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Google changed the way custom searches work in Google Chrome. Now, you can no longer type your custom search keyword and press Space to quickly search. There’s an alternative, though—and a way to get the old custom search behavior back.

What’s a Custom Search?

Google Chrome has a search feature that lets you assign “keywords” to custom searches. For example, after you set it up, you could type “w chickadee” to search Wikipedia for “chickadee” or “h windows” to search How-To Geek for articles about Windows.

You can control these in Chrome by clicking menu > Settings > Search engine > Manage search engines. The “Keyword” field defines the custom keyword that launches a custom search. Add a short one to speed things up. (To define a search keyword for a search engine, click the menu button to its right, click “Edit,” and enter the keyword into the Keyword box.)

Custom search engines in Google Chrome.

What Changed?

Let’s say you have a search keyword “y” that searches YouTube. Previously, you could type “y cooking” into Chrome’s omnibox and press Enter to search YouTube for videos about cooking.

However, the Space bar no longer works this way, thanks to a change made to Google Chrome version 88 in February 2021.

As a Chrome developer explained on Reddit, Google made this change to prevent people from accidentally triggering custom searches with the space bar while performing normal searches.

How to Use Custom Searches Keywords With Tab

There is still a way to easily use your custom searches—with the Tab bar.

To perform a custom search, focus Chrome’s address bar (for example, with Ctrl+L), type your keyword, press Tab, type your search, and press Enter.

For example, if you had a YouTube search that searched YouTube when you typed “y”, you’d now have to type “y”, press Tab, type your search, and then press Enter.

Using a custom search keyword in Google Chrome.

How to Get the Old Space Button Behavior Back

If you’re used to the old space bar behavior, you can get it back with a flag. As usual, there’s no guarantee these Chrome flags will stick around. Google will likely remove this option one day.

To get started, open Chrome’s flag page. Type “chrome://flags” (without the quotes) into Chrome’s location bar and press Enter to find it.

First, type “omnibox keyword” into the search field at the top of the page. When the “Omnibox keyword search button” option appears, click the “Default” box and set the option to “Disabled.”

Disable the "Omnibox keyword search button" feature.

Second, type “omnibox suggestion” into the search field. When the “Omnibox suggestion button row” option appears, click the “Default” box to its right and set the option to ” Enabled.”

Enable the "Omnibox suggestion button row" flag.

You’re now done, and you can click the “Relaunch” button at the bottom of the page to restart Google Chrome. When it restarts, you’ll be able to use the Space bar with your custom searches again.

Note: We tested this with Chrome 88 on February 16, 2020. If the options are no longer present in a future version of Chrome, there may no longer be a way to get the old Space bar behavior back. You can still use custom searches with the Tab key.

RELATED: How to Enable Google Chrome Flags to Test Beta Features

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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