Company Overview presentation and want to make sure that everyone gets the current information. Unfortunately, no one has kept track of where exactly the files are being shared.

Search to try: source:domain title:”Company Overview” app:”Google Slides”

What it means:

  • source:domain – searches throughout your domain instead of only in your Drive. You’ll get back results from Google Sites and public folders too.
  • title:”Company Overview” – you’ll only get back documents that have the specific title
  • app:”Google Slides” – only files that are opened by Google Slides will be returned. This is especially helpful if you’ve got files that start in one format, then get converted.

Scenario 3: Your company likes acronyms — maybe a little too much. You’re organizing the documentation for a new project (call it Super Widget), but some of your documents are using the full product name “Super Widget” while others are using acronyms and abbreviations like “SW” OR “SupWidg”, etc.

Search to try: Super OR “SW” OR “SupWidg” -man -duper

What it means:

  • OR: we want results that have any of these phrases.
  • minus (-): we reduce unrelated results by excluding words that are commonly found with Super, but that aren’t relevant.

Bonus Tip: Search Faster By Searching Through Fewer Files

AODocs has this cool search feature called Search in Folder that lets you search within a specific folder. Rather than having Google search everything, you can have it search within only one folder (and it’s subfolders). This is a great way to limit results when you have an idea of where things are located. Use this feature along with operators to find things even faster. Learn more about AODocs document search features.

Meta Thinking

The trick to using search better in Google Drive is to think about the document both in terms of content (what’s in it) and in terms of context (where’s it from, who made it, what apps open it”). Metadata is how Google understands the context of a file. If you can understand it too, then you can have a much more efficient “conversation” with document search.






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