Google search is a remarkable thing, and not just because it is able to find what you're looking for among billions of webpages. I think you could argue that the fact it is able to figure out what we're looking for, even when we're not great at asking, is a feat on its own.
One of the first things that happen when you type a word or phrase into Google Search is that it tries to figure out what you mean. Most of the time, that's more useful than simply trying to find the exact words.
For example, if you type in "ice cream chocolate Philadelphia" there probably aren't very many websites with that exact phrase. Besides, you're not really looking for that phrase, you're looking for the best chocolate ice cream in Philadelphia, so that's what Google is going to try to show you.
Sometimes, however, you really do want to find the exact words or phrase you type into the search box. Or you might type words into Google and it thinks you mean something entirely different. It is essentially guessing at what you mean, even if it's a very educated guess.
In that case, power users know you can use quotation marks around your search phrase and it will show you exact matches. It's one of Google's most useful--if underused--features.
For example, if you're trying to find out who said a particular line in your favorite movie, you can type it in with quotes and Google will show you websites with that exact line. Or maybe you're looking for sites that reference a specific term. Basically, you want Google to skip the step where it tries to figure out what you really want, and just show you exact results.
The problem is, when Google shows search results--even when you use quotes--it gives you an overall description of a page below the links on the search results page. The point is to give you more context about a webpage than you get from just the title. If you're looking for an exact term, however, a summary of the page is often less important than where the actual words are.
Fortunately, Google is rolling out an update that shows you context for where quoted search terms appear on a site. Here's how the company explained the change in a recent blog post:
The snippets we display for search results (meaning the text you see describing web content) will be formed around where a quoted word or phrase occurs in a web document. That means you can more easily identify where to find them after you click the link and visit the content. On desktop, we'll also bold the quoted material ...
We've heard feedback that people doing quoted searches value seeing where the quoted material occurs on a page, rather than an overall description of the page. Our improvement is designed to help address this.
There are a few caveats. As Google points out, sometimes the words or phrase you search for doesn't appear in the body of a website. Sometimes it appears in metadata, or in the alt text for an image, which helps screen readers identify an image for visually impaired individuals. Google can see that text, even though it doesn't actually appear on the website page you see.
In that case, Google suggests using Command--F to search the page. You can also use tools like "developer mode" to search all of the text Google is able to see.
The good news is, for most searches, Google is actually pretty good at figuring out what you're looking for and finding it. There's a reason that using quotes is a pro move--it's not something most people need to do very often.
In fact, the best thing you can do to increase the chances Google will show you the information you're looking for is to type in more words. Seriously. You can ask Google complete questions and it will usually find the answer.
As a rule, the more words you put into the search field, the better. Google wants to find you results that it thinks are relevant to your search, from websites that are credible on the subject. If you're not finding what you want, try using more words. If that doesn't help, try adding quotes. After all, one of Google's most useful features just got even better.