Friday, February 22, 2013

1MM #8 -- Why search query word order matters

Did you know that the particular sequence of words in your search query can have a big effect on the results you see?  

Here's a short 1MM video to illustrate the variations you might get.  The key thing to remember is that pairs of adjacent words ("cat lady" vs. "lady cat") can have profound shifts in meaning.  English is highly word-order specific, so it should come as no surprised that this is true for search as well.  

Hope you find this useful! 

Search on! 


  1. This is so helpful to keep in mind, but I'm not entirely clear on WHY these differences can be so stark. It makes me think of the search technique of using quotation marks; that will lead you to the exact phrase you're looking for. This idea of changing word order almost seems to work similarly in terms of speech patterns instead of an exact phrase match. Do I kind of have that right?

    1. As I said in the narration, the fact that Google indexes bigrams (that is, words next to each other), has a big effect on how word order works. Essentially, it's saying that "to child" is different than "child to" -- and that tweaks the results around. This is less of a feature in languages in which word order is much more fluid (e.g., any heavily inflected language).