While Google has been bolding search terms for a while in order to make it easy for you to see your results, you may have noticed that Google is now bolding more than the actual phrase you searched for.
When looking over your search results, if you look closely, you’ll notice that some searches will return results with bolded phrases similar to what you searched for, but not exact matches. This can occur even when you search for a phrase surrounded by quotation marks.
In the past, phrases enclosed in quotation marks used to guarantee search results with an exact phrase match. While some search phrases contained in quotation marks will still generate exact match results, many will not.
Reading Google’s mind
A possible reason Google has chosen to ignore quotation marks and instead return search results with related terms (as opposed to exact phrase matches), is because Google knows there are multiple ways to say the same thing, and if all you get are exact phrase matches, you may miss out on some relevant content.
Since Google’s main focus is providing users with relevant results, the only way you’re going to see a large portion of the information others have is if Google broadens the way they return your search results.
Back to basics
When you were in school, you may remember having to learn about parts of speech in the English language. There are verbs, nouns, proper nouns, predicates, conjunctions, and contractions.
If you were like most students, you only memorized parts of speech long enough to get you through the test so you could eat your lunch and down a Redbull in order to make it through the rest of the day.
Fast forward to Google’s new algorithm for returning relevant search results with related phrases, and you’ve got a great reason to pull out your notes and remember the difference between a noun and a verb.
Noun phrases vs. verb phrases
Generally, a noun is a person, place, or thing. For example, a bird, a teacher, a house, and even a giant wildebeest are all considered nouns.
A verb, on the other hand, can be described as an action word—something a noun does. For example, the words, “run,” “smile,” and “jump” are all examples of simple verbs.
It appears that Google is treating noun phrases differently than verb phrases. For example, searching for the unquoted noun phrase, printing center, returns results with mostly exact phrase matches. Searching for the unquoted action phrase, how to tie a shoe, returns some exact phrase matches, but mostly provides results with bolded, related phrases like, “shoelace tying,” and “tying a shoe.”
To further complicate things, once you’ve clicked on a search result, if you perform the same search again, the page you just visited gets an automatic boost in rank. For example, when searching for printing center, the first result is an internal page from Staples.com that does not contain the exact searched phrase, and instead contains the related, bolded text “copy and print.”
The second result is an internal page from UPS.com containing only the related, bolded term “printing.” The third result is from PrintingCenterUSA.com and contains an exact phrase match in the domain name, but only the related, bolded word “printing” in the content.
Google shuffles search results like a good playlist
Here’s where it gets stranger.
After visiting the top three results, performing the same search again reorders the results. The top two results remain the same, while the third result gets pushed down to #4.
After visiting the #5 result, the same search performed a minute later reorganizes the results again. The first two results remain in place, while #5 is moved to #3. And what was once #3 is now #7.
This shuffling will happen regardless of clearing your cookies and your browser’s cache because Google personalizes search results based on your personal search history stored on their server.
When you’re signed into your Google account, your web history is being tracked and recorded on a separate server. In other words, you can’t delete your history.
Defining relevant content
Formerly, relevant content to Google was considered any page that had an exact phrase match to what the user searched for. Today, Google knows many people try to game the system by using highly searched for phrases.
Google now defines relevant content as pages that genuinely discuss the subject matter being searched for. This means the pages don’t just mention a phrase once but are a collection of related phrases and topics.
Getting to the top
Pages that contain large portions of content written on the same subject are more likely to make it to the top of someone’s search results because Google knows the information on the page is relevant to the topic, not just a once off phrase inserted to game the system.
What this says for on-page SEO is that you can no longer improve the success of your website by leveraging exact phrase matching alone. If you want your pages to turn up in someone’s search results, you need more than just a single phrase inserted into your webpage—your whole page needs to contain content relevant to the subject matter.
There is no number one spot
The way Google has engineered personalized search means objective number one rankings no longer exist. This doesn’t mean SEO is dead. It just means the old ways of trying to game the system (techniques people mistakenly refer to as SEO) don’t work anymore.
Create content to boost your rank
In the end, creating high quality content is always the best approach to gaining visibility in the search engines. It’s said that “content is king” and it’s true. Content is what people are searching for.