Researchers: Run “Restrictive” Google Strings

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The post reflects my current understanding of how Google works. I hope to share extra detail with you as we do more testing or if we hear more from Google Search people.


When you write a search string, Google assesses whether it is:

  • Open-ended (assuming you, the user, require assistance) or
  • Specific, or “restrictive.”

Google decides on “restrictive” in some cases with quotes or when you use advanced operators  (maybe something else). For restrictive searches, Google does a fair job of searching with less interpretation. That sometimes leads to more results.

Looking closer, it’s not one or the other; there seems to be a measure of restrictiveness (from open-ended to more and more specific, depending on input) to which Google reacts; see some examples below.

Conclusion. When you Want to Get More Google Search Results:

  • Be aware of “open-ended,” “restrictive,” and “in-between” (more and more restrictive) searches
  • Putting keywords in quotes or using operators sometimes makes a search restrictive,  showing extra results
  • When running “open-ended” searches, for different results, consider making the search more specific by adding keywords or operators.

>> Download “Quotes” PDF Summary <<

In a hurry? End of SUMMARY

Google’s Danny Sullivan‘s comments on my Quotes on Google post shed some light on the observed phenomena: words in quotes produced more results than without in my examples. I had expected words without quotes to be interpreted, therefore leading to more results, not less.

Thanks to Danny for taking the time to comment. The word therefore above was false logic. I still have many related questions and wonder whether there is a channel to ask them and interact with the team. (@Google, we would be glad to hear your thoughts.)

Evolving semantic input interpretation while allowing to keep control over search via special syntax – when everyone uses the same search box – is not easy.

NOTES for Hands-On Sourcers:

If you think that as a practical result of the “quotes” insight, you need to start putting all your keywords in quotes – perhaps you should try that. But quotes help to see more results only sometimes.

Yes in some cases:

No in other cases:


It does not matter in yet some other cases.

I.e., quotes around single words sometimes help find more results (perhaps working as a “restrictive” indicator). A researcher needs to know that might happen and search with and without quotes around single words.

From my tests, an advanced operator like site: makes a query restrictive.

In addition to your strings appearing to Google as “restrictive” (sophisticated!) searches, you can increase the number of combined results by repeating keywords, moving them around (as Nicolas Darcis demonstrated at #sosueu), and searching in Images.







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