Learning Search

Google Has a Weird Definition of Verbatim

Sometimes when I’m working around the house I like to listen to old episodes of the game show Match Game. With the chatter and the comments and people laughing it’s like being at a party without all the requirements for social interaction, at which I am terrible.

One of the disadvantages to this strategy is I’ll find myself wondering about some aspect to this show. What happened to this contestant? Is that panelist still alive? What kind of suit is THAT, anyway? (Remember, this was the 1970s.) And when this strikes I do what everybody does, I Google it.

In this case I Googled a panelist who, back in 1977, wanted to be a singer. (I was curious to see if he’d made it.) Since I was listening I just spelled his name at a wild guess.

I also made sure to set my search to Verbatim on Google. You set the search to Verbatim by using the Tools button, and then choosing Verbatim from the drop-down result that also lets you choose to get All Results.

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Google’s Help page explains the Verbatim option very simply: ” Search for exact words or phrases.” I had always taken that to mean that if you search for a particular set of keywords, a Verbatim search will search for all those keywords in the way you’ve expressed them.

Turns out that was incorrect.

Here’s what I got when I did my Match Game search:

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I got the guy’s name way wrong. WAY wrong. The results were all over the place. But the thing that really concerned me was the fact that one of the results didn’t contain one of my search words. At all! And this was in Verbatim mode!

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So Google Verbatim did not mean what I thought it meant. It does NOT mean that Google will make sure all terms are in your results. Verbatim, which as far as I can tell is the best way you want to get results for what you actually typed into Google and not for what Google thinks you should have typed, still will alter your search to the extent of removing entire keywords.

Bottom line: do not trust Google’s Verbatim mode and watch closely for missing keywords in your search results!

If you’re like me you’re wondering about the rest of the story – what about the guy I was actually searching for? His name is Peter Chacona and he ended up hosting a public access TV show and doing some acting. Looks like he had quite a fun time.

Even if he didn’t win on Match Game.

Categories: Learning Search, Rants

6 replies »

  1. Yup, I got similar results as well. I had two results which did not contain the word cicones. All together now… ‘don’t trust Google’. 🙂 Both Karen Blakeman and I have speculated that Verbatim isn’t going to last for much longer.

  2. I’ve never used Verbatim mode, and am not even sure I knew it existed… When I don’t want The Google to mess about with my search terms I just bracket each important one in quotation marks — even if they’re just single words. (I know you couldn’t do this in the case of a name whose spelling you’re unsure of.)

  3. Good post!

    I seem to recall that before Verbatim mode you could add the “+” sign before any term to ensure that it was included in your search. But then with the advent of Google+ that was deprecated. Maybe that’s how Verbatim came about.

    Whenever I look at forums for either Google or Microsoft (I’m talking about the officially sanctioned sites) they are *never* helpful. It seems they just do what the want with the software — the public be d**mned!

  4. I agree completely. There are times when I want to look up an EXACT PHRASE, and when Google ignores the quotes that I put in, and gives me completely irrelevant results, it just isn’t doing what it purports to do. And I’m quite capable of trying again with slightly different wording or spelling.

  5. I gave up on Google several years ago. With their “personalization” I couldn’t do a search on the phone with a patron and come up with the same results.

    Bing is easier to guide a patron through a particular search and lead them to the correct answer.

    • Probably like most people reading this I landed on this article because I was frustrated with Google and it constantly changing my search terms because it knows what I want. Little did I know I might get a chance to help someone. . .

      CAROL, I used to have this problem as well. The fact is, though, that google is the giant and if possible I prefer to use it with clients. I do a quick explanation to a client “google tailors its results based on your past searching and browsing history” then have them open a private or incognito and do the search. BOOM you get the same results.

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