Nowadays lots of people use the word "google" as a verb, past tense "googled", which generally means to search the web using Google's search engine. When used as a gerund the word of typically "googling". (I'm not sure if these words should be capitalized, but that's not relevant to my question.)

Is there a common word or phrase that can be used in the same way, but that doesn't imply using any particular search engine? I'm curious because not everyone I talk to uses Google.

Example sentence, as a verb:

I _______ for the words "cute kitty" and found lots of results.

Example sentence, as a gerund:

I did some _______ but couldn't find anything relevant.

The best I can think of is "web search" or "web searching" but it strikes me as awkward. I'm hoping there's something a bit better and more natural sounding, especially if it's a single word.

  • What happened when you looked up "to google" in a dictionary? What did that tell you about other ways of phrasing it / potential synonyms? – AndyT May 17 at 15:51
  • @AndyT Some of the existing answers here already explore what dictionaries say about the term. I haven't found any mention of synonyms in them so far, and the dictionaries don't agree on whether or not the word "google" itself implies using Google's search engine. – GuyGizmo May 17 at 15:54
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12 Answers 12

up vote 47 down vote accepted

To search [...] online would be my choice. In your example sentence it would read:

I searched for the words "cute kitty" online and found lots of results.

...or...

I searched online for the words "cute kitty" and found lots of results.

As for your other sentence:

I did some searching online but couldn't find anything relevant.

According to Google Ngrams it seems to correlate well with "Google", though I'm quite surprised at those earlier results for the latter! (Perhaps something coming astray during the transcribing...). It also gets a lot more use than "search the net", "search the web" or "search the internet".

  • After much rumination, I decided to go with this answer, since I feel it strikes the best balance between sounding natural and being specific about searching the internet. A very close second was the answer from @lbf for just using "searching" since it's correct that generally people can gather from the context that you're talking about searching online. – GuyGizmo May 18 at 1:33
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    Be careful with this phrase in historical writing. Before 2000 approx, 'I searched online' can mean 'I searched AOL', 'I searched Usenet / WWW', 'I searched CompuServe', 'I searched Lexis-Nexis' or even 'I searched the local library catalogue'. Be clear about context. – Qsigma May 18 at 6:14
  • If I do not wish to specify a search engine particularly, I have been known to write for example, 'searching/searched/found on Big Internet Search Engine', which is not necessarily an entirely correct use of English. – Willtech May 19 at 4:43
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    If I'm doing extensive googling for something at work, I usually refer to it as "researching". As in "I researched cute kittens online and several sites agree that torbies are the cutest". Research suggests that I compared and compiled the results from one or more web searches, rather than did one search and opened the first result that seemed like a good match. – Anthony May 19 at 23:48
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    @Qsigma that is still valid today. Although web applications reign supreme, the "web search" that you get with Google is only the publicly accessible tip of the iceberg. A great deal more information is still in walled-off databases. This is why "researching" is a bad synonym. Someone who really researchers or even searches online will unlock more information than someone who merely does a web search. – Aleksandr Dubinsky May 21 at 10:56

Actually to google is becoming a general term to refer to any search engine:

verb (used without object)

  • (often lowercase) to use a search engine such as Google to find information, a website address, etc., on the Internet.

(Dictionary.com)

To google:

  • As a result of the increasing popularity and dominance of the Google search engine,1 usage of the transitive verb to google (also spelled Google) grew ubiquitously. The neologism commonly refers to searching for information on the World Wide Web, regardless of which search engine is used. The American Dialect Society chose it as the "most useful word of 2002." It was added to the Oxford English Dictionary on June 15, 2006, and to the eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary in July 2006.

