Google combines residential and business
phone number information and its own excellent interface to offer a
phonebook lookup that provides listings for businesses and residences
in the United States. However, the search offers three different
syntaxes, different levels of information provide different results,
the syntaxes are finicky, and Google doesn't provide
Using the Syntaxes
Using a standard phonebook requires knowing quite a bit of
information about what you're looking for: first
name, last name, city, and state. Google's phonebook
requires no more than last name and state to get it started. Casting
a wide net for all the Smiths in California is as simple as:
Try giving 411 a whirl with that request! shows the results of the query.
Figure 1. phonebook: result page
Notice that, while intuition might tell you there are thousands of
Smiths in California, the Google phonebook says there are only 600.
Just as Google's regular search engine maxes out at
1000 results, its phonebook maxes out at 600. Fair enough. Try
narrowing down your search by adding a first name, city, or both:
phonebook:john smith los angeles ca
At the time of this writing, the Google phonebook found 3 business
and 22 residential listings for John Smith in Los Angeles,
The phonebook syntaxes are powerful and useful, but they can be
difficult to use if you don't remember a few things
about how they work.
The syntaxes are case-sensitive. Searching for
phonebook:john doe ca works, while
Phonebook:john doe ca (notice the capital P)
Wildcards don't work. Then again,
they're not needed; the Google phonebook does all
the wildcarding for you. For example, if you want to find shops in
New York with "Coffee" in the
title, don't bother trying to envision every
permutation of "Coffee Shop,"
"Coffee House," and so on. Just
search for bphonebook:coffee new york ny and
you'll get a list of any business in New York whose
name contains the word "coffee."
Exclusions don't work. Perhaps you want to find
coffee shops that aren't Starbucks. You might think
new york ny would do the trick. After all,
you're searching for coffee and not Starbucks,
right? Unfortunately not; Google thinks you're
looking for both the words "coffee"
and "starbucks," yielding just the
opposite of what you were hoping for: everything Starbucks in NYC.
OR doesn't always work.
might start wondering if Google's phonebook accepts
OR lookups. You then might experiment, trying to
find all the coffee shops in Rhode Island or Hawaii:
bphonebook:coffee (ri | hi). Unfortunately that
doesn't work; the only listings
you'll get are for coffee shops in Hawaii.
That's because Google doesn't
appear to see the (ri |
hi) as a state code, but rather as another element
of the search. So if you reversed your search above, and searched for
coffee (hi |
ri), Google would find listings that contained the
string "coffee" and either the
strings "hi" or
"ri." So you'll
find Hi-Tide Coffee (in Massachusetts) and several coffee shops in
Rhode Island. It's neater to use
OR in the middle of your query, and then specify
your state at the end. For example, if you want to find coffee shops
that sell either donuts or bagels, this query works fine:
ma. That finds stores that contain the word coffee
and either the word donuts or the word bagels in Massachusetts. The
bottom line: you can use an OR query on the store
or resident name, but not on the location.
Reverse phonebook lookup
All three phonebook syntaxes support reverse lookup, though its
probably best to use the general phonebook:
syntax to avoid not finding what you're looking for
due to its residential or business classification.
To do a reverse search, just enter the phone number with area code.
Lookups without area code won't work.
Note that reverse lookups on Google are a hit-and-miss proposition
and don't always produce results. If
you're not having any luck, you may wish to use a
more dedicated phonebook site like
Finding phonebooks using Google
While Google's phonebook is a good starting point,
its usefulness is limited. If you're looking for a
phone number at a university or other large institution,
while you won't
find the number in Google, you certainly can find the appropriate
phonebook, if it's online.
If you're looking for a university
phonebook, try this simple search first:
replacing university.edu with the domain
of the university you're looking for. For example,
to find the online phonebook of the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, you'd search for:
If that doesn't work, there are several variations
you can try, again substituting your preferred
university's domain for
title:"phone book" site:unc.edu
(phonebook | "phone book") lookup faculty staff site:unc.edu
inurl:help (phonebook | "phone book") site:unc.edu
If you're looking for several university phonebooks,
try the same search with the more generic site:edu
rather than a specific university's domain. There
are also a couple of web sites that list university phonebooks: