When it comes to custom search engines on Chrome, I don’t joke, I don’t play, I don’t mess around. It is a Very Serious Topic™ that comes up countless times in our internal Android Police discussions, more often than not when I figure out yet another useful engine that can shave off precious seconds from our daily workflows. That’s usually followed by a ten-minute chat about how clever that latest trick is and how I should write a book about custom search engines. Well, short of writing a long book then trying to find a publisher, here is a guide with all the tips, tricks, and smart ideas I’ve amassed over the last decade. This is the breadth of my knowledge and I have chosen to bestow it upon you, so please, treat it with the utmost respect.
What are custom search engines?
You’re familiar with Google, right? That’s a search engine. Browsers, be it on our phones or computers have default search engines that they revert to when you don’t type a full URL in the address bar. Say for example, that instead of “androidpolice.com” you typed “Android Police”, they’d look for that in the default search engine that comes with the browser. On Chrome (mobile and web), that’s Google, but you can manually change it to Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, or Ecosia, among others.
However, on the web, Chrome offers you the option of creating your own search engines so you can perform a search on any website, not just these. Maybe you want to add Qwant or Brave, or maybe you want to look for an item on Amazon or eBay; whatever the reason, you can set up your own engine with a keyword to quickly trigger it.
How to add a new search engine
Before adding any new search engine, you need to really look at your URL bar when you perform any search. Say I want to find a Pixel on Amazon, I go to amazon.com and I type Pixel, then I hit the search button. The results show up in a new page, with this URL:
Notice where the word that I looked for shows up — I emphasized it in bold. Now if I were to look for an M1 iMac instead, the results will load on this page:
My query words always appear in the same place in Amazon’s links, and short of Amazon changing the URL format for its entire store, this will be true for any search I perform for many months, if not years to come.
Custom search engines are basically shortcuts that use this URL trick to speed up the process. This is how you can add one for Amazon:
- On Chrome, tap the overflow ⋮ button on the top right next to your avatar, then go to Settings, scroll down to Manage search engines and open it. OR you can simply type chrome://settings/searchEngines in the address bar
- Click the blue Add button on the right, next to Other search engines
- Under Search engine, type the name you want to save this under. Let’s go with “Amazon”. This is basically the display name, so you can use whatever you want because it doesn’t matter much. Make sure to pick something descriptive enough, though.
- In Keyword, you have to type the shortcut that will trigger this search engine. It’s preferable that you pick something short that’s easy to remember. Good choices: “amazon” or “amz”. Bad choices: “www.amazon.com” or “searchingonamzn”. You get the gist.
- Under the third text box, URL with %s in place of query, you have to follow the instruction as it’s spelled out. Basically, this is where Amazon’s search URL format goes, but we have to replace the query word with “%s”. So, in this case, we type (notice the %s instead of pixel or imac):
Now tap Add and you’re done.
Above: Click the blue “Add” button on the right. Below: Fill out the pop like this.
To use your new search engine, open a new tab in Chrome and type the keyword you chose. In my case, that’s “amazon”, followed by a space. The engine is triggered and you should see it transform into the name you picked for it, “Amazon”.
Amazon search engine triggered.
After that, all I have to do is type the words I’m looking for, like “pixel” or “m1 imac”, and I’ll get the results for my query in Amazon’s store.
If you’re always looking for items on Amazon, you can see how this is much faster and more efficient than opening amazon.com first, placing the cursor in the search box, typing the name of the item, then waiting for the results to show up. But the beauty of custom engines is that they can be more, so much more.
Tip 1: Search your favorite retailers and sites
Of course, the straightforward way to use search engines is to create ones for the merchants you use the most — Amazon, eBay, BestBuy, Walmart, B&H, or whatever other retailers that are available in your country.
You can also set up search engines for the sites you often consult. YouTube, Wikipedia, IMDB, Trakt, the Google Play Store, Reddit, Twitter, Spotify, Giphy, these are some of my favorites. I love that they’re easily accessible to me, without having to open the site first.
➡️ For example, this is the URL to a Spotify search engine:
➡️ And this is the URL to perform a search here on Android Police:
Searching all the Amazons.
Tip 2: Add filters and sorting methods
More often than not, when performing a search on a site, you have to follow that by changing the sorting method of the results or by adding more filters. Maybe you’re looking for the most viewed videos on YouTube, the cheapest item on eBay, or for only free Android apps on the Play Store. If you’re attentive enough, you’ll notice that each time you change or add a new criteria, the URL changes to reflect this (at least on most sites).
