How to Search for People Online Using Google

Are you looking for someone? Perhaps you have just met a new friend and you want to find out if they are who they say they are. You can't be too careful these days can you? So how do you start searching for someone online and can it be done for free?
Now you may or not know that it is possible to look up just about anyone in the US of A by using commercial public records databases. They can be used for finding people and investigating their background but it isn't free. It is inexpensive however and you can do a lot with the low-cost trial that they offer. I love how easy it is to use this site but I wanted to see if it was possible to locate people on the Internet absolutely free. I did have some success as you will see.
Finding People with the Google search engine
The first thing that I tried was to type in the persons first and last name straight into the Google search box. This simple technique can sometimes be surprisingly effective if the name you are looking for isn't very common or the subject is famous for something. However if you are looking for someone with a common name like "John Smith" then be prepared to receive floods of irrelevant search results. Don't give up yet though because there are ways of refining your search query to give you a better chance of finding what you are looking for.
Refining your search
The first thing to do is make sure that you are signed out of any Google services. Google have a nasty habit of modifying your search results to give you what it thinks you want based on your previous Internet activity. This is unlikely to be very helpful when you are trying to find someone who you have not searched for before. So sign out so that Google doesn't know who you are.
The Google search engine can be very powerful in the right hands and most people have no clue about the many useful features that it offers. If you can master just a few of these search tools then you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Search by region
The first thing that you might want to do is limit the geographical area where you want your search to apply. If you know that the person you are searching for has always lived in the US then there is probably little point in searching the rest of the world for them.
To limit your search results to the US go to the Advanced Search page. There should be a link labeled "Advanced Search" at the bottom of your search results. You may need to do a simple search first before this link appears. Click on it to get to the advanced settings.
The Advanced page allows you to set various filters including "region" Select the "United States" region from the drop down menu, enter the person's name in the "all these words" box at the top then click the "Advanced Search" button at the bottom.
The region filter isn't 100% effective at keeping the rest of the world out but it tries it's best for you.
Search for the exact phrase using quotation marks
If you simply type the words "John" and "Smith" into the Google box without the quotes then the results that you get will consist of pages that contain both words anywhere on the page in any order. This means that you are likely to find pages mentioning "John Doe" and "Jane Smith" and thousands of other pages like it, equally irrelevant to what you are searching for.
You can easily fix this problem by enclosing your search query in quotation marks e.g. "John Smith" including the quotes. Google will now only show you pages that have those 2 words together and in that order. This tiny modification to your search query can make a huge difference to the quality of your results. You can enclose as many words as you want in quote marks so you might want to try adding a middle name. This is worth trying but might not be very effective because most people rarely use their middle names.
What if you have limited your search to a single region or country and you are searching for the person's name in quotes for an exact match but you are still not getting the results that you were hoping for. What next?
Adding another word
When you type words or phrases in quotes into the search box you will get results that contain all of those words or phrases. So you can improve your search by finding a word or phrase that applies to your person but not to everyone by that name. For instance if you know where they live then you might search for ["John Smith" Alabama] or ["John Smith" Orlando]. I'm using the square brackets here to enclose everything that is typed into the Google box. This time you will get only web pages that mention the name and area you entered.
I have had some luck with this method as it tends to deliver results from address and phone directories. Most of these directories require payment before you can see all the information but often the free information is enough to confirm an address or phone number.
What is your subject known for?
Is there anything about the person that you are looking for that might make them stand out from the crowd? Is she a pilot for instance? Does she keep a pet? do you know their profession? Here are some examples of search queries that you could try: ["Jane Smith" pilot], ["John Smith" tiddles], ["John Smith" carpenter] etc. Any one of these queries could dig up gold for you when you find the right person from a social media page, professional networking site or even their own website or blog.
Searching for businesses
Finding a business online is usually a very simple task using Google, Yahoo, Bing or even one of the lesser known search engines. Generally speaking, businesses want to be found online so they make efforts to ensure that they can be found easily. Try entering the name of the business and the location into the Google box and more often or not, you will find what you are after.
What else can you do with a Google Search?
You can do all sorts of things with a Google query. For instance you can use "OR" between words when you want to find pages with either or all of your search words. An example of this might be if you were looking for recipes that were either [Vegetarian OR Vegan].
If you put a "-" in front of a word then you are looking for pages that do not include that word e.g. [salsa -dance] meaning that you are interested in the sauce and not the dance.
Another powerful query operator is called a tilde "~". Place this squiggle character in front of a word to find pages with words that are similar to the one you entered. So the query [~pet] will find pages with any of the words "pet", "dog", "cat, "Fish", "animal" etc.
Searching for people with Google is as close to free as it gets but you do have to take the time to learn the skill of searching and then hope that the information is there to find. It can often be so much easier and quicker to use a people finder website which may provide you with far more information than you can hope to get from Google alone.
You can find a list of the search operators on Wikipedia at

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