Live AND Learn (Important Clarifications on Search Syntax)

booleanstringsBoolean 1 Comment


Let’s start 2013 with a discussion of some basic, yet little known, aspects of the two main search engines syntax rules. I believe these are very important to know in order to have fewer of those either “What am I doing wrong?” or “Why is Google search not working?” questions (coming up, depending on the personality). I had to clarify a thing or two myself quite recently and would like to share these clarifications with you.

1. The Boolean Logical Operator AND

This logical operator is implied on Google and on Bing, so searching for certified accountant listed in the search string is just the same as searching for both of these words. However, writing

accountant AND certified

in the search string will not do the same thing on Google and Bing.

Namely, Bing will ignore the word AND and will search for both terms. Google with include the word and as yet another keyword, no matter how you write it: AND, and, or ANd.

If you do not capitalize and, Bing will not include it as a keyword. To force Bing to use the word and  as a keyword, you would need to put quotation marks around it: “and”.

2. The Operator Precedence and Parentheses

When I reuse a search string that I run on Google, I often forget to put the parenthesis around OR statements, but I quickly get a reminder in the form of the search results being very different from what I expect to see.

We’ve all long been aware that what can be written on Google in either of the two ways:

  1. certified OR CPA accountant
  2. (certified OR CPA) accountant

and on Bing the same search has to be written as

(certified OR CPA) accountant

On Bing, the operator precedence (i.e. the default order of the operators) is different from Google’s. Writing

certified OR CPA accountant

on Bing means the same as

certified OR (CPA AND accountant)

(That one doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a search, of course).

On Bing, you can use parentheses to change the default order of operators. Here’s relevant Bing documentation (by the way, not available in its search help, but spelled out in its developer guides): Operator Precedence.

While Bing offers great flexibility in changing the default order of the operators, there is no way to change the order of operators on Google. I have to admit that I was not entirely clear about it up till recently and have clarified this for myself while exploring the Order of Operations on Google post by Erin Page, for which I am grateful.

You will not be able to execute the last search above on Google, no matter what syntax you try. In fact, parentheses are, very simply, ignored on Google. If you see a counter-example, that’s a Google’s bug. Let me know; I have found a way to report those to the Google team through the wonderful Daniel Russel of the SearchResearch blog. Dan has also helped me to figure out some things in this post.

3. Including Keywords

It’s no secret that Google attempts to modify your keywords using both auto-stemming (manager ~ management) and synonyms (developer ~ programmer). It can also break words: search for onetwo and you may see one two in the results. To prevent modification, you can use the quotation marks around the word: “manager”, “onetwo”.

What is less known though, is that even the quotation marks do not guarantee that the word will show up on the resulting pages. In some cases Google decides to “improve” a query and remove some words that it thinks only harm the query. If you really, seriously want to see a word in the results, use the operator intext:


(This is also mentioned in an informative an fun post by John Tedesco How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques.)

As a conclusion,

live AND learn

Comments 1

  1. Hi Irina

    Can you not also use the ‘Verbatim’ command on Google to force it to search for exactly what you asked for, rather than what Google thinks you want to know?

    Yours uncertainly


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *