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Power Googling: How Google Interprets Your Query

Understanding how Google treats your search terms will help you

Google returns only pages that match all your search terms.

Because you don't need to include the word AND between your terms, this notation is called an implicit AND.

[ compact fold-up bicycle ]

Because of implicit AND, you can focus your query by adding more terms.

[ compact lightweight fold-up bicycle ]

Note: If you want pages containing any (instead of all) of your search terms, use the OR operator.

Google returns pages that match your search terms exactly.

"Google simply matches strings of characters together and doesn't currently base inferences on uses of the language." —Internet Research, Second Edition by Ned Fiedlen (McFarland & Company, 2001)

 If you search for ...  Google won't find ...
cheap inexpensive
tv television
children kids
Calif OR CA California

Google returns pages that match variants of your search terms.

The query [ child bicycle helmet ] finds pages that contain words that are similar to some or all of your search terms, e.g.,

"child," "children," "children's,"
"bicycle" "bicycles," "bicycle's," "bicycling," "bicyclists,"
"helmet", "helmets."

Google calls this feature word variations or automatic stemming.

Google ignores some common words called "stop words," e.g., the, on, where, how, de, la, as well as certain single digits and single letters.

Stop words tend to slow down your search without improving the results.

[ lyrics to the Dixie Chicks' songs ]

Screen shot showing what Google does when it ignores some common words, such as "to" and "the."

Google used to indicate when it ignored words, but does so less frequently now.

If your query consists only of common words that Google normally ignores, Google will search for pages that match all the terms.

[ the who ]

Note: Google will search for stop words included in quotes, which it would otherwise ignore.

USE [ "to be or not to be" ]

The first few results from the same query but without quotes returns quite different results.

NOT [ to be or not to be ]

Note: Use + operator in front of stop words that Google would otherwise ignore or when you want Google to return only those pages that match a search term exactly.

USE [ Star Wars +I ]
NOT [ Star Wars I ]

Google limits queries to 32 words.

The limit was previously 10 words, as shown in the following image.

Screen shot of Google message indicating 10-word limit.

The following query finds sites that have included Google Guide's description of how Google works.

[ "Google consists of three distinct parts, each of which is run on a distributed network of thousands of low-cost computers and can therefore carry out fast parallel processing. Parallel processing is a method of computation in which many calculations can be performed simultaneously, significantly speeding up data processing." ]

Google favors results that have your search terms near each other.

Google considers the proximity of your search terms within a page.

[ snake grass ]
[ snake in the grass ]

Although Google ignores "in" and "the," Google gives higher priority to pages in which "snake" and "grass" are separated by two words.

Google gives higher priority to pages that have the terms in the same order as in your query.

Consequently, you should enter search terms in the order in which you would expect to find them on the pages you're seeking.

[ New York library ]
[ new library of York ]

Google is NOT case sensitive; it assumes all search terms are lowercase.

Ignoring case distinctions increases the number of results Google finds.

[ Red Cross ], [ red cross ], and [ RED CROSS ] return the same results

There is no way to instruct Google to pay attention to case distinctions.

Google ignores some punctuation and special characters, including ! ? , . ; [ ] @ / # < > .

Because punctuation is typically not as important as the text around it, Google ignores most punctuation in your search terms.

Dr. Ruth ] returns the same results as [ Dr Ruth ]

Note: There are exceptions, e.g., C++, $99, and math symbols, such as /, <, and >, are not ignored by Google's calculator.

If you're seeking information that includes punctuation that Google ignores, just enter the whole thing including the punctuation.

info@amazon.com ]

A term with an apostrophe (single quotes) doesn't match the term without an apostrophe.

A query with the term "we're" returns different results from a query with the term "were."

we're ] matches "we're" but not "were"
were ] matches "were" but not "we're"

Because some people spell hyphenated words with a hyphen and others with a space, Google searches for variations on any hyphenated terms.

When Google encounters a hyphen (-) in a query term, e.g., [ part-time ], it searches for:
  • the term with the hyphen, e.g., part-time
  • the term without the hyphen, e.g., parttime
  • the term with the hyphen replaced by a space, e.g., part time

[ part-time ] matches "part-time," "part time," and "parttime"
[ part time ] matches "part-time" and "part time"

[ e-mail ] matches "e-mail," "email," and "e mail"
[ email ] matches "email"

If you aren't sure whether a word is hyphenated, go ahead and search for it with a hyphen.

The following table summarizes how Google interprets your query.

Search Behaviors  Descriptions
Implicit AND Google returns pages that match all your search terms. Because you don't need to include the logical operator AND between your terms, this notation is called an implicit AND.
Exact Matching Google returns pages that match your search terms exactly.
Word Variation
Automatic Stemming
Google returns pages that match variants of your search terms.
Common-Word Exclusion Google ignores some common words called "stop words," e.g., the, on, where, and how. Stop words tend to slow down searches without improving results.
32-Word Limit Google limits queries to 32 words.
Term Proximity Google gives more priority to pages that have search terms near to each other.
Term Order Google gives more priority to pages that have search terms in the same order as the query.
Case Insensitivity Google is case-insensitive; it assumes all search terms are lowercase.
Ignoring Punctuation Google ignores most punctuation and special characters including , . ; ? [ ] ( ) @ / * < >

This page was last modified on Monday October 23, 2006.


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