➡️ For example, searching on YouTube for the 1000XM4 yields this URL:
But sorting by view count turns it into this — notice the appended part &sp=…
So if I always want to find the videos with the most views, instead of whatever YouTube’s algorithm wants me to see or thinks I’d like, I’d set up my YouTube search engine using that second URL and replace “1000xm4” with “%s”:
YouTube engine that automatically sorts by most views.
➡️ Another example is looking for free apps on the Play Store. If I search for “rss” then filter by Android apps, then filter again by free apps only, I get this URL — notice the &c=… criteria appended at the end
So my Play Store search engine would be the same, I just have to replace “rss” with “%s”:
Once you understand the concept, it’s very easy to transform any search engine into exactly what you want it to be. You can combine as many filters as you want with the sorting method that you prefer to save even more time. Who wants to open a site, find the search bar, type the words, wait for the results, apply a filter, then another, then pick the sorting order they need, and wait for the results to reload again and again? Instead, you just type your keyword, hit space, and the term you’re looking for. Easy peasy.
Since all that the search engine is doing is replacing the %s with your query word(s), then you can make part of your search static. Say you often do a Google search for the best Android app for a specific purpose, you’re probably typing something like “best android app for xyz”.
➡️ Let’s take money tracking as an example, the URL you get is:
Now instead of replacing the entire bold part with %s, you can keep the “best+android+app+for” and only replace “money+tracking”, like so:
Call this search engine “app” and you can basically do your search in a snap without having to type the entire query over and over again.
➡️ Another example would be using sites’ own search operators inside your search engine as a static entity. Think of things like “from:” or “older_than:” and others in Gmail, “artist:” or “album:” and others in Spotify, or “from” or “to” and others in Twitter. For example, this engine does a Google search for a specific word on androidpolice.com only:
➡️ And this engine looks for emails from a specific sender inside Gmail:
Searching Gmail by sender.
➡️ And this one only searches for artists on Spotify:
Tip 4: Multiple engines for the same site
Now that you’re starting to master this, let me point out the obvious: You can set up as many engines for a single site as you want. Say sometimes you want to find any image on Google Images, sometimes you only want GIFs, and other times you need to find images with a transparent background.
There’s nothing stopping you from adding all three search engines, each one with a different name and keyword shortcut.
➡️ This engine does a regular Google Images search:
➡️ This one filters for GIFs only:
➡️ And this one only looks for images with a transparent background:
Three search engines to quickly find the exact image I want.
Tip 5: Search sites without remembering their names
You’ve probably stumbled on some awesome sites that you thought you’d like to visit and search on again, but you ended up forgetting their addresses and never opening them again. Maybe it’s a site that unscrambles letters to help you with your next Scrabble round, an English site that surfaces the words related to any word, or one of the gazillion sites that serve free images under Creative Commons.
The beauty of custom search engines is that you can assign whatever keywords you want to these, you don’t need to remember the exact URL or name of the site.
➡️ It works well for individual sites. For example, this site unscrambles random letters to suggest Scrabble words, but I just gave it the “scrabble” keyword so I don’t have to remember its name or address:
➡️ And it works perfectly well for similar sites that serve the same purpose. For example, I have three search engines with the keywords pr1, pr2, pr3 that search different press release sites. I never have to remember their names or addresses. I’ve ordered them from the most useful to the least, so I always start with the one where I’m most likely to find what I’m looking for. If I don’t find it there, I move to the second, and so on.
Finding that press release, wherever it may hide.
➡️ I also have five search engines with the keywords cc1, cc2, cc3, cc4, cc5, that find images under the Creative Commons license. Again, these are sorted by the most useful to least. I’m never going to remember their names, but I can always perform my search on them. They get the clicks, I save time, win-win.
Tip 6: Shortcut to any site’s sub-pages
If you’re a fan of a particular site like Twitter, Instagram, or our own Android Police, and you often visit various sections or profiles on that site, you can use custom search engines to quickly input the main domain, so that you only have to manually type the sub-page.
➡️ This Twitter engine gets you straight to any user’s profile, as long as you know their handle:
A quick way to go to any Twitter profile.
➡️ This one does the same thing for Instagram:
➡️ And this one lets you access Android Police’s various sub-pages like “reviews”, “downloads”, “deals”, or “news” quickly:
Tip 7: Check a site’s different country or language versions
Many sites on the internet offer multiple versions for different languages and locales. These are usually indicated in the URL with /en for English, /es for Spanish, /us for the US, /in for India, and so on. If you’re a globetrotter or a multi-lingual person and you want to visit these different versions, you can set up a custom engine that lets you quickly pick the version you want — as long as you know what the site is using for its country or language codes.
