Like it or not, Google is most people’s portal to the internet. And when you’re searching for something simple — like the latest news about Iran — Google will usually get you what you want on the first try. But if you’re trying to find something a bit more niche, you may need to do some digging. Here are a few tricks to keep up your sleeve that will make life easier.
Use quotation marks to find a specific phrase
It’s one thing to search for a couple of words, like Sony HT-Z9F soundbar, and find the product(s) you’re seeking. But let’s say you need more specific information — like the dimensions of the speaker drivers inside that soundbar. Searching for HT-Z9F soundbar driver diameter does not return any pages that list that particular spec, nor does including the word inches. Instead, we need to think about how this would exactly be phrased on the page, and use quotation marks to narrow our search.
When you put quotation marks around a collection of words, it tells Google to look for the words only in that order. So, sony HT-Z9F inch drivers (don’t worry, capitalization doesn’t matter) will search for any page that has the words “inch” and “drivers” on it — but not necessarily together. Searching HT-Z9F soundbar “inch drivers” on the other hand, narrows our search considerably, producing a result right at the top that lists the exact spec we’re looking for: 2.5-inch drivers. (If you can’t find the terms you searched for on the resulting page, press Ctrl+F on your keyboard — Command+F on a Mac — to locate your words on that page.)
Bonus tip: If you’re looking for a specific page but aren’t sure the exact words it uses, you can put an asterisk in those quotes to symbolize any word. For example, if you forgot the title of Taylor Swift’s dance-pop single from “1989,” you could search taylor swift“* it off” and find the “Shake It Off” lyrics you’re hunting down.
Exclude words with the minus sign
It’s frustrating when a search returns oodles of results that have nothing to do with what you’re looking for. This is especially common with homonyms — words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings. For example, let’s say you’re searching for a music group to play at your wedding. Searching for wedding bands brings up a ton of results, but most are for wedding rings — often called bands — not musicians that play at wedding receptions.
The minus sign is your friend here. Think of a word that would appear on all the irrelevant pages — in this case, “jewelry” or “jeweler” is probably a good bet — and include it with a minus sign in your search: wedding bands -jewelry. Just like that, you’ve got yourself a bunch of sites that review wedding bands across the country.
I also use this often for products with similarly-named siblings — say, Apple’s MacBook line, which includes the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. Getting too many results for the Air and Pro? Just eliminate them from your search with macbook -air -proand you’ll get more relevant results.
Narrow your search to a specific time period
If your head is spinning after that last one, here’s an easy tip for you. Occasionally, search results will consist of older articles that have ranked on a given topic, but haven’t been updated to include recent changes. If you encounter this problem, you can put a date restriction on the results by clicking the Tools button under Google’s search bar, and then clicking the “Any Time” drop-down. You can narrow your results to the previous week, month, year, or a custom time frame.
Search your favorite sites with the “site:” operator
If you’re looking for an article you read a while back, but can’t find now — or if you specifically want to see what one of your most trusted sites has to say about a topic — you can use the site:operator to limit your search to that specific publication. (This is especially useful for sites that don’t have a search function — though it’s often better than a site’s built-in search bar, too.)
Let’s say I want to read about the Iran nuclear deal, but I prefer coverage from The New York Times. Instead of just Googling US iran deal for the latest news, I can search site:nytimes.com iran deal to see coverage only from The Times. This also allows me to see everything The Times has done on the topic going back weeks or months, rather than my results getting cluttered with versions of today’s news from other publications.
Add search shortcuts to your browser’s address bar
Ready for a more advanced lesson? Tricks like the site: operator are great, but they take a while to type out — especially if you search for Times content regularly. You can save yourself precious seconds on every search by creating a short keyword for bits of text you search regularly, if your browser supports it, and most do. That way, instead of typing site:nytimes.com every time, you can just type nyt in your browser’s address bar, add your search terms, and get right to the good stuff.
