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July 4, 2010

Google Phrase Search Trick No Longer Works

One of the most popular advanced search feature is phrase search. Google and other search engines let you find web pages that include the exact phrase you type. "By putting double quotes around a set of words, you are telling Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change," mentions Google's help center.

The nice thing about phrase search was that you didn't have to close the quotes. You could type ["Dual Polarization Antenna] and Google assumed that you forgot to close the quotes. This was especially useful if you changed your query by adding new words or if you typed the query using a virtual keyboard.

Unfortunately, the trick no longer works and you now have to close the quotes to use phrase search:


At some point, you could even enter queries like [Dual-Polarization-Antenna] and Google returned the same results as if you typed ["Dual Polarization Antenna"].

34 comments:

  1. You had me panicking that they'd turned off the ability to search in quotes at all then!
    *Thanks god*

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  2. In the past, you could also use full stops, so [Dual.Polarization.Antenna] would also have worked. I used to use that all the time. It’s actually often better than using quotes, since you often start typing the phrase and only then realize that you need to go back and add the quotes (and not the closing quotes too). It seems like they want to make sure the only way to search for a phrase is to add both enclosing quotes, even though it’s less efficient. I just don’t understand why.

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  3. just to be clear, enclosing your search query in double quotes still works.
    the only thing that does not work is just starting your query with a double quote

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  4. @KenBW2, me too! Almost missed a heart beat.

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  5. you forgot to close the " at the end.
    Searches still works in the same way.

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  6. I never knew you can single double quote the phrase search. X)
    I'm still not a google search master after all.

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  7. Three quick points.

    We are glad GOS brought this topic up to our attention.

    A) This text discussing the proximity search is not new. We know it is at least 8+ months old. Here's an archived page with the same text about proximity searching from October, 2009.

    http://bit.ly/bp4xST

    B) It's interesting that when use using the advance search interface and place terms in the "this exact wording or phrase" box, the search terms are surrounded with "" (quotation mark).

    So, if you are learning how to use Google you might wonder if they are really needed. Do you or don't you need to use them? Having them appear when using the advanced interface sends a strong signal that they're probably worth using.

    C) The help page makes a big deal about not needing having to use " ". While they're still available to use, the Google documentation points out that you might miss useful material if used. The documentation uses Alexander Bell as an example.

    A) A Search for "Alexander Bell" and Alexander Bell for the most part return identical results.

    So even when you search for a specific phrase with the quotation marks, they don't make a difference, at least for the first results with this search.

    Google provides Alexander Graham Bell as the result for both searches even if you don't use "Graham" or "G" in your exact phrase search.

    Btw, we ran searchers for "Alexander G Bell"
    Alexander G Bell.

    The first three results for the " " search returned only pages that point to pages "with Alexander G Bell" not with pages that use the three terms in a row.

    The results are relevant but it's not precisely what you are asking for with the quotation marks.

    Result number one is the Wikipedia page for Mr. Bell.

    The Wikipedia page is also the first result for Alexander G Bell (no quotes). The cache info from Google says that the "G" on the Wikipedia entry are NOT found on the page, they only appear in links pointing to it.

    In conclusion, even Google uses "" when doing a phrase search via the advanced interface.

    Additionally, even if you call for an exact phrase search you might not get precisely what you're asking for.

    With this many questions (thanks again GOR) we are contacting Google tomorrow (holiday is US today).

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  8. So, why is Google no longer offering this as part of search? I use it constantly and I disagree that it doesn't bring up different results. It does indeed.

    For instance, if you was search for say, Joan Rivers, you'd also get results for Joan of Arc and the Mississippi River. If you search for "Joan Rivers" you get hits about the comedian.

    Google does a good job of leading with the most relevant results for sure, but still, why get rid of an advanced filter that only enhances search?

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  9. Well, I didn't even know that one could omit the closing quote... So as with many others, the only thing this article was to give me a few seconds of shock where I thought that the quoting option were taken away all together 8-)

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  10. The article is totally wrong. It works fine and has this feature has NOT been removed by Google. Try it if you don't believe me - the author is just confused about the fact that phrases now need to be enclosed in double quotes (which to me seems pretty obvious).

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  11. No, I'm not confused and I never claimed that phrase search has been removed. The title is "google phrase search trick no longer works" and the second paragraph clearly explains that you can no longer use phrase search without closing the quotes.

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  12. This is really annoying, I used to use the quotation-enclosed search all the time. Now not only do I have to remember to close the quotation marks each time, but even if I do I still don't get the exact phrase search I was looking for.

    This used to be a great way to filter irrelevant results, can't believe they have ruined it.

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  13. One quote still works with Yahoo :)

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  14. "Unfortunately, the trick no longer works and you now have to close the quotes to use phrase search"

    Unfortunately you have have to hit one more key in a search query?

    Your life is too easy, my friend, if that's a big hassle for you. :)

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  15. @Chitu, please change title to "Single double-quotes no longer work" or something. Having "phrase" and "no longer work" in the title seem to lead many to misunderstand, and I'm not sure that even a BIG BOLD paragraph at the beginning (and end!) of the article would help. Perhaps what's really needed is two illustrative screenshots, with the unclosed quotes screenshot being immediately followed by "which until recently would give the same result as above.

