I just reviewed the Google Pixelbook and I think itâ€™s great â€” but Chrome OS is much more limited than either macOS or Windows when it comes to customizing how the core OS works. One of my favorite tools on the Mac is called Alfred, a tool that pops up a little search bar that can do basically anything you can think to program into it. I use it so much I have replaced my Caps Lock key with it and when I use a Chromebook, I miss it terribly.
But! Chromebooks have a similar text box, itâ€™s the Google search bar. But itâ€™s not as powerful as Alfred when it comes to customizing stuff. Luckily, Chrome has a hidden little feature that lets you customize how that search box works with different rules.
If you do a certain kind of internet search over and over again, customizing your search engines in Chrome can make that much easier. For me, obviously, itâ€™s searching The Verge, but I also have custom engines set up for YouTube, Amazon, news from the past week, and a few more things.
So, for example, when I want to search Amazon for something, I can just type â€œaz batteryâ€ in my Chrome bar or in the Chromebook search bar and it just opens Amazon and searches for that thing.
Those customizations arenâ€™t just limited to the Google search bar on Chromebooks. Basically, as long as youâ€™re logged into Chrome, your customizations for the search bar will sync across to any Chrome Browser youâ€™re using. So whether you use a Chromebook or just use the Chrome browser, hereâ€™s how to supercharge your searches for the stuff you use most often. (Note, however, that these settings donâ€™t sync to Chrome on mobile nor to the Google app on mobile, which is annoying.)
Step One: find the Manage search engines setting
The first thing you have to do is actually find the darn setting you want. In Chrome, click the three-dot menu and go to settings, then scroll down to â€œSearch engineâ€ and click on â€œManage search engines.â€ You can also just type â€œengineâ€ in the search bar at the top of the settings, if you want.
When you click in, youâ€™ll probably see an absolutely bogglingly large list of search engines listed. â€œDonâ€™t I just use Google?â€ you may ask. Yes, but hereâ€™s what Chrome is doing: it keeps an eye on the websites you visit most and if it understands how to search those sites, it will eventually just add them to this list automatically.
What this list does is set up the ability to do more than just â€œGoogle it.â€ So, for example, if you have visited 9to5Mac a bunch and then type â€œ9to5Mac.com iPhone,â€ Chrome will limit that search to just that website.
Though itâ€™s tempting, I do not recommend messing around with the â€œdefault searchâ€ section. You could, in theory, put some other search engine like Bing or DuckDuckGo in here, but generally speaking you should leave it alone. But, now that youâ€™re here, itâ€™s time to get customizing the other engines.
Step Two: clean up (or donâ€™t)
This is an optional step, but I went through and manually removed a ton of sites from this list, so I could have an easier time seeing what search options I actually want. You have to click the three-dot menu next to each item and click â€œRemove from listâ€ to eliminate it.
But you donâ€™t have to do this. For one, itâ€™s annoying that Google adds a ton of sites here automatically, so itâ€™ll take forever. For another, even after you do it, a bunch of sites will get re-added later. Lastly, I donâ€™t think having a million of these custom search engines in here hurts anything or slows anything down.
Itâ€™s just helpful to see what youâ€™ve got saved. Bluntly, Googleâ€™s tools for managing this stuff are so basic that youâ€™re going to get annoyed at some point in this process. Just a fair warning.
Step Three: do a test search
Pick the thing you want to search and then… go search the thing. For this example, Iâ€™m using Amazon. You just go to the website and type a search into the box. I recommend typing â€œtest searchâ€ in.
One you do the search, go look at the URL. Somewhere in that mess of & and # and % and whatever, you will actually see your â€œtest searchâ€ phrase. Amazonâ€™s looks like this:
Now, go to that URL and edit it, right there in the browser URL bar, and change â€œtest searchâ€ to â€œ%sâ€ (no quotes). â€œ%sâ€ is Chromeâ€™s way of saying â€œthe search term goes hereâ€ for custom searches. Donâ€™t hit enter after you swap it, just put in %s and copy it, it will look like this:
Step Four: add your custom search
Go back to your â€œManage search enginesâ€ screen and click add. There are three fields, hereâ€™s how they work.
Search Engine: This is the text youâ€™ll see in the URL bar on the browser when you do the custom search. Put whatever description makes sense to you here.
Keyword: This is how youâ€™ll trigger your custom search. Chrome usually defaults to making it the full name of a website, but thatâ€™s annoying. I always pick something short. So for Amazon, Iâ€™ve chosen â€œaz.â€ I have a ton of these, and I have developed a little system for my codes so theyâ€™re easier to remember. Iâ€™m going to post a bunch of my favorites at the bottom of this article.
URL with %s in place of query: That URL that you copied in the last step? Paste it here.
When youâ€™re done, click save!
Step Five: Try it!
Fire up a browser tab or hit the search button on your Chromebook and try your new search out. Use space between your keyword and your search term. In the browser bar, as soon as you hit space the bar should show the Search Engine name you chose. On a Chromebook, you wonâ€™t get that visual feedback, but it should still work.
Some of my favorite custom searches
This tool has saved me a lot of extra keystrokes and time. Iâ€™ve set up a bunch of time-limited Google searches so I donâ€™t have to manually dig into the â€œSearch Toolsâ€ field, for example. Iâ€™ve also set up direct searches into a lot of other web services I use all the time. Here are just a few examples, as you can see I kind of ended up setting up a little system to group them in my mind:
gm: a Google search thatâ€™s just limited to links from the past month.
gw: a Google search limited to the last week
gd: A Google search limited to the last 24 hours
gh: A Google search limited to just the last hour
t: A Twitter search
tu: Open the profile for a specific user
Something interesting I want to point out about that last one: itâ€™s not technically just a search. Itâ€™s just a URL. That means you can use this trick to quickly open any webpage where you know it has a variable URL, but you donâ€™t want to bother with a bookmark for it. So if youâ€™re a hardcore reddit user, for example, you could set up a reddit shortcut to open up the latest posts in a subreddit.
Because reddit has a pretty stable URL structure for its â€œNew,â€ â€œHot,â€ and â€œTopâ€ sections, you could set up a little system to jump you directly into the section that you want.
This is pretty close to what I do when I want to jump to a specific place on my website, The Verge. The basics are the same for any URL and for most of the searches you might do on the web: if you find yourself clicking the same darn buttons over and over again, it might be easier to just set up a keyword for it in Chrome. Give it a try!