In search of....a good search engine

I’m disappointed in Google. Let’s suppose I want to do a search for “dog cat”. I only want links that have the word “dog” followed immediately by the word “cat”. Google will give me the few that it finds - but it also gives me links with all sorts of “dog” and “cat” combinations - mixed in with the ones I want.

Can I force Google to give me only what I want - or is there another search engine that would suit my needs?

My opinion is that Google is pretty good.

One of my problems, as a non-native English speaker, is the difficulty of distinguishing between natural phrases and artificial ones. Let’s say I’ve learned the expression push the door shut, and I want to see whether I can use slam the window closed and not sound weird.

There are two search engines on my computer, Bing and Google. If I search the expression push the door shut, the results seem to be the same - they’re very similar. But if I search the expression slam the window closed, this exact phrase can be found on the second page in my Google search, whereas the search through Bing doesn’t show it at all.

Searching for “dog cat” (with the quotes) doesn’t work for you?

When I try “dog cat” on Google, I find a number of sites that have the words dogs and cats in them but not the exact letter sequence dog cat.

You also see all too many non-alphabetic characters.

Dog, Cat
dog (cat)

But the results are a hundred times better than Bing, Yahoo, Ask, or DuckDuckGo.

I only want links that have the word “dog” followed immediately by the word “cat”. <<

First law of information retrieval: you can have precision (things that are exactly relevant to your search terms,) or recall (everything that might be relevant) but not both at the same time. Either you also get a lot of stuff that is not exactly relevant, or you don’t get something that might be.

And that’s without the complication of adverts and search engine optimisers trying to game the systems.

The only way I know to weed out what you know you don’t want, in Google at least, is to add on additional search terms using the minus sign. And that depends, of course, on your patience and determination.

I see. Therefore, in my example Google is not superior to Bing - its method simply fits my goal better.

Quite possibly. I long ago gave up trying to evaluate different search engines: the second law of information retrieval is that people tend to settle for “good enough”* - which may be whatever’s “above the fold” or (for more considered academic research) 30 or so returns.

*see also “fake news”. It can be the devil’s own job to winnow out the chaff thoroughly.

Google Advanced search used to do things like “dog cat” very well.
-No more.
DuckDuckGo is no better, and seems to have no advance settings.
Same with Dogpile and Bing.

The era of literal searches appears to be over. Heaven forfend we ever get actual Boolean refinements.

Here are some google search refinements– pretty useful.

This is what you want. The quotation marks define an exact phrase that google searches for.

Except Google does not have a true literal search like that – there’s still an amount of “fuzziness” with that search term. Back in the early days, you could construct a literal search like “dog cat” meaning the word “dog” followed by a space, followed by “cat” exactly in that order. “dog. Cat” would not return a hit (like it does now.) “Dog, cat” would not return a hit. You can do literal searches, pretty much like grepping the internet. I can’t remember whether those searches were or could be made case-sensitive, though. We’re talking late 90s here.

For example, when I type in “dog cat” in Google, the first hit I get is on dog-cat relationships. So where in the text is there the phrase “dog cat.” Then I get a few “dog-cat” and “dog/cat” type hits. Then another one about dogs and cats co-existing but nowhere in the text is “dog” next to “cat,” no matter whether a space or punctuation mark separates them. The phrase “dog and cat” is the closest it comes to matching “dog cat.”

I tried “dog+cat” and got a good many hits on dog cat. There were also some dog/cat and dog-cat references but they are near enough to be useful.

Well what came up for me were pictures of an adorable little puppy that looks like a cat, so thank you for that! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

Distraction was another factor that didn’t seem to feature much on my course in information retrieval. But that was 20 years ago and it had all grown out of academic librarianship, so cute puppykittens weren’t high on the list of “whither this new-fangled web thing?” discussions.

Several posters have noted that Google Search used to have certain capabilities that appear to have been removed. I can’t help but wonder… Perhaps these features have been disabled in the free Google Search that’s so popular, but maybe they are still available in some paid version of the service?

I know that there are subscription-based versions of Google Maps and Google Email and Google YouTube, so maybe there is a paid version of Search too? I never heard of it, but maybe?

I’m not entirely sure if Google did have a real, honest-to-goodness literal search. I seem to remember using a different website for that – I think it was, but it may have also been altavista. I know I found a thread I made here on the Dope from 2001, and it was alltheweb that I was using for literal searches.

As far as I know, there is no Google service that had grep-like literal searches of their databases.

From what I understand, Google’s database isn’t even stored in a format that would make literal searches like that possible. What bizarre format it is stored in, probably only Google’s own engineers know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no single engineer who had all of the details.

Speaking of complaints about Google, it used to be possible to sort results by reverse order of date, which was useful in searching blog-like things. But now there’s no obvious way to do that.