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Google's AROUND proximity searches

I recently started playing around with one of Google's lesser-known features, the AROUND proximity operator. Google's AROUND syntax lets you specify how close you want two terms to appear in a web site. This can be particularly useful if you are looking for two topics that may often appear on the same page but not in relation to each other.

Your search choices are usually either to look for web pages that contain both words anywhere on the page or to restrict the search to pages in which the two words are adjacent. Now you can also specify that two words or phrases must be no more than, say, 5 words apart. The syntax is search-word AROUND(x) search-word, replacing "x" with the maximum number of words you want between the two search terms or phrases. (Be sure you type AROUND in all caps; otherwise, Google treats it as just another search term.)

How does this work in real life? I was recently working on a project analyzing the impact on the workplace of the arrival of digital natives (those who have grown up with digital technology). A search for "digital natives" workplace turned up useful information, but I had to wade through a fair amount of irrelevant material in which the phrase digital natives and the word workplace both appeared, but not in the appropriate context. When I changed my search to "digital natives" AROUND(6) workplace, the results were more focused on what I had in mind. The difference wasn't dramatic but the results were definitely better.

For straightforward, just-get-me-the-answer searches, the AROUND feature probably will not improve your search results noticeably. The query ipad review returns roughly the same number of useful results as the query ipad AROUND(4) review, for example. Since Google factors in the proximity of search terms in calculating the relevance of each page, most of the top results will naturally have your search terms relatively close to each other. The value of AROUND emerges when you are looking for the intersection of two concepts that do not frequently appear near each other.

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