When Did Google Give Up on the Long Tail?

By Elisa Gabbert September 14, 2012 Posted In: Google Comments: 28

Over the past year I’ve noticed that the Google results for long-tail queries have really started to suck. It often seems like Google just stops paying attention if I type more than three words. Case in point: I just searched “the french exit cilantro” and Google basically completely ignored the last word of my query:

Long-Tail SERP

Spectacular fail: NOT ONE result on the first page contains the word “cilantro.” (They're also all from my blog; so much for domain diversity.) I was looking for a specific post on my blog about cilantro, and was trying to save time by Googling directly to it rather than going to my blog first and performing a search there. This used to work! Even on the second page, I didn’t start seeing results that included the word “cilantro” until halfway down the page, and then they were mostly Yelp reviews. SIGH.

Google SERP fail

Before giving up I tried one more tactic that, again, used to work like a charm – I added the “+” operator to the word “cilantro,” which in the past ensured that Google only returned pages that definitely included that word (similar to how the broad match modifier works in AdWords). But I guess that search operator doesn’t work anymore. I got different results, but not better results:

Google + Search Operator

For some reason, all the results from my blog disappeared and were replaced by totally different ones – but the top 3 still don’t contain the word cilantro! WTF?! The rest of the results on page 1 do contain the word cilantro, as well as plus signs. You’d think that if Google were simply ignoring the search operator, I’d get the exact same results. Instead, they interpret the query in a completely unpredictable and whimsical way.

For the record, for the same search, at least Bing delivers a page on my blog that has the word “cilantro” on it, even if it’s not the best result:

Long-Tail Bing

I don’t get it. Seriously. This isn't the first time something like this has happened to me. Four-word search queries are not uncommon. Why can’t Google handle long-tail queries anymore?

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Friday September 14, 2012

Bear Files (not verified) Said:

Interesting results you are seeing there. Seems like with google instant, the long tail is quickly becoming marginalized.

Friday September 14, 2012

Matt Schmid (not verified) Said:

C'mon... YOU know that Google is all about relevance. It's not about YOUR post, it's about the SEARCHER. Those four words, even though they appear on your post, are kind of a mixed bag, don't ya think? 

Try:  mexican side dish cilantro

Lastly... interesting what the Urban Dictionary (see SERP results images in this post above) -- has for a "French Exit."

Friday September 14, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

How does it help any searcher to return ALL results from the SAME domain, none of which include 25% of the query on the first page? I don't see how that is relevant or helpful to anyone.

The Urban Dictionary definition is a goof ... my blog isn't named after a sex move, FYI!

Friday September 14, 2012

Bill (not verified) Said:

I agree.


I would bet (and it's JMO) that in their attempt to cut down on hyper-targeted content farm copy, they inadvertantly hurt the long tail.

Friday September 14, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

It's interesting (I guess), it seems like when Google tries to fix something now, they break something else.

Friday September 14, 2012

Bill (not verified) Said:

Yes it is. I mean the additional keyword must not have been statistically significant enough of the time to warrant the benefits of having it, compared to eliminating lower value content

Barry over at Search Engine Roundtable reported Matt Cutts Tweeted that Google just released an algo to "increase diversity" of their search results. (via

Friday September 14, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Didn't Google used to limit the number of pages from a single domain they'd return on a page? Seems more like a backtrack than an update!

Friday September 14, 2012

Victor (not verified) Said:

Yeah, I'm sad too that they killed a few power operators. Sure, you could try quotes, site:, inurl:, intitle: ... but the average person wouldn't - and if Google isn't serving the average person well, then it's sucking.

I thought about alternative reasons, but as a PR5 website with much less content than WordStream, I'm pretty sure you have enough crawl budget to have that specific post get indexed on Google - and I doubt you had the page noindexed.

It's just another day where Google fails on a long tail query.

Friday September 14, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Yeah, by the time you start using the Site: operator I might as well go use the search function on Blogger.

It's definitely indexed. If I search a phrase from the post in quotes like "the supposed cilantro gene" it pops right up.

Monday September 24, 2012

Danelle (not verified) Said:

I am annoyed enough by google searches that I have had to revert to dogpile.

Google has been "helping" me so much that it doesn't return any data on what I

actually searched, but spell corrects it for me and changes the words to what they think I intended to search for.

So I was just looking to find out why my pear tree is producing lumpy pears, and it gives me breast cancer, apple

sauce, and liposculpture as the top three returns. No pears. Adding the + is not helping anymore either.

