Does Google Opt For Non Exact Matches In Organic Search?

Jul 31, 2007 • 9:45 am | comments (6) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

A WebmasterWorld thread asks why when you do a search at on a phrase, why does Google return results with that phrase of words scattered around the page, as opposed to a page that matches that exact phrase.

The abstract example given in the thread was a search for "blue fussy widgets." Why does Google return pages that have the words "blue," "fussy," and "widgets" scattered through the document returned by Google, and not rank a document that contains the "blue fussy widgets" as one phrase, in that order. This is called an exact match, and it seems Google may not be returning exact matches in documents as highly as they once did.

WebmasterWorld moderator, Robert Charlton, shared his opinion:

In general, I've found that Google likes exact matches on the page... just not too many of them... but there are several hundred other variables. I can imagine various off-page/on-page scenarios that might cause a page containing the three-words separated on the page to rank higher... probably less likely to happen as the three word phrase is more competitive and purposefully targeted by others.

However, some people feel that this is an anti-web-spam measure taken by Google:

Nowadays I can feel like I have to use 'almost' but never quite 'perfect' keyword phrases in page titles because of Google's paranoia or increased hypersensivity to e-vil optimizers. As a perfectionist by personality, I find this rather annoying.

I am not saying this theory is true. I don't have the specific examples to reproduce these results. I tried several random searches and found some that may support this theory, while others do not. Bottom line, there are hundreds of factors why one page might rank above another page, even if exact match comes into play. The SEOs here are upset that exact match doesn't have more of a weight in making this decision.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

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Michael Martinez

07/31/2007 04:58 pm

The thread doesn't indicate whether they are distinguishing between EXACT FIND mode queries or FIND ALL mode queries. Google defaults to FIND ALL mode queries. To force an EXACT FIND search you have to embed the query expression inside quote marks (") or you have to chain the words together with plus signs (+). The examples in the thread look like FIND ALL mode queries, since no one says "quotes included" or "EXACT FIND mode" queries. The results you and the thread participants describe are typical of FIND ALL mode searches. The query terms are NOT forming an expression, as many people assume. The query simply tells the search engine to look for documents that are relevant to each of the terms, and the search engines look for the best union of the various relevant results sets. An EXACT FIND mode query works more like a phrase or expression search but it's really a chained term search. The search engine has to do a little more work.

Barry Schwartz

07/31/2007 05:00 pm

Michael, Your not understanding then.


07/31/2007 05:30 pm

"Nowadays I can feel like I have to use 'almost' but never quite 'perfect' keyword phrases in page titles because of Google's paranoia or increased hypersensivity to e-vil optimizers. As a perfectionist by personality, I find this rather annoying." I noticed this also .

Adam Moro

07/31/2007 07:30 pm

First time commenting here. I'm not sure why you think Michael doesn't understand. His point seems valid to me. If you use quotes (i.e., you'll get results that only contain an exact match of the query. If you don't, (i.e., you'll get results like glengara from WMW described. What's not to understand? I'm not trying to pick a fight with you Barry. I just don't understand why Michael's comment got shot down. I didn't take you as the type to participate in this ridiculous popularity contest going within the current group of A-listers in the SEO community. Maybe I'm misinterpreting things here but as a new reader, that's the impression I'm getting. For all I know, you and Michael are best buddys so I apologize if I've made a mistake...something tells me I haven't.

Barry Schwartz

07/31/2007 07:43 pm

Yea, Michael and I go way back. No worries. ;-) The thing is, I am not talking about the type of search. I.e. using quotes or not. The WMW thread is talking about how Google uses matching techniques to find documents. If a normal search, without quotes, is an exact match for a phrase on a page, then why doesn't it come up first. Now, like I said, Google has hundreds of factors... I didn't mean for my comment to sound that way. Michael has been commenting here for a long long time.


07/31/2007 08:34 pm

Question is why default to broad match rather than exact match, what's the rationale for doing so?

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