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  16. @Chitu - read your own title, it says "google phrase search trick no longer works" but the phrase search trick still works if you use double quotes around the phrase. Your *title* makes it sound like the phrase search trick doesn't work at all and as LOTS of comments above show, I'm hardly the only one to read it that way. The the title should be changed as it's wrong - you simply need to do it another way.

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  17. Is this really a big issue ? I don't think so.

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  18. I think the title is accurate. Not closing the quotes was a trick that no longer works.

    I couldn't find a better title and I'm sorry if you think it's confusing. I don't think that a title like "Gmail themes no longer available" would make you think that Gmail is no longer available or a title like "Google search trick no longer available" would make you think that Google search is no longer available.

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  19. eh, I could care less how the idea is titled...the concept is explained clearly enough. I too was in the careless habit of not adding the end quote since it wasn't needed, and have caught myself having to fix it several times in the last few days. Pure laziness, I know, but still...

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  20. But what if I don't need a dual polarization antenna?

    Just kidding. Couldn't resist. I'm strange that way.

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  21. I'd really like to know more about the reasoning behind the decision to make both quotation marks necessary. The single quotation mark was a huge time-saver.

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  22. I'm going to miss this a lot; I wish it was a setting I could change. I wondered why my phrase searches didn't work anymore. I've gotten too used to using just one quote.

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  23. *PLEASE* change the title of this post. You're making a lot of people think the phrase search doesn't work at all.

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  24. Find a better title that has less than 10 words and I'll use it.

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  25. Aha! I thought phrase search had stopped working a few days ago. I was using advanced search and entering my phrase under "this exact wording or phrase."

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  26. Google is gradually transforming into the next Microsoft... :(

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  27. the trick was so good I'm missing it a lot. it's just plain depressing - the way they simply discard useful things

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  28. i had to go back and change every post on my site (it's about strange google searches) because they linked to google results pages with queries without closing quotes.

    i just noticed that all the results were different and it was quite a pain. good to know other people share me pain

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  29. No big deal, but I do miss it...

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  30. Repeating what others have said here - there are two separate issues in this thread. The first is that this handy trick (closing quote optional) has been removed. Maybe someone wants to rigidly enforce syntax rules the way compilers do. Why?

    The second issue is that even if you do close your quotes, Google still thinks they know what you really meant. I'm well aware that Google has an uncanny ability to discern what I really want when I enter a bunch of words. I like this ability and this is why I use Google Search. But there are times that it doesn't guess my intentions correctly, and then I want to use quotes and tell it this is what I REALLY want. If they choose to show me my search results and then say "Here are some other interesting results that we got without the quotes" I could live with that. But the thing I want to see at the top of my results list is the thing I entered in quotes. If no hits were found, I want it to tell me that. And the fact of the matter is that it is not doing this - it is showing something other than what I asked for in the primary search results. If they really need to do this, then maybe they could have some sort of option for a "strongly quoted" search phrase that says "Damn it - I want you to search for exactly this string." While we're at it, a "very strongly quoted" phrase would be nice - where it respects punctuation marks and multiple blanks, so I can copy and paste error messages.

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  31. I'm an engineer who works on search at Google. We really appreciate getting feedback like this and I thought I'd provide a bit of explanation for this change. We often have to make choices to help the most users we can. In this particular case, we noticed that unmatched quotation marks are usually a sign that the user didn't intend to do an exact phrase match, and these users were getting unexpectedly bad results. We decided to change the behavior so that novice users wouldn't be surprised, while power users could still control the exact quote behavior as before. We're power users ourselves, so we care a lot about providing tools to control and narrow your search. Also, we're always improving our algorithms so that we get the best results whether or not you put phrases like [Joan Rivers] or [Dual Polarization Antenna] in quotes. I'm sorry that this change has inconvenienced you clever folks -- I especially feel for the "Anonymous" who had to go back and change a bunch of links to Google search result pages. Thanks again for your comments!

    Jeremy, from Google's Search Quality Team

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  32. It bugged me too, so I made a workaround that completes the closing quote (works in most browsers): http://nohejl.name/2010/10/16/searching-the-web-for-phrases/

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  33. It's worse than you thought. Try looking for "post-doc", with a hyphen. You will get results with *and* without the hyphen: "post-doc" and "post doc". (It does not return "postdoc", all one word.)

    Double quotes don't fix this, and neither does the plus sign. Neither give you what Google claims, an "exact phrase search."

    I used to use this all the time to determine how to hyphenate words. I would do three searches (hyphen, space, and none) and choose the one with the most hits.

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  34. I knew that I didn't have to use the closing quotes (after accidentally leaving them off several times), but my perfectionistic ways told me that it just wasn't right! So I continued to use the quotes on both sides of my phrase.

    So it's interesting to hear that Google has "fixed" this search quirk.

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