(Wikipedia)

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    It looks like other dictionaries don't agree with dictionary.com or wikipedia, though. Most of them specifically say "to use the Google search engine" or something to that effect. But I do agree that it's becoming such a general term that oftentimes people do use it without necessarily meaning Google. I would still prefer a term that it isn't derived directly from an existing search engine's name. – GuyGizmo May 17 at 14:19
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    I say this all the time, not matter what search engine I'm using. It's like saying "kleenex" or "band-aid" to me. – MissMonicaE May 17 at 18:55
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    @GuyGizmo - I wouldn't say that M-W "disagrees" with those two definitions; I'd be more inclined to say that M-W hasn't updated and genericized its definition yet. Even M-W's example sentences are bland enough that any search engine could be imagined, with lower-case g's to boot: Canadians googled furiously to find out what this might mean; Have you ever googled yourself, maybe late at night, when nobody else was around? It's OK, you can admit it. I think we can safely agree that Google has become a genericized trademark. – J.R. May 17 at 20:52
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    Scott Hansleman - a conference speaker and Microsoft employee often says 'google that with bing' in his talks. twitter.com/shanselman/status/454301463293198336 – eidsonator May 18 at 14:42
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    @AaronMcMillin Sure, googling something with Bing is just like hoovering a room with a Dyson – user568458 May 18 at 18:37

In the days of the web before Google existed (mid to late '90s), we just called it "searching" or "performing a web search" (web search would be the common noun). Doing so usually entailed using 3 or 4 different search engines to find what you were looking for, as no particular search engine was very good, and each would give different results. Some I remember using include Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Web Crawler, Excite, Lycos, and Ask Jeeves. None were overwhelmingly dominant.

Google was superior enough to the competition at the time it came out that most people abandoned other search engines. It could usually get you what you wanted on the first try. That's when "googling" became the generic verb for searching the web.

  • 5
    I just want to add (not really unique enough for its own answer IMHO) that "Searching the web" was a common construction prior to "Googling" becoming a standard term. "Websearching"/"web searching" was definitely also used, but the OP here specifically asked for less awkward alternatives - "search" is probably it but "Search the web" specifically is what sounds right to my recollection. – Darren Ringer May 17 at 21:02
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    @DarrenRinger, I admit my conclusion isn't that unique to other answers here. But I felt that whereas a lot of the other answers seem to be citing dictionaries and other sources to find alternative meanings of the word "google", it might be useful to recollect that we had a word for what the OP is asking about before "google" was even a word and came into common usage. – Seth R May 17 at 21:18
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    @DarrenRinger "Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Web Crawler, Excite, Lycos, and Ask Jeeves." It never occurred to them that they should be verbs. – Keith McClary May 17 at 22:51
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    "Web-searched" or "Performed a "Web-search" I believe are about the closest to the intent of the question. To back that up, I examined "Lucene in Action 2nd Edition", an excellent technical guide on the subject of search-engines and indexing. There is no reference that I can see to anything resembling a General term for "googling", and if I was going to find it anywhere it'd be there! – Ruadhan2300 May 18 at 15:18
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    @PeterCordes, fun fact I learned on Wikipedia, in 1999 the Google founders actually tried to sell Google to Excite for $750,000. The Excite CEO declined. – Seth R May 21 at 2:42

As in:

What did your search reveal?

On Wikipedia there is a whole subsection of SEARCHING devoted to Computing Technology.

Computing technology

  • Search algorithm, including keyword search
  • Search engine technology, software for finding information
    • Web search engine, a service for finding information on the World Wide Web
    • Enterprise search, software or services for finding information within organizations
  • Search and optimization for problem solving in Artificial Intelligence

I appears when using search in the proper context it will be known that you used a search 'engine' to peruse the internet for information.

  • OP includes the word 'search'. – Edwin Ashworth May 17 at 22:07
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    @EdwinAshworth Only superficially. OP includes the phrase "web search", which I agree is a bit clumsy. This answer recommends simply getting rid of web, because it would be known from the context anyway. – pipe May 18 at 13:58
  • @EdwinAshworth Op includes words 'web search'. – lbf May 18 at 14:05

I used to use look up

to try to find a particular piece of information by looking in a book or on a list, or by using a computer
Macmillian

And, this is the phrase taught on Sesame Street (during Elmo's World when Elmo is consulting with Smartie the smartphone).

In your examples:

I looked up "cute kitty" and found lots of results.

and as a gerund (up is dropped)

I did some looking but couldn't find anything relevant.

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    +1 No idea on the effect age may have on this, but any (1st-world?) age cohort equal with me or younger probably considers the Internet their default source for information. As in, I'd have to specify if I had used some source other than the Internet. – Jeutnarg May 18 at 14:24
  • I don't know where they got it from, but my kids use the term search up for searching for, or looking up, information on the web. – nekomatic May 18 at 16:01

In more formal contexts, one can perform an internet/online search/query without ever mentioning Google:

We performed an online search to identify relevant conference proceedings, journal articles, reports, and academic theses. — Andreas Freitag, Applying Business Capabilities in a Corporate Buyer M&A Process, 2014.

