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When Did Google Give Up on the Long Tail?

September 14, 2017

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?

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Sr. Manager of Content Marketing and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.