3 Google Search Modifiers Every Copywriter Should Know

Ways to enhance your Mequoda System

Are you an intellectual dilettante masquerading as a professional copywriter?

That’s how you might describe me.

I’m not much of a subject matter expert, except for a couple of very arcane interests.

But I’m a master researcher, quick student, and world-class commercial wordsmith, thanks, in part, to Google.

The intrepid freelance copywriter of sales letter landing pages, rapid conversion landing pages and other website verbiage — my specialty — must quickly become an expert on his client’s products and services, in order to write about them with clarity, authority and persuasion.

If you’re like me — a direct response sales promotion specialist — you always need fast and specific answers to the same fundamental questions. They include (but are not limited to):

What business are you in?

Who are your customers? What are their demographic and psychographic profiles?

Why do your customers buy your products or services?

How do you know why they buy? What is your evidence procedure? (Sadly, very few companies ever understand this fundamental element of successful sales!)

Who are your competitors?

How is your product or service different from the competition? What is your unique selling proposition?

What do your customers like most about your product or service? What do they dislike?

What are your product’s weakest features? Greatest benefits? Etc.

You know the routine. Some clients can answer these questions without hesitation. Many can’t.

And then there’s the problem of learning enough about an industry, market or professional discipline to know what problems and challenges it faces.

What are its issues and concerns? What pain are its customers in? How does your product address these problems, concerns, discomforts, etc.?

Search engines can help you find the answers that clients don’t know or won’t reveal.

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As we all know, Google can put a world of information at your fingertips. The problem is overkill. Too often, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose.

Online research with Google can be daunting. Fortunately, there are a few shortcuts that researchers and experienced copywriters swear by. Here are three of my favorites.

Using Google unconventionally

Do you know how to avoid sorting through thousands of pages of search results and go more directly to the most authoritative sources?

It’s easy. Use Google search modifiers.

To find little-known reports that are often meant to be hidden away, but which Google nevertheless has found and indexed, simply add “filetype:pdf” to any search term.

Example: solar energy filetype:pdf

Google will return only pages that have been saved in the Adobe portable document format. Usually these files are more authoritative and easier to skim than self-serving, commercial website pages.


To get a quick overview of a complex topic, and perhaps discover pithy bullet points that you can rewrite and use in your sales copy, simply add “filetype:ppt” to any search term.

Example: solar energy filetype:ppt

Google will return a list of online PowerPoint presentations that you can scroll through for a crash course on nearly any topic.

Bonus tip: Even if you don’t own Microsoft PowerPoint software, you can download a free Windows PowerPoint viewer.


And for help finding definitions, synonyms, and creating a search-engine-friendly, topic description web page, use the “define” query.

Example: define: solar energy

(Note that you’ll get very different results if you don’t include the colon in the search box.)

Google often will return enough differently worded definitions to enable you to write a long, comprehensive topic description.

With a little wordsmithing, your copy can read as though it were crafted by a subject matter expert — even if you’re an intellectual dilettante masquerading as a professional copywriter.


Peter A. Schaible is Mequoda’s Senior Copywriter and Editor-at-Large. For a unique perspective on copywriting, you can subscribe to his free series on Targeting Your Prospective Customer by Type: How to Position Your Brand to Trigger an Emotional Response.


    I didn’t know about the ‘define’ modifier – that’s useful. One I like using is the tilde (~), which provides synonyms in a search. For example, you might search for ~copywriting to get results that include words like ‘copywriter’ or ‘creative’.

    Peter A.

    Thank you for your kind words. Of course, research shortcuts can help, but they aren’t a substitute for the hard work of good copywriting.

    Just as the ability to look up answers is not the same as the ability to solve problems, the tricks to gathering market intelligence don’t enable us to capture a reader’s attention and motivate her to make a preferential decision for your product or service.

    That’s another skill set.

    Gloria R.

    Thank you so much for the advice! I know these tips will make a world of difference in researching topics for my clients.


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