To do this, perform an example search on Google, then copy the URL from the address bar. Using the above example, my URL is:
This is what we’ll use to create our shortcut. In Chrome, right-click the address bar, choose “Edit Search Engines,” and click “Add” to create a new one with nyt as the keyword. In Firefox, right-click the Bookmarks Bar and create a new bookmark instead with nyt as the keyword.
Paste the search URL you copied earlier into the “Search Engine” or “Location” box, and replace your search terms with %s (making sure to leave in any terms you want to keep as part of the keyword). So, since I want my nyt shortcut to search site:nytimes.com and whatever search terms I add, my URL would look like this:
See how I replaced iran+deal with %s in the URL? Now, whenever I type nyt into the address bar, I can search The New York Times for any terms I want.
I use this for all kinds of common searches: sites I like (nytsearches site:nytimes %s), authors I trust (jk searches Jolie Kerr %s), or — if you want to get really advanced — other URL tricks, like getting driving directions from Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&q=from+123+main+street+to+%s).
Find the source of a photo with reverse image search
Finally, not all searches are made up of words. Sometimes, it can be handy to know where a certain photo came from, or to find a larger version of it. You probably know you can type a few words to find a photo with Google’s Image Search, but you might not have realized it works in the other direction too: Drag an image into Image Search and Google will find other versions of that photo for you.
A few years ago, I was searching for an apartment, and found one that looked great — it had the number of bedrooms I needed, in the part of town I wanted to be in, and the photos looked nice. But I found it on one of those “members only” apartment listing sites, so I had to pay a monthly subscription in order to get the name, address and contact info of the complex. Not to be outdone, I dragged the building’s photo to my desktop, then dragged it into Google Images. Google immediately found another site that had used that photo: the building’s official website, where I could call or email and ask directly about open units for rent.
Google isn’t the only site that has this feature, either. TinEye is a similar tool with a few more options, if you’re trying to find where the image first appeared. EBay’s iPhone and Android apps also let you search by image, which is useful if you’re trying to find a rare piece of china with no markings, or something like that. It doesn’t always work, but when you’re in a bind, it’s worth a shot — and if nothing else, it may give you another clue to add to your search terms.
Whitson Gordon is a San Diego-based writer helping people make the most of their technology. Find him on Twitter @WhitsonGordon. @WhitsonGordon
A version of this article appears in print on , Section B, Page 8 of the New York edition with the headline: 6 Google Search Tips That Will Help Make Your Life Easier. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
7 of Your Most Burning Questions on Social Security (With Answers)
Readers asked. Here are our replies.
By Mark Miller
People have lots of questions about Social Security: Will it still be around when I retire? How much will I get? How does the spousal benefit work?
That’s not surprising.
No government program is more important to so many Americans. This year, Social Security is expected to pay $1.1 trillion to 69 million recipients of retirement and disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Nearly all Americans pay into the program and can expect to receive a benefit at some point in their lives. And it is the largest retirement income source for a majority of older households.
The New York Times recently invited readers to submit their questions about Social Security. Today, we’re responding to some of the most frequent ones.
Is Social Security financially secure? Should people in their 60s who can afford to wait to claim benefits wait until they can get the highest monthly benefit, or should they consider signing up now because the program may not be there in 20 years?
In the years ahead, Social Security does face a financial shortfallthat requires action by Congress. The combined trust funds for Social Security’s retirement and disability programs are on course to be depleted in 2035; without changes, funding from payroll tax receipts will be sufficient to pay only 80 percent of currently scheduled benefits.
That would mean immediate, across-the-board benefit cuts, but the pain would be felt most acutely by today’s younger workers and low-income retirees.
“If policymakers don’t address Social Security’s finance gap by 2035, all Gen Xers and millennials would experience the cuts throughout retirement,” notes Richard W. Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute. “An additional one-third of retirees could end up in poverty.”
The shortfall stems primarily from the retirement of baby boomers combined with the slow growth of the labor force, which reduces the ratio of workers paying into the system and beneficiaries. Rising life expectancy also plays a role; so does rising inequality in worker earnings.
