Unhelpful search results

• Feb 24, 2022 - 09:47

Once upon a time, a "search" function was very simple. If you typed in a word, "colla" (an Italian word), for example, you got either a list of places where this word occurred, or a message saying "Not found". But in modern times (not just here, of course), if a search system cannot find the word, it produces junk. A bogus list of places, where the word does not occur. Is there any possibility of having an old-fashioned search system, so we could quickly find out whether or not a word occurs?


Typically web search engines (which is what I assume you are referring to) will search for exact matches on terms that are enclosed in quotes - like "colla". See for example https://www.google.co.uk/advanced_search and https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/topic/advanced-search-options-b92e2…. Google lets you know if no results were found but then (helpfully?) shows the results obtained without the quotes. Bing seems less consistent and seems to show the without-quote results first before telling you it found nothing when honouring the quotes. It often finds no text references but does find images that are tenuously related to part of the search term. Other search engines will have their own quirks.

But... some web page providers use tricks to "fool" search engines by including words that do not appear in the content you see - see https://www.seoquake.com/blog/hidden-text-and-search-engines/ for example. So, in a slightly contrived example, a paint manufacturer might think that it had potential customers who don't know how to spell "color" or for the UK "colour" and include hidden references to "colla" so that even mis-spelled search terms would hit their website. Such trickery is discouraged or even penalised by search engine providers but seems not to have been completely eliminated.

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