Word Order Matters

The following is reposted from the ResearchBuzz blog for January 13, 2010 by Tara Calishain.

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Doing Real Time Search? Watch Your Word Order

Posted: 13 Jan 2010 04:36 AM PST

If you’ve been reading ResearchBuzz for a while, you probably know that the way you enter your search terms in Google makes a difference.  If you enter words in one order, you may very well get a different result count and a different order to the results you get back.  (Try searching Google for scratching post and post scratching to get an idea of what I’m talking about.)

I have used this knowledge to benefit over the years, when I needed to narrow down search results or just get a different perspective on what was available.  When Google’s new real-time search came out, I assumed word order would no longer make a difference.  After all, real-time search is just that — the latest and greatest material that Google is adding to its index.  The stream should be the stream, right?  No matter what kind of word order you use.

Turns out that’s incorrect; Google does change the real time search results based on your word order.  That’s okay, but it does mean if you’re looking for real-time data you may want to play around with your word order, especially if you’re searching for words that don’t make a common phrase.

Let’s take an example.  I’m interested in a Ford Taurus, and I want to see what kind of real-time buy/sell activity there is out there.  I do a Google search for Ford Taurus and pay attention to the latest results.

[SCREEN SHOT OMITTED]

I’m getting the “latest” results, and the list looks very much like a Google search result except the results show how recently the content was indexed.  The result count for this search, at this writing, is 4,250,000.  You’ll also notice that the left nav gives you related searches, mostly other car models.

Now take that search and turn it around.  Just turn it and do a search for Taurus Ford.  Your search results now look like this:

[SCREEN SHOT OMITTED]

You’ll note that the related searches are gone, the search results have shot up to about 6,670,000 results, and the order of the search results has shifted a little bit.

Now, is this bad?  No, of course not.  But if you’re really working in the live search and you want to make sure you get as many search results as you can, you’re going to have to run multiple searches of multi-word queries.

Word order shows a lot of difference when the words make up a phrase.  If you do a search for search engine, at this writing you’ll get about 315,000,000 results along with some Twitter tweets.  If you change the search to engine search, the result count drops to 109,000,000, the results shift around a lot, and only one tweet appears, way down at the bottom of the page.

I remember being astonished when search engines hit a billion pages of indexed content, but that’s nothing these days.  The name of the game continues to be narrowing down your results to get the information you need and approaching a search problem from different angles.  You can make a different angle just from changing the word order in your query even in Google’s real-time search; try it!

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