A search query is the word or string of words a user types into a search engine and will be used to determine the most relevant and useful results for what they are looking for. Our Hangout Notes cover insights from Google around how they use and understand search queries, along with recommendations for optimising your site for searcher intent.
Sometimes, hyphens in keywords do matter (but, as always, it depends…)
Adding hyphens to keywords can, theoretically, change the meaning of that word or phrase. This is more common in some languages than others. Therefore, adding and removing hyphens can lead to things being seen as different words in the eyes of Google (although it depends on the circumstances). Try to match what the majority of your audience seems to be using as a priority.
Mismatch in number of indexed URLs shown in site:query vs. GSC
One interesting question was why the Google search results of a site:query don’t match what Search Console shows for the same website. John responded that there are slightly different optimizations for site:query.
When site:query is used in Google search to determine the number of indexed URLs, Google just wants to return a number as quickly as possible and this can be a very rough approximation. If you need an exact number of URLs that are indexed, he clarified that you should use Search Console to get this information. GSC is where Google provides the numbers as directly and clearly as possible. These can fluctuate, but overall the number shown in Search Console for the indexing report is the number of URLs you have indexed for a website — and is likely to be more accurate than the site:query results shown in the SERPs.
The site:query result is only a rough approximation of pages indexed
Google Tests New Pages for Relevance to Search Terms
Google tries displaying new pages, without a lot of signals, higher up in the search results to understand where the pages are most relevant to show. This will settle down over time as they collect more signals.
Google Generates Custom Snippets to Match Search Queries
Google tries to show a search snippet which matches the search query and is more likely to show a generate snippet when the search terms don’t exist in the title and description. The titles and descriptions should be aligned with the search queries which the page ranks for. The Site query is won’t necessarily match what the users see, so use the queries shown in search console to see what the users see.
Fresher Content is Not Always Considered Better than Older Evergreen Content
When ranking pages, Google will use various different signals to understand the date it was published, but it is not necessarily the case that content that is fresher will be considered better than something that is older. This will differ depending on the query and search intent.
Google May Display Two Pages From the Same Site For The Same Query
If Google are unsure of the intent of a query, they may display two different pages from the same site in search results for the same query. This is not considered problematic as they would expect it to fluctuate over time before settling down. However, to prevent this, John recommends ensuring the pages are well targeted for clearly different facets that people would be searching for.
URLs Appearing in the Side Bar Knowledge Panel of Search Results Will Be Classed as Position 10 or 11
Google may sometimes display a result in the right sidebar, which is a mix between a knowledge panel and featured snippet. John expects this page will be seen by Google Search Console as position 10 or 11, because it is classed as being in the second column of search results.
Check if Site is Impacted by Safe Search by Seeing if “&safe=active” URL Parameter Changes Results
Check if a site is being blocked by Safe Search by performing a site: query, turning on Safe Search by adding “&safe=active” as a URL parameter and seeing if the results change or not.
Safe Search Issues Can Now be Submitted to a Forum Rather Than Directly to Google
Google closed the private channel for submitting sites being incorrectly filtered by Safe Search because many submissions included websites with content which contained adult or near adult content. Safe Search issues can now be submitted in a forum where people can receive feedback.
Sitelinks Will Be Displayed if Google Deems There Are Other Useful Pages Relevant to a Search Query
Sitelinks within search results are deemed as normal search results from Google’s point of view, where it is able to understand that if a user is looking at one specific page, there may be other related pages relevant to the query. Something that helps Google to understand this is having a clear site structure, with clear page titles and headings.