How many times have you scoured your drives looking for an important file, only to sometimes never find it at all?
Not finding a file can mean recreating a document, spreadsheet or presentation from scratch.
There are two important factors that make finding files easier. They work hand in hand.
- How files are named
- Using search tools to their full capabilities
We’ll take a closer look at each.
The power of descriptive filenames for search
Let’s start with what I call SEO for files.
Every time you create a new file, save an emailed file or download a file, include descriptive text, a.k.a. keywords in the filename.
Then, you will be able to search for files the same way you search on Google, Bing or YouTube — by typing in words that relate to what you’re trying to find.
Names for new files you create
By taking a few seconds to properly name all new files that you create, you will save countless hours and frustration down the road.
For example, rather than naming a presentation….
….name it something like:
Abbott Manufacturing – Business VoIP Presentation 2018.pptx
A good rule of thumb is to start the name of every file that pertains to a customer with the customer’s name.
Adding a date or even just the year at the end of a filename makes it easier to find the most recent version when iterations of a file are created.
You can apply the same technique to any type of document, spreadsheet or presentation.
Change the names of files that are emailed to you
Here are few real world examples of filenames for files I recently received as email attachments.
- SD_One Sheet_2017_ST_F.pdf
- 659005402 1.pdf
- ACFrOgCvj19LZVTAm5WzaUmejWipiksqRSCNrNim_DTiWcsWrMlZD3LR2aT5W0yxpzl0L11W1wGiP5sHQDSv77urZMWEuqMtMTXcG6Z5t50YUHQG9IN-HqBiMlBAGdU=.pdf (seriously)
If I was to do a straight “Save as” of these and not rename the files, it would be very difficult to find them through search.
During the “Save As” process, it’s easy to rename a file with text that relates to the file source and contents. For example:
ABC Insurance – Business General Liability Policy 2018-04-15.pdf
Renaming image files
Businesspeople are increasingly using photos and other image files such as screenshots to convey information within and outside their organization.
Stock image sites, cameras and scanners use numeric based file names for identification or for sequencing:
For any image files that you may need to refer back to in the future, it’s worth renaming the file in the following type of format:
This way, you can search for images by keyword.
If you want to get fancy, you can add more keywords inside your images as metadata using a free EXIF editor.
If you are a marketer, keywording image files that will be uploaded to your website is a good external SEO practice.
Searching for files in Google Drive
Google Drive can contain both native files (Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc.) and files that are backed up from a Windows PC or a Mac.
If you keyword your file names, searching for files on Google Drive is a lot like using Google’s search engine. For example, to find all slide presentations that were created for Abbott Manufacturing, simply search as follows:
The results will show both Google Slides presentations for Abbott and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations that were backed up from your local drive.
You can click the down arrow on the right side of the search bar to bring up a full search box like this. Your selections will fill in as text in the top the search bar, which effectively teaches you some shortcut text for future searches.
Options include date ranges, creator name and more. You can find a definition of each search criteria on this Google help page. Expand on “Advanced search in Google Drive” at the bottom of the help page to see even more search options.
Image search in Google Drive
Google Drive makes it easy to search for images, even if a file wasn’t renamed.
That’s because Google Drive search will actually read text within images and it will interpret items within photos. In other words, Google Drive search will “see” a computer or a phone or a bottle of wine in a photo and use that information when producing image search results.
The search type:image phone, produced the photo on the right I took of some of the business VoIP phones that we resell.
I purposely did not use any keywords in the filename and I also removed all the metadata keywords in an EXIF editor. The search engine recognized the phones.
As an aside, I tested this on personal photos in Google Drive. Google Drive search will actually find photos of people if you use their name in search.
Search in Windows 10
Adding keywords to file names is particularly important for search in Windows 10. Here’s why.
Windows 10 search looks for text in all filenames, but only looks for text in the contents of indexed files. By default, most files in Windows 10 are not indexed — only those in the user account’s folders.
To search for both filenames and file contents, in Windows File Explorer, click the “Advanced options” button and enable “File contents”. Windows will now search for words inside of files, but this will take some time for non-indexed folders.
In Windows File Explorer, under Advanced Options > Change indexed locations, additional folders can be added to the index. But this will require ongoing maintenance as new folders are added.
Keywording file names in Windows 10 will save you time and effort.
Searching for files in MacOS
Even though MacOS has a fast and comprehensive search capability within Finder, adding keywords to filenames can save a lot of time.
The default “any” search in Finder searches absolutely everything, including file metadata. This often returns an unmanageable number of results.
A Finder “name” search will only search for specific text within filenames. This results in a much narrower set of search results compared to an “any” search.
Searching for a keyword within a filename along with other criteria (and there can be many) will produce an even narrower set of results.
To conclude, no matter what combination of platforms you search for files on, adding keywords to filenames will save you a lot of time and even save you frustration.