The Rugge Group performed an online search of the trade press to identify leading software developers and to find articles on the cost of developing software. — Ronald G. Albright, Electronic Communications for the Home and Office, 2018.

You have now performed an online query for “web design company” and now the results page is sitting there just waiting for your instructions. — Denver Online Pro, 28.10.2017.

In an attempt to locate the employer, a WHD investigator performed an internet search and located a business going by a similar name and listed as a farm instead of being listed as a trucking company as the complaint indicated. — Gregory D. Kutz, Department of Labor: Case Studies…, 2009.

In a more conversational tone, where performed would seem out of place, one can simply do the search:

Maybe you experienced some of these feelings the last time you did an online search. You had a question, launched an Internet search, roamed around the search results, checked out some of the more relevant items, and hopefully got what you needed. — Patricia A. McLagan, Unstoppable You, 2017.

“I did a search online and found a couple of sites that are really good. One of them was exactly what I was looking for, it was all about the topic I was working on, another site had a load of quotations from other people that were really useful. — James Carmichael, Challenges in Counselling: Research, 2013.

As a sidenote, the German verb googeln (ich google, du googelst, er googelt, ppart. gegoogelt) first made its way into a dictionary in 2004 and is required vocabulary for the B1 certificate in German as a foreign language from the Goethe Institute.

If I'm doing extensive googling for something at work, I usually refer to it as researching. As in:

I researched cute kittens online and several sites agree that torbies are the cutest.

Research suggests that I compared and compiled the results from one or more web searches, rather than did one search and opened the first result that seemed like a good match. So it isn't a perfect substitute for "Googled" but it may be a better fit for when you want to convey greater depth than just a casual one-off search. See also: wikihole.

Perhaps browse, browsing the web.

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    Please add a source to support your answer. – JJJ May 17 at 21:34
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    Browsing implies more of a casual exploration without a specific goal. – Qwertie May 18 at 0:57
  • Not everything needs a source. 'Browsing the web' is a pretty ubiquitous term. You're using a web browser right now. – person27 May 19 at 13:48
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    @person27 - One can browse the web without searching for anything, and without using a search engine. This seems like a weak answer. – J.R. May 20 at 3:08
  • @J.R. Having a goal is important to best answer the question, I agree. – person27 May 20 at 6:36

"Web search" beats "online search" and is competitive with "google" on Google Ngram viewer

The real meaning of "to google" is to do a cursory search of the publicly accessible Web. This has the connotation that the search is far from exhaustive. A lot of quality online information requires registering and even paying. E.g., when you "research" a job candidate, you'll probably begin by logging into LinkedIn. You may even pay for an online background check. Contrast this with the quip "let me google that for you," which suggests that a question is so easy to answer that googling it is all that is necessary.

"Web search" arguably better captures this meaning of "google" than "to research" or to "search online."

Scan(ed)?

"I scanned the web/net last night looking for an answer"

  • Please add a source to support your answer. – JJJ May 19 at 3:05
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    That implies you went crawling over pages yourself, instead of just asking a search engine for results on a specific query. (Like "scoured the web"). That's a much more time-intensive thing and not the same as "I googled for an answer last night", which would imply you probably tried a few different search terms and looked through a page or two of results for each, if from context you spent more than a minute on it. – Peter Cordes May 19 at 19:10
  • True, good point. Seems Google has created a more unique term that I had thought. – Hunter Frazier May 20 at 4:59

I searched online for the words "cute kitty" and found lots of results.

I did some searching online, but couldn't find anything relevant.

Q: Is there a more general term for “googling” that doesn't imply a particular search engine?

I sympathize with your plight as I have grown weary of "googling" [it] as well.

I would rather create my own phrase rather than putting any more mileage on "googling" than it already has. A phrase I remember having used before to avoid referring to any search engine in particular is "cyber safari."

E.g. I had always wondered when and where the phrase "larger-than-life" was born, so I embarked upon a cyber safari.

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