Google Chrome completely broke the mould when it was released in 2008. One of the many ways it did this was with the “omnibox”. Today, this feature is ubiquitous in all web browsers (such that you probably don’t even know what the omnibox is!), but it’s where you can enter a web address, or enter a term and search for that term, all from one convenient place (before that, there were separate boxes for each function – I know, crazy times!).
You set a default search engine so that if what you enter in the omnibox is not a valid URL, it will search that search engine for whatever you entered.
And that is where most people’s usage of the omnibox stops. However, there is a way that you can search all sorts of sites with great ease, something that I’ve been doing for many years, and which saves me a great deal of time instead of bouncing around various sites unnecessarily.
If you right click in the omnibox, you’ll notice that the menu allows you to “Manage Search Engines”. Go in there. This is where you can add loads of different search engines and use a “keyword” to activate those search engines.
“But I only ever use Google/Bing/DuckDuckGo. Why would I want to use multiple search engines?” Well, let me expand your mind on what could constitute a search engine.
When you go to Google, you’ll often find yourself wanting to know the same type of information regularly.
“What’s that new show that Michael Keaton is in?”
“How’s GME doing today?”
“How do I get to John’s house from here?”
For the first question, bringing up Michael Keaton’s IMDB page will probably get you straight to the information that you want. For the second, pulling the stock up on Robinhood will do the trick. For the third, pulling up Google Maps/Waze/Bing Maps will be what you’re looking for.
In each case though, you’re going to enter a search term. For IMDB, you’ll go to the IMDB site and then search for Michael Keaton, and then go to his page. But with this feature in Google Chrome, you can cut out that middle step completely.
When you search for something on a site (like IMDB), take a look at the URL of the page that shows the results. It will typically have a very predictable form and you’ll notice your search term in the URL. For example, if I search IMDB for Michael Keaton, the URL is:
Google Chrome allows you to enter the format of this URL and search IMDB by entering a keyword in the omnibox first. Let me show you.
How to add custom search engines
Right click in the omnibox and choose “Manage Search Engines”. You’ll see a list of Default Search Engines, and then “Other Search Engines” which you can add to. Click on the Add button.
Under “Search Engine”, just enter a name for the site – this is just for your reference. For keyword, this is what you want to be able to type in the omnibox in order to “activate” that search engine. So in the IMDB example, I decided that “imdb” was already short and memorable enough, so I just used that.
The “URL” field is where the magic happens and can seem daunting, but really isn’t that difficult. Go back to the URL of the search results on the site that you’re trying to use. For us, it was the IMDB URL as shown above. You just have to identify where in that URL the search term is (in this case “Michael Keaton” – you can ignore that it placed a + sign between different words) and replace the search term with “%s”. So whereas the URL for Michael Keaton’s IMDB search results was
we can modify that to the following so that it can be used for any search term:
Now in the omnibox, once you type “imdb” and a space, you’ll see the omnibox change to indicate that it’s going to search IMDB for whatever you enter.
Examples of other search engines to use
I use this feature fairly extensively, so over time, I’ve built up a little repertoire of sites where I use this. Here’s a sample of my search engines:
|Type of information||Service I use||Omnibox keyword||URL|
|Just about everything||Wikipedia||w|
|Business reputation||Better Business Bureau||bbb|
|My own website||WordPress||dave|
|WordPress functions||Developer handbook||wpdev|
|Personal contacts||Google Contacts||contact|
|Personal files||Google Drive||drive|
|Personal notes||Google Keep||keep|
|Directions and business listings||Google Maps||map|
|HTTP headers||HTTP Status||http|
|Royalty free images||Pexels||pexels|
|Slang terms||Urban Dictionary||ud|
|DNS records||What’s My DNS?||dns|
As you can see, once you think about it and figure out what information you’re routinely looking for, you can find the URL format of the search results from that website and very quickly get there with a one or two character keyword and your search phrase. Now, finding out how GameStop performed today is as simple as typing
What could be easier!? How are you using this feature?