Google Special Syntax: The Around Operator

I thought I knew about all the Google special syntax, but you learn something new every day, huh? Last week I read about the AROUND operator at Amit Agarwal’s blog, but I see that the operator has actually been documented since October.

For years, the complaint I heard the most about Google was that there was no proximity search. You couldn’t specify that you wanted to find thisword within x words of thatwords. But it looks like Google actually does have that covered with the Around syntax. It works like this: AROUND(x), where x is the maximum distance between two search terms.

Let’s see it in action. Say I do the query chocolate AROUND(3) chips (make sure you put AROUND in all caps; I found it didn’t work properly unless it was in all caps.

Google highlights both search terms — and variants, you’ll see that both “chip” and “chips” are found by the search engine. The proximity is not always noted, but it’s clear that there’s something going on here — this search found about 2,250,000 results, while a search for just chocolate chips found about 3,600,000. To my great surprise chips AROUND(3) chocolate found almost eight million results.

Because I didn’t know about this, I’ve been using * for years. The asterisk has been usable as a full-word wildcard for ages; you could fake a proximity search by doing a phrase search like “chocolate * * * chips”. This doesn’t work nearly as well as the AROUND syntax, however — it finds over ten times as many results as the search chocolate AROUND(3) chips.

I’m not 100% sure how this works but I had plenty of fun playing with it — computer AROUND(3) chips AROUND(3) chocolate brought an interesting and limited number of results. And of course you can use this operator in conjunction with other Google syntax as well, for example Wikileaks AROUND(3) policy site:mil.

I may have a followup later as I work with this more…

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