Category Archives: Google

Google offers to include missing search terms – sometimes

Google has been omitting terms from searches for several years.? For me, the matter came to a head wayback? in November 2011 (see?Dear Google, stop messing with my search).? Many of has had noticed it happening for a while but what suddenly made it more frustrating was that one could no longer prefix a term with a plus sign to force its inclusion in a search. Furthermore, surrounding terms and phrases with double quote marks did not always work either.

Google’s Dan Russell explained why in a comment to my blog posting:

“When you do a multi-term query on Google (even with quoted terms), the algorithm sometimes backs-off from hard ANDing all of the terms together. It’s a kind of “soft” backoff. Why? Because it’s clear that people will often write long queries (with anywhere from 5 to 10 terms) for which there are no results. Google will then selectively remove the terms that are the lowest frequency to give you some results (rather than none). Bear in mind that 99% of searchers have no idea why they’d want to hard AND, and just get frustrated when they get no results. The soft AND is a way to reduce the overall frustration and give the searcher something to examine (and with luck, a chance to reformulate their query).”

He added:

“But I see what you mean about wanting to know if there are NO hits to a given query. I’ll pass this information along to the Google design team and see if we can’t do something with this.”

Well,? Google did do something about it and some weeks later Verbatim, which could be applied to your entire search and make Google run it without omissions or variations,? was added as a tool. The other option that existed then, and still does, is to prefix individual terms or phrases with ‘intext:’.

If you did not use Verbatim you were still left guessing as to whether or not all of your terms or their synonyms were present in a particular document until you actually clicked on it and viewed it in its entirety.? About a couple of years ago, Google started to include information on omitted terms in the results snippets? by adding a “Missing: ” statement underneath the entry.? At least we now had something to work with.? Google has now added a search option to it.? It started to appear 2-3 months ago, disappeared for a while, but now seems to be a permanent feature.? It enables you to tell Google that it must include the missing term.?Let’s works through the example that first alerted me to it: a search for broad beans called Eleonora and supplied by Tamar Organics.

Before you ask, the reason I did not go directly to the Tamar Organics website was because it was quicker to go via Google than to work through the seed supplier’s site search and navigation system. Also, please note that if you try this search out yourselves you will probably get very different results. When we tried this in a workshop of 20 people we ended up with 11 variations on the theme!

First, the quick and simple approach of just throwing in a few terms:

broad beans eleonora tamar organics

The first two results were relevant and exactly what I was looking for,? but 8 results seemed a bit low especially as Google had indicated on the next two in the list that the term “eleonora”? was missing.? (We’ll come back to the “Must include: ” in a moment.) Going to the bottom of the results page there was the usual message that similar entries had not been displayed.

Erm… but, Google, you displayed 8 not 15 as you claim.? Let’s play along, anyway, and repeat the search by clicking on the link Google gives us. This time I was given 11 results.? We know that Google often gets the count wrong when using the repeat search option but I still thought that the number of results was rather low if it was omitting terms.? What would happen if I decided to take Google up on its offer of “Must include: eleonora”? Two, three or perhaps just four results?? I clicked on the eleonora link and …. 20,700 results!

In the search bar above the results we can see that Google has put eleonora in double quote marks to force its inclusion.

The first three results were fine but when I looked in detail at the fourth document it was missing both tamar and organics, and there was no indication in the snippets provided by Google that these, or any other terms, had been omitted.

Going back to my first set of results and looking further down the list I saw that, as well as one from which eleonara was omitted, there was another that had left out both eleonora and tamar, and a third with just tamar missing.

If the “Must include:” option has more than one term, you can only choose one of them. You cannot have all of them.? Choosing tamar gave me??43,500? results but this time Google did tell me when eleonora was missing from the documents. Most of the results were totally irrelevant.

How would I normally deal with missing terms?? I generally start off with a quick and dirty search and, unless I am looking for a particular type of document such as a presentation or industry report, I don’t always use advanced commands.? I just type in the separate words and in this case I did get what I wanted at the top of the page. But what if I hadn’t?

I was interested in the variety of broad beans called Eleonora but Google was omitting it from some of the results.? I could have done what Google did and use quote marks around eleonora but my experience is that Google sometimes ignores those if the number of results is low. My usual strategy is to use ‘intext:’ before the missing word, for example:

broad beans intext:eleonora tamar organics

This gave me 18,400 results with, again, most of them missing one or more terms.