Since I used google and google phone in 2004 to find over 400 people for my class reunion, it has gone considerably

downhill. Any other options for search sites that are more like what google used to be?

Tuesday September 25, 2012

Dinesh Kumar (not verified) Said:

I am totally disagree with your points, i've searched this query and its shows the results from this blog too.. Google target the words in a key phrase which are most targeted globally........ 

Wednesday September 26, 2012

Raj Srivastav (not verified) Said:

Google shows sites, which have three keywords as its domain name and few sites results from business listing sites for log tail keywords searches on my region. Its very hard to understand Google on many things

Thursday September 27, 2012

Patrick Williams (not verified) Said:

Yes as an seo specialist for I have noticed that the long tailed key words aren't helping my clients rankings.  What we have noticed is that close proximity keywords, with a branded link or a "click here" for more information, and mixing  up the branded link.  The spamy posts don't seem to be getting as much love on google as they did in the past.  Leaving a link in the bio- seems to be the norm when trying to get guest blogging opportunities.  But then again, it's always a crapshoot with google isn't it?!!

Saturday September 29, 2012

Regina (not verified) Said:

So, it's not just me who are confused about that Longtail thing. Thanks for this intresting post.

Wednesday October 03, 2012

Maralago (not verified) Said:

I conduct political and business research for a living. And I am here to say Google search has become utterly suck-worthy.  Removing the plus sign as a search tool is bad enough but literally 20% of the results they give me come from - are you ready - Yahoo answers.  Which is about 12 steps below Wikipedia in validity.  Oh, and to the 19th century guy who thought it was actually worth his time, and your blog space, to chastise you for using an acronym for a commonly used phrase of frustation: STFU, and please go check your mail. I believe there's an Eastern European mailorder bride catalog you should be ordering from.

Monday September 24, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Agreed, I hate when Google thinks it knows better than I do what I wanted to search for...

Thursday October 04, 2012

Jeff (not verified) Said:

There are many more alternatives to Google which are so much better. I wrote a blog about unbiased search engines. I personally favor Blekko.

I noticed that the more money paid to Google, the more relevant a web page becomes.

Friday September 14, 2012

Runner2009 (not verified) Said:

I too have notice exactly what you described here. The + operator used to be as you said a reliable stand by along withits sister the - Not sure what the rational is?

Sunday September 16, 2012

Wlad (not verified) Said:

I usually don't use more than 3 words when searching because this tactic doesn't give relevant results. IMO long-tail phrases are sometimes 'ignored' because of the Penguin/Panda updates. The long-tails are often prepared in order to grab more micro-niche traffic and this type of sites are built mainly for Adsense cashing.

Monday September 17, 2012

Larry Kim (not verified) Said:

heh, google fails on one search and we declare it to suck at long tail searches huh. :)

Poor google.

did you try the site: operator?

Monday September 17, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Please, this has been happening to me ALL YEAR! This is just the first time I decided to take screenshots, because it was egregious and inexplicable. Why use the site operator when my blog has its own search function?

Monday September 17, 2012

Larry Kim (not verified) Said:

i did this search last week and saw pretty different result. your personalization may be greatly impacting the results (see how it says: 200 Personal Results). I had the whole Google Search + Your World thing turned off. Maybe try turning off the search personalization? I bet that fixes it.

Now that i search again, i see we've forever ruined the search results for 'the french exit cilantro" because of all our blog syndications...

Monday September 17, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

I tried it in a couple different browsers, same deal. I wasn't logged in with my own account in all of them. Start paying attention to your results for queries with four or more terms. You'll see what I mean.

Monday September 17, 2012

Laure Sabini (not verified) Said:

Interesting article. i've never noticed this, I might just go too fast and get frustrated when I don't get any good results.

I'll look for this in my next searches. Thanks for sharing.

Tuesday September 18, 2012

Richard Kraneis (not verified) Said:

Not for Publication...

Eliasa, you wrote:

For some reason, all the results from my blog disappeared and were replaced by totally different ones – but the top 3 still don’t contain the word cilantro! WTF?!





I am perhaps very, old school.  But you are too classy a gal and writer to give in to the urge to use WTF in a sentence.

I just wanted to make a constructive, private statement.

Best Wishes,


Tuesday September 18, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Thanks for the feedback Richard. If you ever heard me talk in person you might give up the illusion that I'm classy, I'm afraid. :)

Thursday October 04, 2012

Jeff (not verified) Said:

I always substitute "Was That Funny" for the acronym. It makes just as much sense and is not offensive. FWIW. YMMV.

Thursday October 04, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:


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