When Congress last adjusted the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax in 1977, the intent of lawmakers was to cover 90 percent of all wages. But wages above the cap have grown more quickly than the average wage, so the cap (set this year at $132,900) now covers only 83 percent of wages, reducing taxes flowing into the system.
The projected shortfall is an understandable source of worry, considering the importance of Social Security to most households. But it has no practical, short-term impact on benefits, says Paul Van de Water, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And he thinks the odds of reaching the 2035 doomsday scenario are slim.
“Given the strong public support for the program, it is inconceivable that Congress won’t step in sometime before 2035 and put things on an even keel,” he says. “It’s a source of concern, but not something to lose sleep over.”
Congress could put Social Security back into financial balance with new tax revenues, benefit cuts or a combination of both. The Democratic-controlled House is advancing a plan that would putSocial Security back into balance over the next 75 years by increasing payroll tax rates by 0.1 percentage point annually through 2043, reaching 14.8 percent for that year and later. The bill also would apply payroll taxes to earnings over $400,000, starting in 2020. The bill would expand benefits modestly.
The legislation, sponsored by Representative John B. Larson, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, has 211 co-sponsors in the House.
Could you provide a full explanation of “spousal benefits” for living spouses, and for widows, widowers and divorced people?
The spousal benefit is available to couples who have been married at least one year. It allows one partner to claim a benefit as high as 50 percent of the benefit at full retirement age of his or her spouse — so long as that spouse has already claimed benefits. That requirement often trips up people hoping to generate some income while the higher-earning spouse puts off claiming benefits to earn delayed retirement credits.
“It’s one of the most misunderstood things that we see,” says Elaine Floyd, director of retirement and life planning for Horsesmouth, a firm that trains financial advisers.
If you claim a spousal benefit at your own full retirement age, the benefit will be equal to 50 percent of your spouse’s benefit. You can claim a spousal benefit as early as age 62, but your benefit will be reduced for early claiming.
If you are entitled to a spousal benefit when you file, in most cases you must file for both your own and your spousal benefit simultaneously. You’ll be paid your own benefit first; a spousal benefit amount will be added if your own benefit is less than half of your spouse’s total. Filing means that you will no longer accrue delayed retirement credits.
People born before Jan. 2, 1954, can still file for a “restricted claim” of only their spousal benefit. They were grandfathered into rules in place before passage of the Budget Act of 2015. This provision allows them to receive a spousal benefit while building delayed retirement credits on their own account, until age 70.
In most cases, widows or widowers can receive a survivor benefit when a spouse dies, providing they were married at least nine months at the time of death. The survivor benefit is equal to 100 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit.
Many divorced people are surprised to learn that they can file for a spousal benefit on the record of an ex-spouse. To qualify, you must be single and have been previously married to your ex at least 10 years. You also cannot be receiving a benefit greater than your divorced spouse’s benefit. If the ex is 62 or older and the divorce occurred over two years earlier, the ex does not need to have filed for his or her benefit.
Eligibility for an ex’s benefit is lost if you remarry, and you can’t file for benefits on your new spouse’s earnings record until you’ve been married to that person at least one year.
If your ex-spouse is deceased, you may be able to claim a divorced-spouse survivor benefit. The rules are basically the same except that you can be remarried as long as you remarried after age 60.
Spousal benefits were made available to same-sex married couples after the landmark 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Do Social Security benefits last your lifetime?
Yes — benefits are paid as a monthly annuity, and they are adjusted for inflation each year.
“Not only is it the cheapest annuity that you can buy, but it is very difficult to find an annuity of any kind that is adjusted for inflation,” says Dirk Cotton, a retirement researcher. “That makes Social Security extremely valuable.”
Why do most articles about Social Security push the idea of waiting until you’re 70 to claim and don’t mention the “break even” calculation that would help you decide whether to claim earlier?
The break-even age is a very common method for deciding when to claim. This is the age in the future when, if you started claims at different ages, your accumulated benefits would be equal. Starting benefits early works to your advantage if you don’t live to the break-even age; you also come out ahead by delaying benefits and then living beyond the break-even point. The losing outcome is delaying benefits and dying before reaching the break-even age.
Here’s how claiming ages affect benefit amounts. Social Security starts by taking into account your 35 years of highest wages, and translates this into something called the primary insurance amount (P.I.A.). If you wait until the current full retirement age of 66, you will receive 100 percent of P.I.A. If you start at 62 (the earliest opportunity), you will receive a reduced benefit for the rest of your life — 25 percent lower. By waiting past full retirement age, you would get the delayed retirement credit, which is 8 percent for each 12-month period that you delay. The credits are available until age 70.
For a claimant with a full retirement age of 66 who files at 62, Mr. Landis calculates that her money-ahead age is 78 — that is, she will be ahead in lifetime benefits until age 78; at that point, a person with the same P.I.A. who waits until full retirement age will catch up with her. After that, the later filer is ahead for the rest of her life.
If the same woman files at 66, her money-ahead age is 82.5 — after that age, someone who waits until 70 to file is ahead permanently. (Mr. Landis’s examples assume inflation-adjusted dollars and exclude any taxation of benefits.)
But many experts argue that break-even is not the best way to decide when to claim, because of Social Security’s value as an inflation-adjusted guaranteed source of lifetime income.
“None of us who are healthy have any idea when we’ll die,” Mr. Cotton says. “So it’s not a good way to make the decision, unless you have a really good reason to think you won’t live at least 18 years.”
I am 68, and my Social Security benefit amount is lower than my husband’s because I stayed out of the work force for five years to raise my children — even though he worked fewer years and earned less over all than I did. Has there been any progress in raising benefit amounts for people in my situation?
The responsibility of caring for children, elderly parents or other relatives remains a key reason that women tend to work fewer years than men. That reduces their income from Social Security, pensions and savings.
Caregiver credits are applied by the retirement programs of many industrialized nations, including Britain, Sweden and Germany. In the United States, lawmakers and policy experts have proposed a variety of remedies. One would allow caregivers to exclude more years from the P.I.A. formula; allowing caregivers to exclude five years would increase their benefits. Other plans would provide wage credits to caregivers.
“It would be an imputed income amount for the years when you were providing caregiving,” says Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an advocacy group, and a member of the Social Security Advisory Board, an independent bipartisan government agency. “This definitely is an issue that has come to the attention of policymakers, and doing something about it has broad support. The question is when we will see some action on it.”
How much of my Social Security income will be taxed?
For lower-income retirees, Social Security usually is tax free, while higher-income seniors pay taxes on a sliding scale. No more than 85 percent of your benefit is taxable.
To determine if your benefit is taxable, add up your gross income, nontaxable interest income and half of your Social Security benefit. If that number exceeds $25,000 (for individuals) or $32,000 (joint filers), some portion of your benefit is taxable. For details, see the instructions for completing lines 5(a) and 5(b) of Form 1040 in the Internal Revenue Service’s guide.
I own my own business. Is it possible for me to “pay into” Social Security?
Assuming you are paying self-employment taxes, you already are contributing. The self-employment tax, paid in lieu of the payroll tax that employers split with employees, is 15.3 percent, with 12.4 percent going to Social Security and 2.9 percent to Medicare.
Self-employed people pay double the rate that they would as employees, but can deduct half the cost from income taxes when they calculate their adjusted gross income.
Business owners who are incorporated pay Social Security taxes as employees. More information is available from the I.R.S.
An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the way a spousal Social Security benefit is calculated. The benefit can be as high as 50 percent of a spouse's benefit at full retirement age, not 50 percent of the spouse's benefit.
A version of this article appears in print on , Section BU, Page 5 of the New York edition with the headline: Time for Some Timely Answers To Your Social Security Concerns. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe