Search is not an absolute and precise science.
Search engines are not as intuitive as a human being, and therefore have to use a variety of techniques to imitate the way people might think; at best, what a search engine does is approximate this behaviour. Search engines generally place equal significance on every word that is used in each query. (see the article on basic Google searching) However, not everything is this world is black and white: occasionally there has to be the odd patch of grey. There are always exceptions to any rule, even in the world of search.
Exceptions to ‘every word matters’
- Commonly used words like ‘for’and ‘a’, or stop words, are generally ignored by search engines, but this isn’t an absolute rule. Occasionally these small words are important because their omission would completely change the nature of the query you might wish to search for.
For instance, if you searched for ‘the who’ you would quite rightly expect to find information about Roger Daltrey or Pete Townsend finest. If Google omitted the stop word ‘the,’ you would probably find lots of useful, but irrelevant, information about the World Health Organisation. All search engines will use stop words if you include them in your queries. If they are not relevant then it’s best to omit them at the outset.
Synonyms (words that mean the same or similar to other words, for instance, ‘bucket’ and ‘pail’) are occasionally used by search engines to replace words in your original query. If you wish to exclude synonyms add a +immediately before the word to disable the function. (this and other advanced search functions will be covered in a further article)
Punctuation that isn’t ignored
Generally search engines pay little heed to punctuation, but there are exceptions to this rule too as you might have guessed.
- Punctuation is popular terminology that is relevant to your search is not ignored, for instance C# would pull up results for both a programming language as well as the musical term.
- The dollar sign $ is used by search engines to indicate price and is therefore not ignored. Try searching for Yamaha 900 and Yamaha $900 and see for yourself.
- Using a hyphen (-) is an indication to a search engine that the two words on either side of it have a strong interconnection, for instance, water-based ink. It’s worth noting that if the hyphen is preceded and followed by a space, search engines will see this as a negative indicator and the search results will reflect this.
- The underscore symbol (_) is not ignored by search engines when it connects two words – for example real_time