Search Gmail Like a Pro with These Modifiers

It’s been said several times before that if you live by the Google, you can only expect to die by the Google. That’s in the context of relying heavily on organic search engine traffic, which can disappear in an instant with an algorithm update. All of that hard SEO work could go down the toilet.

Whether or not you subscribe to such a philosophy, it is undeniable that Google is a positively invaluable tool for all Internet marketers. Even if you don’t rely on organic search traffic, Google itself can really help to empower a lot of what you do on the web and, for the most part, these services are provided to you for free.

The main search engine is obvious enough, making it easy for you to find the information you need. You might also be familiar with some of the available search modifiers, like putting quotes around a term to get an exact phrase match or inputting to only return results from that specific domain. You can utilize similar modifiers in Gmail.

This is true whether you use an actual email address or you run your own domain’s email through Gmail. Because of the abundant amount of storage made available to you, you may feel inclined to “archive” the overwhelming majority of your messages rather than delete them outright. And in doing so, you can leverage the power of Google’s search technology to seek out messages with vital information that you may have archived months or even years ago.

Just like the main Google search engine, you can go about this in a rather organic way, searching for the terms or phrases you think might be relevant. Or you can search like a power user by utilizing one or more search operators from within Gmail. These are all accessible via the “search” bar at the top of your Gmail screen.


While many people don’t really use the “folder” system in Gmail anymore, it’s still there if you want to use it. And even if you don’t actively use it, some default folders are always going to be there too, like starred, chats, and trash. If you know that the message you’re looking for is in a particular folder, you can use this modifier. If you know that the information you need is in a Google Hangouts conversation, then preface your search with “in:chats” to limit the search to your chats. Using is:chat serves the same purpose.


Files get sent back and forth via email all the time, from images to PDF documents to multimedia files. Let’s say that you know a colleague sent you an important Word document recently, but you don’t remember what it is called or who it was that sent it. To find that, enter “filename:doc” or “filename:docx” to limit the search to messages that contain a .doc (or a .docx) attachment. If you know the exact filename, that’s even better. Search for “filename: john-chow-contract.doc” to find that specific attachment.


This is pretty obvious. By using the “from” search operator in Gmail, you’ll bring up all the messages that are from a particular sender. What’s great is that this works with not only the person’s email address, but also his or her name if it’s part of the “from” header in the message. For instance, maybe you’re looking for a message from Jane Smith but you don’t remember that her email address is Simply put “From:Jane” in the search field.


While this might sound like a natural extension of the “from” modifier, it can be used in an even more powerful way. Yes, you can look for messages that were sent to a particular recipient, both by name or email address. Where this can get more interesting is if you use Gmail to manage multiple email addresses or if you’ve created modifiers to your main Gmail address.

You might already know, for example, that is the same as and By signing up for different services using these kinds of modifiers, you can look for messages that were sent to those particular modified addresses, thus limiting your search to messages related to where you use that modified address.


Most people know that if you put quotes around any phrase, the search will only look for an exact match on that phrase. That’s why a search for vancouver bloggers is different from a search from “vancouver bloggers” for example. With the former, while the search ideally returns messages containing both terms, that might not necessarily be the case. To do that, you can group terms together using parentheses like this: (vancouver bloggers).


Maybe you want to find a message that contains two specific terms, but you don’t want to return messages where those two terms are really far apart from one another and thus may not be directly related. That’s when the “around” modifier can come in handy.

When you search for “internet around 4 mastermind” (without the quotes), the results will show messages where the words “internet” and “mastermind” appear within four words of one another.


If you’re like me, then you’ve been using Gmail for a very long time. This also means you have literally thousands and thousands of messages sitting in there and you don’t have the time to sift through them all to look for something specific. Even if you get the right search term, you might have to wade through a long history before you get to what you want. That’s where time modifiers can be useful.

If you utilize after:2016/01/31, you’ll only get messages from after January 31, 2016. If you include before:2017/01/02, you’ll only get messages from before January 2, 2017. You can then use a combination of these two to create a specific date range. The modifiers older: and newer: work in the same way.


This might sound similar to the before: and after: modifiers, but the difference here is that you don’t use an actual date. Instead, you use a period of time. So, if your search includes older_than:3m, the results will only include messages that are older than three months. Use “d” for days and “y” for years. On the flipside, newer_than: will do the reverse, finding messages that are newer than a certain period of time.


And finally, this modifier came in especially useful for me recently when I found that I was actually getting close to using all of my Google Drive space. Yes, I know! I could upgrade the cloud storage, but I’m already using Dropbox and OneDrive too. I found that Gmail was a fairly large culprit and one way to clear up space was to delete older messages with giant attachments I no longer needed.

When you include the modifier larger:5M, for instance, the search results will bring back messages that are larger than 5MB. If you don’t put the M, it will assume the number refers to the number of bytes. If, for whatever reason, you’re looking for tiny messages, smaller: also works.

Remember that you can use a combination of any of these to really refine your search results. Putting a hyphen (-) before your search term, just like in Google, will also remove messages containing that term from your results.

Do you have a favorite Gmail search operator or search trick that I missed?

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