Deciding to trust Google not to ignore double quote marks I changed my search to:

“broad beans” “eleonora” “tamar organics”

This time it was just 3 results, and when I repeated the search to include the omitted results I saw 5 but nothing from the Tamar Organics website itself. The reason for this was the presence of the phrase “broad beans” in the search string.? Looking at the results in my very first? search, I saw that Google was picking up the phrases “broad bean” and “beans (broad)” so I was now missing out on the top and most relevant results. A reminder that one needs to think very carefully about how and in what order search terms may appear in documents before applying phrase searching.

For comparison I applied Verbatim to the original quick and dirty search and got 411 results.? The main problem with that set was that Tamar and Organics were appearing in the documents separated by several words or even sentences.? When I applied Verbatim to the search string:

broad beans eleonora “Tamar Organics”

I was presented with a respectable list of 18 relevant results.

So, is the “Must include:” option worth using? It is quick and easy to apply, especially on a mobile device and I suspect that is why it has been introduced. However, it all starts to get very messy and complicated? if you try to use it on subsequent sets of results.? When I’m searching on my laptop, or on a desktop, I sometimes try the link but if that set of results is disappointing? and Google drops a different selection of terms I go back to my practice of using intext and/or Verbatim.? I also try double quotes around terms and phrases but my experience is that that Google still occasionally ignores them. It is entirely up to you which approach you use. How well each works does vary from one search to another, and on whether or not you are allowing Google to adjust results according to your search history and behaviour.? The important thing is to be aware of the options available to you and to be willing to experiment.

Somebody, please put Google News out of its misery

I didn’t think Google News (http://news.google.co.uk/) could get any worse but I was wrong. The previous revamp was bad enough:?no more advanced search, useless and irrelevant personalisation options, and don’t even think about trying to set up sensible alerts. Alerts were never that good at the best of times but were not improved one iota by the changes. And then they altered the structure of the RSS feed URLs so that, supposedly, your existing feeds no longer worked. I don’t know why, but my old feeds are still delivering news and contain better quality information than the new ones I set up.?Google News

In the latest incarnation, Google News has lost most of my topics,? the “For You” is total rubbish as is “Local”, you can no longer manage and personalise the topics? (although that didn’t really work anyway), and the RSS feed buttons have gone.?I can only assume that this is? all down to the real time AI/ML that Google recently announced was going to be used to organize the news. (The new Google News: AI meets human intelligence ).

Existing RSS feeds still work, though and you can create email alerts for a news search if you run it from within the general Google results page. Run your search in “All” and then click on the News link. There is a Create Alert button at the bottom of your results, but one wonders how long that will last.

Someone should put Google News out of its misery, close it down and leave news searchable via the link on the main page.

And they may as well ditch Google Finance as well. That is a? shadow of its former self?: no more portfolios for monitoring stocks, no more historical data for viewing and download, no more news annotations on the price charts, and the comparison option only works for two stocks at a time. If you are interested in monitoring the stock markets or researching individual companies for free get thee hence to Yahoo! Finance (https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/).?? There was some doubt over the future of Yahoo! Finance when Yahoo! was acquired by Verizon and became part of Oath but, charting oddities aside, there does seem to be some development going on. The new “Sustainability” tab for example shows environment, social and governance (ESG) ratings from Sustainalytics (https://www.sustainalytics.com/).? There was positive feedback on it from some business librarians who attended one of my recent workshops.

So many of Google’s services are going from bad to worse to totally pointless and unusable. No wonder, then, that people are starting to look seriously at alternative resources.

Google makes it harder to change location for country specific research

Google has made a major change to search and it does not bode well. Results are now based on your current location. So what’s new?? Google has always looked at your location, even down to city/town level, and changed the results accordingly. That is fine if you are travelling and want to find the nearest Thai restaurant via your mobile, for example. Presenting a list of eateries in my home town of Reading is no good to me if I’m away in Manchester and getting very hungry!

The problems start if you are researching a person, company or industry based in a country other than your own – let’s use Norway as an example – or just want the latest news from that country.? The trick used to be to go to the relevant country version of Google, in this case www.google.no, run your search and Google would give preference to Norwegian content. It is a great way to get alternative viewpoints on a topic and more relevant “local” information on a subject. Now, regardless of which version of Google you go to, you will see the same results tailored for your home location.

In a blog posting?Making search results more local and relevant Google says:

Today, we’ve updated the way we label country services on the mobile web, the Google app for iOS, and desktop Search and Maps. Now the choice of country service will no longer be indicated by domain. Instead, by default, you’ll be served the country service that corresponds to your location. So if you live in Australia, you’ll automatically receive the country service for Australia, but when you travel to New Zealand, your results will switch automatically to the country service for New Zealand. Upon return to Australia, you will seamlessly revert back to the Australian country service.

