Working Smarter with Alfred: Custom Web Searches

Alfred logo

Meet Alfred!

Alfred is a productivity application for Mac OS X.

Out of the box, it’s a tremendously useful tool that helps you quickly launch apps with a few keystrokes or self-assigned hotkeys.

Launching apps with Alfred
You can use Alfred to search all sorts of websites.

Search YouTube with Alfred

You can even do lots of little things right inside Alfred, like perform quick calculations

Alfred calculator

Step one: buy the Powerpack

To create custom web searches (and get the most out of Alfred), you need to buy the Powerpack. In addition to creating custom web searches, the Powerpack gives you the ability to create create and import workflows, access clipboard history, manage a snippet library, and import beautiful custom themes.

We’ll get to all those other things in later articles in this series. For now, I’ll show you how to use custom web searches to make opening and searching any site, including your own custom admin tools, much more efficient.

Use a custom web search to quickly launch any website

While working on Pack, I frequently open our admin site. Instead of cmd+tabing to Chrome and clicking a bookmark or typing the URL, I simply invoke Alfred (option+space) and begin typing packadmin. As soon as Alfred recognizes what I’m typing, I hit enter and Chrome brings up the admin site. Like magic.

Alfred Pack Admin

Set it up

To set this up for any website, click on Web Search under the Features tab in Alfred Preferences. Then click Add Custom Search at the bottom right.

Add a URL in the Search URL text box, then assign a title (this will appear in Alfred when you start typing). Then set a keyword (this is what you start typing after invoking Alfred to open the website.) Finally, add a nice icon to keep everything looking fancy.

Set up Alfred to quickly launch any website

After you click save, test it out by invoking Alfred and typing your keyword. Now you’ll be able to quickly launch this website no matter where you are on your Mac, even if your browser is closed.

Search in a jiffy

The Pack admin site gives us a search tool to find dogs by name and users by name or email address. This is something I do multiple times per day.

Instead of opening the admin site and performing a search from a search field, Alfred allows me to skip the middleman and go directly to the search results.

To search for a dog, I simply invoke Alfred and type dog followed by a tab, and the name of the dog I’m looking for.

Alfred Pack Dog Search

To search for a user, I start typing human then tab, then the name or email address of the Pack user I want to find. After hitting enter, I’m taken directly to the search results.

Alfred Pack Human Search

Set it up

Setting up a custom web search is easy. In order for this to work, though, you need the name of the query parameter used in your search results. In my case, it’s search. YouTube, for example, uses search_query. The easiest way to find this is to perform a search using the regular search field, then look at everything that comes after the ? in the URL on your results page. You’ll find it.

Like the first example, add this in the Web Search pane under the Features tab in Alfred Preferences. Click Add Custom Search on the bottom right of the screen. Then add the URL for your results page in the Search URL field. Use {query} as the variable that is passed from the Alfred window. Finally, set your title, keyword, and icon.

Alfred Pack Admin

That’s it! Adding custom web searches is a great way to save keystrokes, mouse clicks, and page loads. Plus, when your co-workers notice what you’ve done, they’ll think you’re super smart.


Alfred can do a lot of things to help speed up your workflow. The trick is to take things slowly and add these improvements to your workflow over time. If you try to cram too many things in at once, you’ll never remember them all, and you’ll easily fall back into old, wasteful habits.

Custom web searches are a perfect first step to learning Alfred. Master this, then you’ll be ready for the next article in the Working Smarter with Alfred series: Workflows.