Streamline searching and browsing with Firefox Smart Keywords

Smart Keywords in Firefox are a feature that can save you a lot of time and clicks performing searches and queries on your favorite sites. They're easy to use, too--here's how.
Published: Mar 6, 2008
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: OS X / XP / Windows / Linux / Vista

If you've read a few of my articles here at Tucows you're perhaps aware that I'm a big fan of free web browser Mozilla Firefox. I won't try to sell you on Firefox in this article, but I will tell you about one of my favorite features: Smart Keywords. Sometimes called Quick Searches, Smart Keywords are shortcuts you can type into Firefox's location bar that will instantly perform search queries or actions on your favorite sites. They're easy to set up and once you train yourself to use them instead of reaching for the mouse they can save you a lot of clicks.

We're going to sneak up on the topic of Smart Keywords in a roundabout way, starting with another of my favorite topics: keyboard shortcuts. In order to make the most effective use of Smart Keywords, I highly recommend committing this keyboard shortcut to memory: Ctrl+L. The "L" is for location--holding down Ctrl and tapping L will instantly put the cursor in the location bar, allowing you to immediately type in an address or, in our case, a keyword, and ensuring that you won't waste any time moving your hand from they keyboard to the mouse or vice versa. You can use Smart Keywords without this shortcut, but I assure you after a few weeks of use you won't regret learning it.

Bookmark keywords

Bookmark keywordNow, before we get to the "Smart" part, let's talk about plain old bookmark keywords. In Firefox you can assign any bookmark a keyword. For example, say you're like me and use Google Maps a lot. "maps.google.com" is pretty short and easy to type in, but you use it a lot so you're likely to have bookmarked it. Once you've created a bookmark you can edit it by right-clicking on it and choosing Properties. In the Properties dialog, you'll see a Keyword field. Here you can type anything you like, but you'll probably want to pick something short and memorable. For Google Maps I chose the keyword "map." Enter it and click OK.

Creating a bookmark keywordNow whenever you go to the location bar (remember, Ctrl+L to get there quickly), enter map and press Enter, Firefox will go straight to the bookmark you assigned the keyword "map" to--in our case, Google Maps.

Smart Keywords

For almost any search form you encounter on the web you can create a Smart Keyword. A Smart Keyword is a keyword you type into the location bar just like the bookmark keywords above, except that you can type search terms immediately following the Smart Keyword and Firefox will execute a search query as though you had typed the search terms into the web form. You can use Smart Keywords no matter what site you're currently looking at, meaning even if you're not at, say, Google Maps, with just a few keystrokes you can start a Google Maps search without navigating to that site first.

Here's how to create a Smart Keyword for almost any web form: Navigate to the form. In this example I'll use Google Maps again, and just use the search form on the front page. However, if your form has any additional checkboxes or fields, make sure they are how you want them--your Smart Keyword will use whatever values are entered when you perform the next step. Now, put your mouse cursor over the web form's main text field--where you would enter your query terms if you were going to use the form right now--and right-click on it. Now choose "Add a Keyword for this Search..."

Add Keyword for this Search...

Smart KeywordNow an Add Bookmark dialog will appear just as if you were creating a regular bookmark, but this time the Keyword field will be visible. As above, enter a short, memorable keyword--I'm going to use "map" again (but make sure you don't have two bookmarks with the same keyword). You'll also have to give the Smart Keyword a name. This can be anything, but I recommend giving it the same name as the keyword, followed by a longer description. This will allow you to use your Bookmarks menu as a cheat sheet for the Smart Keywords you've created. You'll also be able to choose a folder to put it in. I like to keep my Smart Keywords separate from my regular bookmarks, so I created a folder called Smart Keywords to put it in.

Now let's try it out. Go to the location bar and type in map followed by a search query. If you want to find the White House on Google Maps, for example, type in "map white house, washington dc":

Using a Smart Keyword

And you'll be taken directly to the results of the query as if you had typed it directly into the web form:

Smart Keyword results

Advanced usage

Smart Keyword propertiesThe above method works for almost every web form out there, but if you roll up your sleeves you can refine your results a bit. If you've created the "map" Smart Keyword as above, find it in the Bookmarks menu, right-click on it, and chose Properties. In the Properties dialog you'll see in the Location field the URL that the web form for that keyword is submitted to. Somewhere in the Location URL you'll see the characters %s. When you use the Smart Keyword, Firefox will replace this unique pair of characters with whatever search terms you enter after the keyword. Armed with this knowledge, you can add search terms to your Smart Keyword.

Search near AlbanyFor example, say you wanted a Smart Keyword to make it easy to find places near Albany, GA. This is possible by editing the Location field in the Properties dialog. First, create a Smart Keyword as above, but give it a different keyword--say, albany--and a similarly meaningful name. Then go to the Properties dialog for the Smart Keyword you just created, and in the Location field find the %s. Now, you want to keep the %s, but just before or after it you can add additional search terms. In a URL, the + (plus) character can stand in for a space. So if you want to be able to search for things near Albany, GA, change %s to %s+Albany+GA. Then click OK.

Now, if you wanted to find bowling alleys near Albany, GA, all you have to do is go to the location bar and type albany bowling. This will cause Firefox to instantly query Google Maps for "bowling near Albany GA" and take you directly to the results.

This is just one example, but there are dozens, if not hundreds of uses for this technique. Every time you enter a query into a web form, try to think of how you could make the process quicker and simpler using Firefox's Smart Keywords. If you make a habit of it, you may find yourself saving lots and lots of time and clicks.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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