This confirms that mobile search is what Google is concentrating on. After all it is, one assumes, where Google makes most of its money but it does not help professional researchers.

There is a way around it but it is rather long-winded. You need to go to Settings –?use either the link in the bottom right hand corner of your Google home page or the one near the top of a search results page – and click on Advanced Search .

Google Settings Menu

On the Advanced Search screen scroll down to “Then narrow your results by…” and use the pull down menu in the region box to select the country.

Google Advanced Search Region

I ran a search on Brexit in google.co.uk, google.no and a few other country versions of Google. All gave me essentially the same results.Google UK results for Brexit

Using the region filter and selecting Norway as the country I am given the following by Google:

Google Norway Region Filter

Notice, though, that Google is giving me English articles or English versions of them. Google has decided that I would prefer English articles and I have to scroll down to number 10 and beyond to see pages in Norwegian. To get a? broader view of what is being said in Norway about Brexit I have to go back into settings, click on Languages and choose Norwegian/Norsk.

Brexit search with region and language filter on

Oh – and you get slight different results if you go through a VPN and set Norway as the country.

What worries me even more is that Google could do away with the advanced search screen and the region filter with it.

Google says:

We’re confident this change will improve your Search experience, automatically providing you with the most useful information based on your search query and other context, including location.

No, Google. You have just made things more difficult for those of us who conduct serious, in-depth research. The way I feel about this change at the moment is that if you were a person I would take a baseball bat to your head!

UPDATE: In response to David Pearson’s comment and reminder below.
Including a site command e.g. site:no in the search works relatively well for this particular example (Norway) and gives good but slightly different results. It will, of course, miss Norwegian sites that are registered as .com or other international domains. The amount of overlap (or lack of it) will vary depending on the country. It’s another one to add to the list of strategies, which I am sure will become longer,? for dealing with this problem.

Another example of Google’s Knowledge Graph getting it wrong

Voting in the UK election has finished and the results are in, but the dust has most definitely not settled. It looks as we in the UK are in for interesting times ahead. It would help those of us researching the various political parties and policies if Google could at least get the basics right, such as who is now the Member of Parliament for a particular constituency. ?I am in Reading East and we have switched from a Conservative MP to Labour (Matt Rodda). Out of curiosity, I tried a search in Google on Reading East constituency. ?This is what Google’s Knowledge Graph came up with:

Reading East Google Knowledge Graph

I took this screenshot yesterday (Friday, 9th June) ?at around 8 a.m. and expected to see Rob Wilson given as the MP throughout . I was impressed, though, to see that the snippet from Wikipedia correctly gives Matt Rodda as our MP. Whoever had updated that entry was pretty quick off the mark. Possibly a Labour Party worker? The rest of the information, which is taken from Google’s database of “facts”, is either wrong, confusing or nonsensical.

“Member of Parliament: Rob Wilson” – wrong. ?But he was MP until around 4 a.m. on the 9th June when the result of the election in Reading East was announced, so perhaps I am expecting a little too much from Google to be that quick about updating its facts.

“Major settlement: Reading” – yes we are part of Reading but I find it strange that it is referred to as a major settlement rather than a town.

“Number of members: 1” – not sure why that is there as each constituency can only have one MP.

“Party: Conservative” – correct for Rob Wilson but the new MP is Labour.?

“European Parliament constituency: South East England” – correct!

The final two lines “Replaced by:” and “Created from:” had me totally flummoxed. The entries are the same ?– Reading North, Reading South, Henley. ?Reading North and Reading South were constituencies formed by splitting the Reading constituency in 1950. They were then merged back into Reading in 1955, re-created in 1974, and in 1983 ?Reading East and West were formed?(Yes, it’s complicated!). As for Henley, it is not even in the same county. ?I can only think that this comes from Caversham (now part of Reading East) being part of Oxfordshire until 1911, when it probably did fall within the Henley constituency. ? The “Replaced by” is wrong because Reading East has not been replaced by anything. Google can’t even blame a template that has to be filled in with information at all costs because different information appears in the Knowledge Graph depending on the constituency.

Here is the information for Aylesbury:

And the one for Guildford:

Going ?back to the how up to date the information is, ?how quickly does Google update their “facts”. Rob Wilson was still our MP mid Friday afternoon. I submitted feedback using the link that Google provides at the bottom of each Knowledge Graph but this morning (10th June) nothing had changed. I’ll update this posting when it does change.

I would hope that most people would look at the other links in the search results, in this case the latest news, but preferably a reliable ?authoritative source. ?The list of MPs on the UK Parliament website would be an obvious choice but might take a day to be updated after an election. Just don’t rely on Google to get it right.

More Google weird results

Ok, we know that Google often does strange things with our searches but much of the time it is not obvious that something odd has happened. There are usually some “good enough” answers scattered through the first 20-30 results so that we shrug off the rest as “well, that’s Google for you”. Occasionally, though, one comes across a search that seems to break Google. One such example was reported on Twitter this morning ?by Rand Fishkin (@randfish). The search was

this is the best * on the internet

At the top of the first results page Google reported that it had found over a billion results but when @randfish moved to the next page Google showed just “2 of 12 results”! Whatever happened to the other billion or so?

I tried the search myself on my laptop and straightaway got three results but on repeating it that was reduced to two.

I repeated the search having logged out of my Google account, cleared cookies, used Incognito and different browsers. Same results.

I tried a phrase search and the number of hits increased to 17.

Then I removed the quotation marks, got back to my original set of two and ran Verbatim on it. Over a billion hits but, bizarrely, Google claimed to have gone straight page 2!

Note: you normally can’t see the number of results after you have run Verbatim because it is obscured by a second menu line. You can toggle between that menu and the number of hits by clicking on the Tools button.

Then I tried a phrase search followed by Verbatim: two results but different from my first set.

I could have gone on trying various advanced search commands but?it is very clear that Google is having problems with this particular search. And, no, I have no idea what is going on here.

If Google messes with your search to this extent or comes back with far fewer results than you would expect don’t struggle with it; ?just go to another search engine. As an asterisk is used in this search to stand in for a missing word Yandex.com would be the best option. ?(See?https://yandex.com/support/search/how-to-search/search-operators.html for a list of the main operators).

 

Google link command gone – never much good anyway!

Search Engine Roundtable reports today that Google is advising against using the link operator in search. It seems that there have been complaints on Twitter and elsewhere that it is returning some odd results.

I have never been a fan of the command; it only ever returned a small sample of pages that link to a known page, so I don’t mention it in my workshops unless asked about it by one of the participants. When I saw the advice from Google I gave it a final go?on my own domain rba.co.uk and got nearly 300,000 hits. “Wow,” I thought, “amazing!” Glancing through the first few results it became obvious that Google had ignored all the punctuation and was running a text search and looking for variations on rba including RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland).

No great loss, but a sign that other more useful operators and commands may be for the chop.

Seasonal opening times – never trust Google’s answers (or Bing’s)

This is my usual Christmas/New Year reminder to never trust Google’s answers (or Bing’s) on opening times of shops over the holiday season, especially if you are thinking of visiting small, local, independent shops.

I was contemplating going to our True Food Co-operative but suspected that it might still be shut. A search on my laptop for True Food Emmer Green opening times gave me a link to their website at the top of the results list. On the right hand side was a knowledge graph with information on the shop, it’s opening times and reviews that had been?compiled from a variety of sources . For most of it the source of the information is not given. ?On my mobile and tablet it is the knowledge graph that appears at the top of the results list and ?takes up the first couple of screens.

It claims that the shop is “Open today 10am-6pm” [today is Thursday, 29th December].

When I go to True Food’s website it clearly states near the top of the home page that they are currently closed and re-opening on 4th January 2017.

Google gets it wrong again in the knowledge graph but so does Bing. So, always check the shop’s own website, and if you are searching on your mobile or tablet please make the effort to scroll down a couple of screens to get to links to more reliable information.

Google results: review stars may not refer to what you think they do

The contract for our domestic electricity supply is ending next month so I am trawling through cost comparison and energy supplier websites to check tariffs for our next contract. (UK readers can skip the rest of this explanatory paragraph). I don’t know what the situation is in other countries but in the UK the gas and electricity suppliers are forever inventing a variety of tariffs priced significantly less than their “standard” rates to entice you to sign up. The lower priced tariffs are generally only available for a year, or two years at most. At the end of the contract the customer is usually?transferred to the more expensive standard rate unless they actively seek out an alternative. The existing supplier is obliged to inform the customer of the new tariffs that will be on offer but the onus is on the customer to inform the company which tariff, if any, they wish to switch to. ?For other suppliers’ tariffs the customer has to do their own research.

Price comparison sites are a good starting point to identify potential alternatives but the only way to check that the a tariff meets all of your criteria, of which price may be just one of many, is to go direct to the supplier’s website. Today I spent most of the morning drawing up the shortlist.

