A WebmasterWorld thread asks why when you do a search at Google.com 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.