Tips and tricks for mastering the Chrome Omnibox

If you’re using Google products, like Google Drive, Google’s Gmail, or just use Google for search, you’re probably already using the Chrome browser. And if you’re not, here’s your chance. An invitation. A new experience awaiting you – all you have to do is download it, and set yourself free!

 

Unlike all the other browsers, Chrome is designed for fast, sleek performance, and leaves all the bloat behind. You won’t see additional toolbars, “enhanced” search bars, and loads of other time-wasting plugins. Chrome gets you to your web content fast.

 

Another great feature is Chrome’s sandboxing, where each tab and each window operate independently of each other – so if there ever is a problem with a website loading, the rest of your browsing won’t be disturbed.

 

A major feature of Chrome is the Omnibox. There are no separate spaces for search and the URL – just one, simple place for both search and direct URL entry. But wait! There’s more! Read on to find out how to take full advantage of the Omnibox in Google Chrome.

1. Effective Search Operators

Sometimes called the URL box, or the address bar, the Omnibox does many things, and mainly, you probably use it for search. Being good at searching is key in finding what you need, and writing effective search queries directly, without having to resort to the Advanced Search widget in Google can save time in the long run. Try some of these examples:

 

Want to limit your search results to a set of websites, like those ending in .gov? Or to a particular website, like amazon.com? Just include the [site:] search operator with your search query, and you’ll be served up a narrower set from Google.


 

Fig 1. – Searching within a specific site, or sites that end in .gov

 

What if you don’t want to search for something? Most of the time when you search for anything, you get a gazillion results back, and many of us don’t bother to navigate past the first page of search results. What if you could exclude information? Well, you can!

 

Include a minus sign [-] combined with the search term, and that removes that term from the search. You’re effectively saying search for this, and this, but not that. Like this: [warm jacket boys -pink -adidas]

 

Another key to remember, when crafting search queries in the Omnibox, is that Google assumes a few things, like the use of [OR] or [AND]. And if you want to make sure Google searches in a specific order, be sure to include that, too. For example, if you’re searching for [european wild flowers], Google assumes you’re looking for a site that contains the words european, wild, and flowers, but not in any specific order. If you want results where those words appear, as a phrase, use the double quotes around your query, like “european wild flowers”. Your search result will be very different.

 

Something that can be quite amusing when searching is Google’s autocomplete, which makes for quicker searching, but sometimes shines a light on what others search for (see example below). The autocomplete works really well when you’re quickly navigating to sites you’ve been to before, as there’s no need to type an entire URL again. Just look for it, and use your arrow keys to select, then hit enter to commit.


 

Fig 2. – The Autocomplete makes searching faster, and sometimes a whole lot more fun!

2. Quick Information

I often use the Omnibox for quick look ups, and while this is like search, the results appear as info boxes with pertinent information. For example, if I search for the weather for today, I enter [weather 44111], and up pops a great little weather widget.


 

Fig 3. – The only way I check the weather report nowadays.

 

If I’m looking for some Chinese food, it’s [chinese food 44111] and I get a nice layout with access to many of the restaurants’ websites, menus, etc.


 

Fig 4. – I love how easy it is to find good food in a new city. Google even ranks and rates each establishment as well.

 

[dry cleaner 44111] gives me a good idea of where to take my clothes.


 

Fig 5. – A quick overview map is great for finding new locations.

 

Try searching for common data, and see what you get. Oftentimes, the clearer you are, the better. And best of all, there’s no need to go digging in a website for the information – Google pulls it all out for you. You can still dig deeper if you want, but for stuff like [hotel near columbus convention center ohio] it’s great. Takes me right where I want to be.

3. Calculate, Convert, and Define

I haven’t used a real calculator in years. And more often than using my cell phone, I use the Omnibox in Chrome to calculate stuff. Try simple stuff like [9*43] in the Omnibox, and you get the answer, and served with a great in-browser calculator.


 

Fig 6. – The calculator within the Chrome browser.

 

Need to convert stuff, like temperature, or metric units? No problem. What about [2013 in roman numerals]? Try it!

 

Fig 7. – A quick search results box. Handy!

 

The Omnibox can also graph things for you, like [x*sin(y)]. Here’s to beautiful mathematics:

 

Fig 8. – Math is beautiful!

 

Need to know what a word means? Simply preface your query with ‘define’, and Google will define, and even pronounce the word for you:


 

Fig 9. – More about the Swedish smorgasbord than you wanted to know?

4. Find Your Way

You’ve probably used Google Maps for some time now, but entering your quest in the Omnibox makes finding a route even faster. Next time you’re travelling, try entering your starting point and your destination, separated with a ‘to’ for quick access to the Google Map. In this case, I used [500 s main street akron oh to 100 main st wadsworth oh]. If you need more detailed turn-by-turn directions, click the down-arrow below the map.


 

Fig 10. – Quick directions for finding the best route to a new place.

5. Refining Search Results

Don’t forget to refine your search results, especially if it’s about something important. Use the search tools below the search bar, when you get the search results back, to dig deeper, like searching all time records versus records in the last month. There are all sorts of search refinement strategies and tools within that toolset, so it pays to look around a bit and get comfortable.

 

Fig 11. – The search refinement bar below the search bar is valuable in finding the best results, especially when it counts!

6. Custom Search Engines

If you want to customize how Google searches from the Omnibox, you have that option too. By default, it uses Google Search to do your bidding, but you also have the option of adding your own search engines, like YouTube, Amazon.com, or even your Google Drive.

 

Go to Chrome’s Settings, then click ‘Manage search engines…’ Once there, you can add your own search engine, and give it a shortcut. When you need to search using that engine, simply type the shortcut in the Omnibox, then ‘TAB’ to search that engine. Here are some search engines to try – you can add your own shortcut to make it simple for you:

 

  • Google Drive – https://docs.google.com/?hl=en&tab=bo#search/%s
  • Gmail – https://mail.google.com/mail/ca/u/0/#apps/%s
  • IMDB – http://www.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=%s
  • YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%s&page={startPage?}&utm_source=opensearch

 

Fig 12. – Managing your custom search engines is easy within Chrome’s Settings.

 

Another really handy feature, right from the Omnibox, is to add a Google Calendar event. Simply add the following string as a new Custom Search Engine, and when you use that shortcut, you can add an event very quickly.

 

Here’s the URL for adding the Google Calendar Quick Add action to yout Omnibox: http://www.google.com/calendar/event?ctext=+%s+&action=TEMPLATE&pprop=HowCreated%3AQUICKADD



 

Fig 13. – The Quick Add action using the Omnibox – what it looks like in the Omnibox, with resulting calendar event being added.

 

The Omnibox will surprise you. There are all sorts of fun stuff you can make it do, to enhance your life. If you need a laugh, try the following: [tilt], [recursion], [the answer to life the universe and everything], and my favorite [zerg rush]. Have fun!

 

Andreas Johansson is the Director of Technology Integration & Curriculum for Kenston Local Schools in Ohio, a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer, and uses the Omnibox exclusively for all things search! You can find him here.