Google Doing a Little Tweaking to Its Search Results

Google announced this morning that a couple of changes have been made to search results. You can now get semantically-related searches for some queries, and more complex queries will yield longer “search snippets”.

First things first. Google has for a long time had synonym searching. You can put a tilde (~) in front of the word and Google would find not only your keyword but words similar in meaning. To see this feature in action search for ~flowers. Wondering what words Google are actually finding? Search for ~flowers -flowers. You’ll spot the synonyms without your keyword.

The new feature is for suggested related searches, and they are a little more complicated. If you ran the search above take a look at the bottom of the page. You’ll find links to several searches including “biology plants”, “funny cards”, “pollination plants”, and “rhino cards” (rhino cards?) Even with these related searches you’ll note that Google is covering a lot of ground, from plant science to gift giving and special occasions. (If you give Google an even more general search — like say chips — the related searches get even broader, ranging from Erik Estrada to Lays Chips to, um, Doritos.)

I tried a very specific search — Hurricane Hazel and was rewarded with just three related searches, all Hurricane Hazel-esque. Clicking on each of those lead to another page with search results and, in two cases, more related searches.

If your search is very targeted, I think you’ll like these related searches, especially if you need some help with vocabulary or related concepts. If you’re searching for something more general, though, and need related-search guidance, try Clusty.

The second thing Google introduced today is longer search snippets for longer queries. In the past Google has stuck pretty much to snippets of two or three lines. If you had a complicated query it was a sure bet that not all your search words would show up in the snippet. Now Google is offering longer snippets for searches of over three words.

It’s not necessarily automatic, though — I tried several searches with half-a-dozen words or more and didn’t get longer snippets. Then I tried this search:

why is it that some mornings you can wake up immediately and sometimes you just can’t?

And bingo, most of the snippets on the page were four lines. And there were even related searches at the bottom of the page (most of them about waking up in various states of non-sentience.) Even with these longer snippets, though, I found not all my keywords were mentioned. There were enough available that I did have a better sense of context.

I would love Google to have some kind of JavaScript preview function like other search engines have offered, or even some kind of quick way to peek into a page cache to get the full context of your search keywords, but the ability to expand snippets is a big step forward.

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