The Fastest way to find High-Quality Freebies on the Web

by Jay Hilgert
on March 16, 2007

Finding High Quality free files on the internet is every designers daily dilemma. Sometimes you don’t have the time to make your own swooshes, or seamless paisley background image. This is why we search, and from my experience, the search can be brutal. There is a lot of crap out there, and sifting through all of the 1990’s “clip art” makes me want to blow chunks sometimes. I have, however, found a way to bypass a lot of the “junk” and get right to the good stuff, relatively speaking. At the very least, call it a freebie search tip.

As you all probably know, adding the word “free” to a Google search can increase your crappy results exponentially. This sucks when all you want to find is a free button, badge, pattern, or anything else that you’re looking for. Nothing out of the ordinary, just quick and free. It doesn’t need to be this hard, and it shouldn’t be because there are plenty of sites out there willing to share free designs but don’t necessarily rank well on Google. This is where we take advantage of both Google, and the social media sites in order to get instant highly relevant results, and quick access to freebies. It’s like using every social bookmarking site at once. Here’s how it works. . .

Google Logo

Thanks to site’s like Digg, Del.icio.us, Slashdot, Reddit, etc. which rely on users submitting the best content from around the web, there exists an easy way to find the best of the best using a quick Google search trick. I’m not saying it never happens, but most of the urls submitted to these popular social bookmarking sites are better than average, when it comes to freebies.

It differs from site to site depending on robot behavior, but Google indexes these pages on the social media sites. Why does this matter? Because we can use Google to search ONLY the sites we choose for links containing certain keywords, or “search terms,” just like a normal Google query, giving us keyword results for “freebies” (or vector, or PSD, or whatever) from the best submitted urls on the most popular sites on the web.

How it works:

Google provides us with a list of “operators” that can restrict your search results by a given criteria. You can type these operators before any search from any google search bar, even your browser. The one we well be using is “site:”

A complete list of Google search operators

To find freebies fast, all you have to do is restrict your Google search to the best sites that are known for housing links to good stuff. This way we can use Google to retrieve a list, instead of having to browse those sites ourselves. Go to a Google page or search bar somewhere and type “site:digg.com” -space- “free icons.” So it looks like this:

Finding Freebies 2

Now hit enter to get your results. Google only gives you results from that site, in this case, Digg. This technique probably works the best with Digg because Digg allows each of its story pages to be indexed by Google. On other sites, Google might give you a page that has all post with a “tag” that matches your search terms. Either way, you are getting to some pretty good links, really fast.

Finding Freebies 1

Another reason this works is the fact that even if you don’t get directly to the source from the Google results, chances are you will stumble upon a blog entry with a collection of links to freebies, like thisTutorialBlog entry, or this SmashingMagazine entry. Sites like these are getting famous for collecting links to good stuff, and usually get submitted to sites like Del.icio.us, Digg, and Slashdot, etc. on a regular basis.

Take a few seconds and try a site: search on Google with a popular social media site, and see what you can come up with. I hope you find what you are looking for!

Here is a list of a few big social bookmarking/media sites to search:

  • site:digg.com
  • site:del.icio.us
  • site:slashdot.com
  • site:reddit.com
  • site:stumbleupon.com
  • site:netscape.com
  • site:clipmarks.com

Some big blogging networks:

  • site:blogmarks.com
  • site:technorati.com
  • site:bloglines.com
  • site:mybloglog.com

You might even think about trying to search some of the biggest/best/your favorite blogs themselves (iI tend to like the tech stuff), if you have your topic narrowed a bit:

  • site:lifehacker.com
  • site:boingboing.net

Update: The Google Co-op Social Media Search Engine:

Created by illovich, or you can go to this page and bookmark it. Try a search for a freebie that you want to find and see what you get by only searching the biggest social media sites. (Thanks to Illovich) Or you can get the code and put it in your blog like I have here. (click on “Social Media Search”)

About Jay Hilgert

Formally trained at Oklahoma State, Jay Hilgert is a graphic and web designer, font designer (Link), software developer (Brush Pilotâ„¢), and the founder of BittBox.

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