Site: When, where and why to use the ‘site colon’ search operator
If you’re not familiar with a site: (site colon) search then I recommend you also read our article on advanced search operators. This outlines a range of the most useful search operators and punctuation that can be used to refine the results that Google and other search engines deliver.
For me, a site: search should be the starting point of every website audit. Essentially, running a site: search operator limits the results of your chosen search engine, to only return those pages indexed within your specified domain.
This gives you an overview into how Google and Bing are currently indexing your site, providing insight into how many and what pages are (or are not) being found, highlighting potential issues with canonical URLs or duplicate content and quickly showing you what information people see about each page when your site appears in their search results.
Site: can also be used to limit search results to only return domains from a specific TLD (top-level domain), like site:.co.uk (see this put to good use in our guide to prospecting and outreach) or indeed to exclude domains from your search results (e.g. travel -site:bbc.co.uk) and it can be used in combination with multiple other search operators to create an advanced filtering of the SERPs.
Here is a great overview from Moz on 25 combinations using the site colon operator.
However you choose to use the site colon search, the basic structure and functionality remains the same.
How to structure a site colon search.
You can use a site: operator to include, or exclude, pages from a root domain, subfolder or subdomain of a website.
Type “site:” followed by the domain you are exploring into Google’s search box.
Note: do not put a space between the colon and the domain and, until you are familiar with the results, I’d recommend that you leave out the www. element of any urls.
Here are three examples of this type of search:
site:thetimes.co.uk – an estimate of all pages indexed within thetimes.co.uk root domain.
site:jobs.thetimes.co.uk – an estimate of all pages indexed within the jobs subdomain of thetimes.co.uk.
site:thetimes.co.uk/travel/ – an estimate of all pages indexed within the travel subfolder of thetimes.co.uk.
It’s worth highlighting that the figure given as the number of pages found by this type of search is, in Google’s words, ‘an estimate’ of the number of pages matching this query. It is not an exact number and indeed you will often find that the number of results changes as you dig deeper into the search results, as that estimate gets refined and revised.
For this reason you can’t use it as an absolute when you are conducting an audit of a site, rather you should see it as a useful guide.
You may also notice that Google offers a ‘Google promotion’ result along with every site: search, suggesting that you might want to ‘try Google Search Console’. This is not a coincidence as Search Console is another great way of reviewing and monitoring what pages are indexed within your site. See our guide on the benefits of Search Console for further information.
The more specific you are with your search query the more accurate the estimate will be.
Don’t overlook the info: search operator.
A useful tip for SEO audits is using an info: search.
Similar to the site: search, but for the fact that you are querying the results for a specific URL rather than every page in your site. The equivalent search for Bing would be a URL: search.
The info colon search saves you the time of having to trawl through hundreds of pages to find the exact one you’re looking for. This is really useful to run spot checks on a specific page but generally not that useful for a full website audit as it’s too time consuming a process to look up each page individually.
What the site: search can do for you?
Essentially, the site: search is a great way of seeing what your potential site visitors will see when your web pages are delivered as part of their search results.
Page Title: You get to see how your page title is normally going to be displayed and can double check that it’s a good length (i.e. not truncated).
URL Cache Date: You see your URL and, not forgetting the green arrow to the right of the URL, you can check the cached date/version of the page, plus look for similar cached pages on the web.
Meta Description: You get to see the meta description that will normally be displayed. Again, you can again check this for truncation.
* Note that the page title and meta description will not always be displayed in this format. Depending on the search term and intent of the user, Google may decide to amend or replace the page title and description. It may add your brand name, the publishing date or a section of the onpage content to these elements at its discretion.