The next step in my strategy was to look at customer reviews on the comparison websites, social media, discussion boards and to run a Google search on each supplier.?The reviews and comments generally spanned several years and while the history of a company’s customer service performance can be useful it is the last 12-18 months that are most relevant. This is where?limiting the search to more recent information by ?using Google’s date option comes into play. Having spent an hour or so to get this far, and with my brain beginning to wilt, it was tempting to read just the Google snippets for the reviews; but they can convey the wrong overall impression. Google sometimes creates snippets by pulling together text from two or more sections of a page that may be separated by several paragraphs and which may be about completely different products or topics. Never take the snippet at face value and always click through to the original, full article.

One of the energy providers on my short list is Robin Hood Energy, which is a not-for profit company run by Nottingham City Council and has only recently been made available to customers outside of Nottingham. ?Customer reviews are therefore less plentiful than for many of the other utilities. The results from a search on

Robin Hood Energy customer reviews

included one from Simply Switch. Underneath the title and URL is a star rating of 4.4 from 221 reviews and one could be forgiven for assuming that this refers to Robin Hood Energy. This is reinforced by the text in the second half?of the snippet: “Robin Hood guarantee their customers consistently low prices … rated 4.4/5 based on 221 reviews”. ?robin_hood_customer_reviews

The dots are important in that they represent a missing?chunk of?text?between the two pieces of information. When I looked at the web page itself the rating was nowhere to be found in the main body of the text. It was in the footer of the page and referred to the Simply Switch site.

simply_switch_reviews

A reminder, then, to never rely on the snippets?for an answer, and always click through and read the whole web page.

Google Blogger loses links and blog lists: what to do next

Google Blogger has done it again. A major update to the service was rolled out at the end of September and many users woke up to find that the links and blog lists they had so carefully created had gone. ? See the Blogger Help Forum for some of the postings and comments on the incident. ?Blogger engineers are supposedly working to restore the lost information??but it “may take up to several days.” Or never! This is not the first time that blog content has gone missing after an update. A few years ago an update somehow removed the most recent posts from people’s blogs. Most of them were eventually recovered but a few disappeared without trace.

The lesson learned from that experience was back up your blog. In Blogger the import and backup tool is under?Settings, Other and at the top of the page. Note, though that this will only backup the text of pages, posts and comments. It does not backup any changes you have made to the template, or the content of the gadgets in your sidebars such as links lists and blogrolls. For the ?template click on Template in the lefthand sidebar and then on Backup/Restore. This will save the general layout of the gadgets but not the content. For that you will need to copy and save the content for each gadget or save a copy of the content and HTML of your blog. ?Back up your Blogger blog: photos, posts, template, and gadgets has details of what you need to do.

And don’t forget your photos. For those?use Google’s Takeout service at?https://www.google.com/settings/takeout.

If you don’t have a copy of your lists of links then see if you can access an older cached version of your blog ?via Google or Bing and save the whole page, or take screen shots. If you try this several days after the event you may be out of luck. Mine were still in the cached page for up to 2 days but have now gone. In Google, use the ‘cache:’ command, for example:

cache:yourblogname.blogspot.com

An alternative is to search for your blog and next to your entry in the results lists there should be a small downward pointing green arrow. Click on it and then on the ‘Cached’ text to view the page. ?This works in both Google and Bing ?and, again, the sooner you do this the better.

bing_cached_option

If none of that works then try the Wayback Machine. Type in the URL of your blog and see if they have any snapshots.

wayback_blog

Still no joy? Then either hang around a while longer to see if the Blogger engineers manage to revive your lists or start rebuilding them from scratch. If you haven’t looked at them in a while, maybe now is the time to review the content anyway.

Don’t expect advanced search features to exist forever

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the problems I was having with Google Verbatim (Google Verbatim on the way out?). This morning I ran through a checklist of commands that I am demonstrating in a webinar and it seems that Verbatim is back working as it should. Don’t hold your breath, though. Three times this year I have seen Google Verbatim disappear or do strange things and a couple weeks later return to normal. Verbatim may be here to stay or it may not, but you cannot depend on many advanced search commands to always work as you expect. So either learn different ways of making Google treat your search in the way you require or use a different search engine.

Unfortunately, disappearing or unreliable functionality is not confined to just Google. Bing used to have a very useful proximity command that allowed you to specify how close you wanted your words to be to one another. The “near:n” ?operator is still listed in Bing’s list of advanced search commands?and, although it seems to do something and reduce the number of results, it does not behave as described.

There is also the endangered list?such as?DuckDuckGo’s sort by date option. In fact all of DuckDuckGo’s web search options will probably soon change or disappear as it is currently powered by Yahoo! which has been bought by Verizon. Who will DuckDuckGo turn to if Verizon does combine Yahoo with AOL as has been stated in the press?

Get to know several different search tools really well and, for the ones that you use regularly, find out how they work and who provides the search results.