Google announced a new tool this week – Verbatim, which is essentially a fast way to find results which exactly match your search queries.
This tool replaces the use of the + key in searches when you want to force it to include certain words in the results it brings up. According to Google, this is because:
users typed the “+” operator in less than half a percent of all searches, and two thirds of the time, it was used incorrectly.
In addition to this, one surmises that the move is not entirely unrelated to the domination of the + character by Google+ and +1.
What the tool does highlight is that it’s very easy to forget just how much work the Google algorithm puts in without you even realising it. As Google points out on the official Inside Search blog, when you search for something on Google without Verbatim, the algorithm approaches your query in an amazingly intelligent way to make sense of what you’ve typed. For example, it:
- Corrects spelling (and sometimes even grammar)
- Personalises your results using data on what other sites you’ve visited recently
- Looks for synonyms of terms you’ve written and similar terms/phrases
- Looks for words with the same root (e.g. optimise, optimising)
- Drops some words, e.g. “circa”
The Verbatim tool drops all these features and just gives you the raw results containing all the words you’ve typed.
So does it look very different?
For most searches, the results are essentially the same with or without Verbatim. That’s because the algorithm is already good enough to understand what you meant most of the time, so you don’t actually need to specify greater precision. Furthermore, Verbatim will still ask you if you meant to search for the correct spelling, such as:
The situations in which Verbatim will be a useful tool are likely to be occasions where:
- A slight difference in terminology makes a big difference to the meaning
- You’ve visited a lot of websites recently which might skew the results for a different but vaguely related query in personalised search
Obviously, this tool is unlikely to have any impact on the SEO industry. It’s buried in the “more search tools” section to the left of the search results and, given that fewer than 0.5% of searches ever actually used the + button to make them more exact, the tool isn’t likely to be utilised by a significant number of searchers.
However, Verbatim is interesting as a response to searcher behaviour (it was apparently requested by many a user) and as a reminder that it’s a good idea to target variations of keywords in order to be picked up in as wide a range of searches as possible. For example, a book seller might target the whole range of “buy” and “sell” words: books for sale, buy books, second hand books bought and sold, buy a book, book seller and so on. You never know when someone might be looking for an exact phrase – and if you’re in e-commerce, these super-precise searchers are likely to be nearer the end of the buying cycle, and therefore more likely to convert.