➡️ For example, this custom engine can open the official Google Store in any country. You just have to manually type “us” for the US, “fr” for France, “uk” for the UK,…, you get the gist.
Finding any country’s Google Store.
Tip 8: Search engines as flexible bookmarks
Tips 6 and 7 alluded to this, but the general idea is that custom search engines can be flexible bookmarks for any site. You don’t need to add a bookmark to every sub-page or iteration of a page if only a small part of the URL changes. Instead, create an engine for the static part and replace the variable with %s.
➡️ For example, this Reddit engine allows you to visit any subreddit by just typing its name. Assign the “r/” shortcut keyword to it and you’re golden.
The most flexible reddit bookmark.
➡️ My other favorite example is one you’re probably not going to find useful, but it’ll illustrate my example to perfection. I often need to consult the articles I’ve written on Android Police in a specific month. The URL for August 2021 looks something like this — notice the 202107 at the end:
I used to change the bookmark every month, but I grew tired of it. Then I started bookmarking January and manually changing the 01 to other months. But I didn’t like that, and I also hated that Chrome doesn’t really offer bookmarks as some of the first suggestions when you type their name. You have to scroll down to get to them. Then it occurred to me that I could just create a search engine and leave the month variable, like so:
Now I just type my keyword shortcut, followed by a space, then 01 for January, 02 for February, and so on. It’s faster, more convenient, and doesn’t rely on Chrome’s whims for surfacing bookmarks. I only have to edit the engine once a year and I’m good.
Tip 9: Create a search engine where there is none
Some sites don’t have a search engine per se, but you notice that their URLs follow a specific pattern when you consult various pages.
➡️ A common example is WhatsApp’s page for sending messages to a number not in your contacts. There’s no way to get to this page except type it in the address bar, so it’s not a search engine, but if you set up a custom engine for it, you can get to it faster. Just type the full number (with the country code) as your query and you’ll get the redirect page.
If you always message people in a certain country, you can also add that as a static part. For example, France uses the code +33, so you’d set it up like so:
➡️ Another one for the Android geeks is the Play Store’s beta sign-up pages for apps. There’s no easy way to get to them on the web, but they all follow the same pattern. For example, the Google Messages’ official app listing is:
Whereas its beta sign-up page is — notice how the last part after testing/ below is the same as what comes after id= in the URL above:
If you take the URL pattern, you can transform it into a search engine, like so:
Now, whenever you’re browsing an app’s listing, you can just copy its id from the URL, trigger your custom search engine, and paste it. Boom.
No beta can hide from you.
Tip 10: Access Chrome flags in a snap
I’m embarrassed to admit I only thought about this recently — as a matter of fact it’s the discussion that ensued that made me finally sit down and write this whole article. The idea is that, as Android Police writers and geeks, we frequently visit chrome://flags and we always have to type that darn URL from scratch… unless we made a search engine for that.
➡️ To do this, set up this URL as your custom engine, and I recommend assigning the “//” keyword shortcut for it to avoid it interfering with other things:
Now you just type “// flags” in Chrome and get to the flags page. As a bonus, this works with all of Chrome’s pages, like “settings”, “bookmarks”, and “history”.
Is this the best way to get to Chrome flags or what?
Tip 11: Search your own Chrome history & more
Speaking of history, here’s one final chef’s-kiss tip from me. You know how Chrome is sometimes stubborn enough to not surface a page you visited a few days ago, no matter how many times you type some keywords from its URL or title? You’re then forced to go digging into your history to find it. Well, is there a search engine for that? I’m surprised we’re nearly 3000 words in and you’re even asking.
➡️ Add this URL as a search engine then type the query, and you’ll get the results in your own Chrome browsing history.
➡️ You can do the same thing for Chrome’s settings:
➡️ And for your bookmarks:
Chrome search engines for Chrome, what great inception is this!
Your entire browsing history is now a search engine 🤯.
There’s a custom search engine for that.
No matter what, how, where, there almost always is a custom search engine for your frequent web searches. The question is whether you want to spend 10 seconds once setting it up or you prefer to waste precious seconds every time you perform it, multiple times a day, week, month, etc… For me, the answer is crystal clear. And the collection of 120+ engines (and growing) I’ve amassed is a proof of that.
Prior to this article, all of this custom search engine knowledge had been privately shared in bits and pieces with my Android Police colleagues, trickled down generations of writers who had their mind blown by how much time they could save by simplifying and speeding all the searches they have to do daily. Now, with the article live, it feels a bit like I publicly shared my most personal secret weapon with the world. Like I opened up my brain and let you peer inside. I hope you appreciate it.