In Part 1, I said that Firefox was my preferred browser and listed some extensions that I like. They’re cool and useful, but pale in comparison to my favorite and most indispensable feature – smart keywords.
I used Firefox for a long time before discovering smart keywords. After I did, it has been a monumental shift in how I use the browser and search for information.
Let’s start with keywords in general – not the smart kind. Keywords can be assigned to any of your existing internet bookmarks. Here’s how:
- Show the bookmarks sidebar by pressing Control+B (Command+B on a Mac)
- Search for or navigate to a bookmark, right-click and choose Properties
- Add a keyword that describes the bookmark (e.g. ‘goog’ for Google), press Save
- Type the keyword into the address bar and hit return
In step 4, you should have gone straight to your bookmarked page. For commonly used bookmarks this saves you time – you don’t have to go hunting for the bookmark in a menu, you just type the keyword and it goes straight there.
Here’s a real-world example:
Let’s say you’re a frequent visitor to Yosemite National Park the URL for the road conditions page is fairly long [http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/conditions.htm#CP_JUMP_106631]. You’ve bookmarked it, but you have so many bookmarks that you have trouble finding it in the menus. You can add a keyword for that bookmark called ‘yoro’ and then you can just type in ‘yoro’ whenever you want to see current road closures.
You should use keywords that are simple and memorable to you, so you don’t have to think too hard. For example, I use ‘g’ for Google, ‘imdb’ for IMDb, and ‘you’ for YouTube. Simple stuff like that.
Oh, and one more HUGELY IMPORTANT POINT! To get to the address bar without leaving the keyboard, hit Control+L. That’s the Control Key, then the letter L (Command+L on a Mac). This action highlights the existing URL so you can just start typing to replace it. Most of the efficiency gained from using keywords is lost if you’re taking your hands off the keyboard and using the mouse to put your cursor in the address bar, but you knew that already, right? OK, good.
So what are smart keywords? They allow you to add words after your keyword to perform searches. Follow this example for a Google search:
- Go to www.google.com
- Right-click in the search box and choose Add a Keyword for this Search from the menu
- In the Add Bookmark window, type in ‘g’ for the keyword and click Save
- Test by typing in ‘g jawsnap photo’ in the address bar and hit return
You should now be looking at a search results page with my photo website at the top of the list. This is because the smart keyword took what you typed after it – ‘jawsnap photo’ – and passed it as the search terms to Google.
Want to search for cupcakes? Just type ‘g cupcakes’!
Want to search for a greasy spoon in Lancaster, CA? Just type ‘g cheap diner near 93534′!
Want to visit the tallest building in the world? Just type ‘g visit burj khalifa’!
Get the idea? Now you can create keywords for searching all your favorite websites!
Remember, this is about efficiency. If you only know two keyboard shortcuts in Firefox, you should know Control+T to open a new tab and Control+L to jump to the address bar (Command+T and Command+L on a Mac). In either case the cursor will be in the address bar and you can immediately start typing your search.
Here are some basic searches using smart keywords that you can add simply by right-clicking in the search box and choosing Add a Keyword for this Search. I’ve included the keywords that I use, but choose whatever makes the most sense to you.
When you use a smart keyword, Firefox makes a special URL in the bookmark where ‘%s’ is replaced by your search terms. I’ve highlighted them all so you can see the differences between the URLs. You don’t need to worry about this for the basic examples, it’s just to help explain what’s going on.
With these smart keyword bookmarks, you can:
- Type ‘map nyc’ and immediately go to a map of New York City
- Type ‘imdb memento’ and get a list of results that include when the movie was made (a single click will get you to the movie’s full page)
- Type ‘def masticate’ to find out what this seemingly dirty word actually means
- Type ‘wiki us presidents’ and go straight to the article that lists them in order with exact dates
- Type ‘weather paris, france’ and go straight to a detailed weather report for Paris
- Type ‘wolf marathon distance’ and get the result in miles, kilometers, meters, centimeters and nautical miles
And of course much, much more! All without touching the mouse!
It’s worth noting that some of these URLs contain superfluous information, and some of it is specific to your locale or computer. For example, note that the Google Images URL contains screen resolution information and the Wikipedia URL detected that my language is English. You can certainly experiment with stripping out some of this information but speaking from experience, it’s not worth it. Also be aware that as internet companies grow and change, the URLs can change too, so there is a chance that your smart keyword URLs will stop working. All of these are current as of this writing.
These examples aren’t quite as simple or obvious – you have to manually create the URL.
‘en’ refers to the two letter language code that you want to translate into, which is English in this case. ‘de’ would be German, ‘ja’ would be Japanese, etc. ‘#auto’ means that you want Google to automatically detect the source language, otherwise you have to specify.
To translate any text into English just select and copy it, go to the address bar and type ‘tr’, then paste and hit return. Of course it can’t translate everything and sometimes it’s a very poor translation, but it’s still an amazing tool.
|Google Search (lucky)||gg||http://www.google.com/search?q=%s&btnI=I%27m+Feeling+Lucky|
If I want a full list of results from Google, my keyword is ‘g’. If I know that the website I want will be the first result, my keyword is ‘gg’ which will take me straight to there, equivalent to pressing the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.
Yelp is special because it forces you to have a local area – you can’t simply search all of Yelp for something. I live in LA, so my smart keyword URL uses ‘Los Angeles, CA’ as the location, using encoded equivalents for the spaces and comma.
With this keyword, you can copy a super-long URL and then just type ‘bit’ and paste the super-long URL after it and hit return. You’ll be taken to a page that shows you the shortened URL that you can just click a button to copy to your clipboard.
Too Much Work?
Fine. Luckily, I’ve done the work for you.
- Right-click and save this file to your computer
- Click Show All Bookmarks in Firefox (or hit Control+Shift+B)
- Go to Import and Backup and select Import HTML
- Select From an HTML File and click Next
- Find and select jawsnap_smrt.html and click Open
TaDa! You now have all the smart keyword URLs that I’ve listed in this post in a folder called Searching in your Bookmarks.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, this completely changed how I use Firefox and browse the web for information. I can find things so much quicker by using smart keywords, and I use them all the time. I’ve actually customized the icons on my Firefox installations to remove the search box completely, leaving only the address bar.
I’m unaware of this type of functionality in any other browser. Now that Sync is standard in Firefox 4, it’s easy to have my keywords match at home and at work.
Over time my list of keywords has grown, but I try to keep it under control. If you have too many keywords you won’t remember them and you’ll end up wasting more time looking it up than you would have saved, so focus on the things you use the most. For me, it’s a simple Google search. Also high on my list are Wolfram|Alpha and Wikipedia. But that’s just me.
Add smart keywords for the sites that matter to you and it’ll make your internet browsing experience that much better.