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Google’s Phrase Search Frustration

Posted on Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEO

This annoys me greatly.

Sometimes, when writing content for search engine optimisation, I get so bogged down in looking at keyword terms – which ones are the most relevant and have higher search volume numbers etc., that I end up writing phrases which I begin to doubt a normal person would write, or would not find odd if reading. This is certainly something I don’t want – although I’m trying to find the most appropriate keywords and use them strategically, ultimately, good SEO is about making a site as user friendly and engaging for a reader as possible. The more the content sounds forced and just written for search engines, the less likely a user will keep reading, and a possible conversion will turn into a bounce.

Anyway, to check I’m not completely making up new phrases, I often put the term into Google to see if other (potentially competitor) sites are using it in any way.

The trouble with Google these days is that when you put in a simple phrase, you’ll hardly ever find a page full of results that will have that exact phrase, nicely emboldened in the title and meta description (or page snippet). You have to contend with semantic search and Google’s ever changing ranking factors (that may favour the anchor text of external links rather than anything in tags and on page). Well, OK, I think, I’ll just do a phrase search by putting the term in quotation marks, which is supposed to find instances of the phrase in its exact form within a web page. But it seems, with this particular term anyway, Google is still refusing to play ball.

The trouble with the term “location map” is that the words are synonyms of each other, and I don’t think I would use the phrase often in my everyday language, but because I’m writing tags for a large hotel company that has hundreds of hotel location pages that all include a map, I’ve had to come up with a lot of new ways to ultimately write the same thing.

So, I wanted to see if anyone does use the two words together in this way, but as I’d predicted, doing a normal Google search gets me nowhere as it just shows me all the major map sites, with no mention of the word ‘location’. I thought that maybe Google is reading ‘location’ but interpreting it to also mean ‘map’, so it basically disregards anything that includes both words and just shows me ‘map’ results. Well, not quite, because a search for just ‘map’ shows me this:

A bit different. And also an example of a ridiculous page text pull from Google on the TFL tube map PDF result…

But anyway, my next step (after switching to an incognito Chrome window to make sure being logged in and my search history aren’t affecting the results) is to do a phrase match. That should show me instances of the phrase used in exactly the format I’ve entered, right? Wrong.

Maybe it’s my fault for searching for such a generic term, but still, the first six results are just the major map sites again, and do not help me to find out if the phrase ‘location map’ is being used by other content writers. What annoys me even more, though, is that two of the results are basically repeats from the same companies. We get Bing (nice that they outrank Google’s own map service here), Google, Streetmap, Google again then two results from Yahoo. Google is sometimes guilty of favouring single domain results, as looked at by A.J. Kohn in his article, and I think this just proves it still has a bit of a problem with this.

And none of these repeated results are even showing the exact phrase I searched for in their titles, descriptions or anywhere on the landing pages. I feel this is Google trying to be almost too helpful. They are jumping at the phrase ‘map’ and trying to shove the big map providers down my throat, without really looking at what I’m actually trying to find.

My only saviour is Drupal, who give me a nice title tag with ‘Location Map’ in those satisfyingly bold letters.

Anyway, as I said, this is probably my fault for trying to find a very generic phrase, and when I tried the same with “hotel location map” I did get better results. But I still feel let down by Google’s exact phrase search. It didn’t do what it said on the tin and I want to return it for a refund.

About Louise Vine

Louise joined The Search Agency UK, near enough straight out of university as an SEO Content Executive. She likes to write, rant and ramble until someone tells her to stop. She has enjoyed learning all things SEO and online marketing in her first full-time, permanent job. She lets her rambling flow free in her spare time by writing a music and language blog, and also enjoys TV, film, and getting lost in London.

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9 Responses to “Google’s Phrase Search Frustration”

  1. Louise, as a fellow SEO practicioner let me tell you: I definitely know what you mean.

    Ever typed in a keyword and had no results show up? Check the same keyword 24 hours later and all of a sudden “results” show up. I say “results” because they’re all semantic. In all honesty it feels like Google uses a relevancy scale from 1-10 and if it can’t detect a 10 then it will immediately display 9s, 8s, and I think in the case of no results even 1’s.

    That’s not Google being helpful though, but Google saving face, wouldn’t you agree? Think about it: they themselves admit that 80% of all searches entered into it on a daily basis are unknown, so Google serving “results” within 24 hours for keywords that had no results is just Google trying to pretend its product is worth your while (by displaying results, thus satisfying the user’s need for answers to a query he/she types in).

    Long story short: I’ve got a feeling Google has become less picky with aforementioned relevancy scale of 1-10. Lame!


    Dennis Miedema

    • Louise Vine says:

      Thanks Dennis. I agree that with more obscure searches, such as this one, Google’s ‘relevancy scale’ must just go out of the window. What annoys me most is just how the use of quotation marks is supposed to be a direct command to Google that you want examples of that exact phrase – but it seems to ignore that command completely these days. And it’s not like it couldn’t find any exact matches for ‘location map’ – the Drupal result appeared, but only after other irrelevant results in position 7 – why not place it number one? I would have thought fulfilling the exact match command would outrank the other relevancy factors, but apparently not.

      I can’t say I’ve ever gone back to a search that returned no results one day to find results the next, but I’ll have to look out for that.

      I suppose Google returning you any results, no matter how relevant, is just Google saving face – we would all turn elsewhere if they constantly showed us: ‘no results found’.

  2. Ugh I know exactly what you mean Louise! For a few search queries I have found the semantic to be helpful (i.e. finding a authority site instead of a crappy affiliate site for long tail phrases) but for the most part I just end up not getting what I’m not looking for. Hopefully this will get better as they improve the algo., only time will tell. I’m not holding my breath though…

    • Louise Vine says:

      Thanks, I’m glad I’m not alone in my frustration!

      I don’t think things will get better for very unique, targeted searches like this one, but I like your (semi) optimistic view!

  3. why does google refuse to allow directly related results to be given?

  4. why does googlegive in eccess of +99.999% unrelated search results?

  5. how to actually get answer from google for question about google?

  6. catmankent says:

    I see no answers to problems with Google search. If someone asks on Google search how to get Google to show to get related search results , Google answers that related results are reserved for Google administrators . So it seems that Google is never going to allow regular browsers related results!

  7. johnqjones says:

    Google has to be programmed by monkeys .If it was programmed by people , sometimes a related result would slip through . It’s either monkeys or imbeciles .Probably imbeciles because Google would have to hire people to take care of the monkeys .


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