Rex Answers: To find something on Apple.com, use Google

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[For an answer to the question “What is Rex Answers?” scroll to the bottom of this post.]

Several questions I’ve been asked recently can all be distilled to this: How do you find what you’re looking for on the website Apple.com?

My short answer: Use Google with the search query prefix, site:apple.com

Here’s a much longer version of the answer, if you prefer:

The website Apple.com is jammed-packed with all sorts of helpful information — except for whatever you are looking for when you need it. No, I take that back. It’s there when you need it: It’s just not findable unless what you’re looking for is something Apple hopes you’ll purchase.

If you are one of those people who believes Apple can never do anything wrong, you need to hold-off before hitting the “comment” button to tell me how wrong I am. See, I don’t think this a mistake on Apple’s part, but, rather, it is a business decision they’ve made: They’ve decided that the search box on the top right hand of every page of Apple.com is not a finding tool but is a selling tool.

Apple’s nuanced understanding of the different roles search plays in our use of the Internet is not a failure, but is one of Apple’s keys to marketing success — even while it may seem to be a failure for “searchers” trying to find something in the context of trouble-shooting, rather than buying.

If you’ve had Apple products long enough, you’ve likely discovered they’ve organized the “support” role of Apple.com in a way that encourages (or requires) “browsing” through a product-centric taxonomy. Once you’ve reached the support portion of Apple.com, you can find a secondary (not the top search box) search engine that indexes product forums.

Again, I am not questioning Apple’s decision to make search and usability choices based on a hierarchy of their business objectives rather than on how I may want to use their site search. However, their decisions have led me to totally avoid their website search whenever possible.

Fortunately, when it comes to the business-model of making money from “finding stuff” rather than “selling stuff,” at this point in the history of the Internet, Google’s reason for being is more inline with how I want to find information on Apple.com (however, come to think of it, I’m always using an Apple product whenever I use Google, so there’s some circle of life going on here, I suspect).

So, to search Apple.com, I never go to Apple.com and use their search box. Rather, I use the following prefix (or, what programmers call an “operator”) at the beginning of a Google search: site:apple.com . This limits the Google search to only the information found on the company’s website, but will use Google’s search algorithms rather than Apple’s selling algorithms to suggest where I might find what I’m looking for. Here’s a page on Google that explains more “power tips” for focused Google searches. (Or, when using Google, you can always click on that “advanced search” link to do this.)

As an example of what I’m talking about, here are two screen shots comparing the search results for the same query on an Apple “feature” found on several laptop models, the “Mini DisplayPort”.

This one uses Apple.com’s search box for the term “Mini DisplayPort”. Note that the results relate primarily to the Mac Mini.


This one uses Google with the query: site:apple.com “Mini DisplayPort”:


You can tell a lot about what a company’s business objectives are by the way they answer the questions you ask.

[Rex Answers is a new feature on this blog. (Translation: This may be the first and last time I do it.) There are two reasons I’ve started this feature: 1. The whole “question and answer” thing is somehow “hot” these days — but, then, you can check out the 11 year-old logo on SmallBusiness.com to note the concept has been something I’ve toyed with for a while. 2. More importantly (and, I’ll admit a bit odd, at times), I seem to receive a lot of questions from friends asking for my opinion or suggestion on a topic about which I’m clueless, but, in some previous moment of confusion, I’ve written about on this blog. More than likely, such a question comes from someone who is not among this blog’s 12 readers, but is someone who sees a post from here on Facebook and LinkedIn, where these items also appear. Once in a while, these questions actually do relate to a topic about which I know more than I ever intended. Primarily, these questions involve one of the following five topics: Apple products, new media vs. traditional media, “The Internet” (by which, of course, I mean, Twitter and Facebook), Nashville and a grab-bag of questions that all start out, “Why don’t you?” or “Why do you?” So I’ve decided, when I get several questions related to one topic — for example, different versions of questions that can all be distilled down to, “How do you find something on Apple.com?” — I’ve decided to post an explanation or suggestion on my blog and tag it “Rex Answers.” If this evolves into something more than this one post, I’ll add a navigation bar link to them.]