Update on coots vs. lions

If you have landed on this page thinking that this is a post about your favourite football or rugby team, please note that this is an update on my earlier article ‘Google decides that coots are really lions’ (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/12/google-decides-that-coots-are-really-lions/). It has nothing to do with sporting activities unless you count trying to work out what Google is doing with your search! The original post was about how and why Google decided that a search on coots mating behaviour should really have been lions mating behaviour.

The first response to my posting was a comment from Arthur Weiss (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/12/google-decides-that-coots-are-really-lions/comment-page-1/#comment-14207).
He suggested that Google was treating coots and lions as synonyms (both are living creatures). I thought that was pushing synonyms too far even for Google. (Sorry, Arthur).

I then had two comments in quick succession from Susanna Winter via Twitter (@Mrs_Figaro). The first is at (http://twitter.com/Mrs_Figaro/statuses/36714410223341568):

Twitter comment on lions vs coots

Moving coots from the beginning to the end of the strategy resulted in an exact match and not a single lion in sight:

Mating behaviour coots

Changing the order of the search terms is a trick I often use to change the order of my results or bring up pages that might be buried in the hundreds or thousands, but I have never seen such a dramatic change such as this.

Susanna’s search strategy ‘coots feeding behaviour’, which came up with an exact match, muddied the waters even more. Perhaps there is a search frequency algorithm coming into play? Are there more searches for lions mating behaviour than for coots, but not lions feeding behaviour? I am not convinced that this explains Google’s insistence on looking for lions rather than our animal of choice. Susanna’s next tweet suggests what is going on (http://twitter.com/Mrs_Figaro/statuses/36715389190676480):

Google spelling correction

What you see is:

Google coots search minus lions

So Arthur was on the right track. (My apologies, Arthur).  What probably happened with our search is, as Susanna said, that Google first assumed a typo and then did a synonym search on cats. What puzzles me, though, is how Google arrived at cats from coots. Surely coyotes or goats would be nearer when it comes to typographical errors?

I have two final variations on our search to confuse you even further.

The first is repeating coots at the start of the strategy. An exact match:

Repeating coots in the search

Now move one of the ‘coots’ to the end of the strategy and Google asks “Did you mean lions mating behaviour coots”:

Repeating coots in the search

I give up!

6 thoughts on “Update on coots vs. lions”

  1. I thought of trying another variation. This may be somewhat convoluted but who knows – it could give some clues to Google behaviour.

    Matt Cutts is head of Google’s web-spam team. Essentially he is Google’s lion – fighting the tide of spam that impacts all searchers. Although he should be paying attention and stopping this sort of spammy search result it may have eluded him owing to number of other spam results Google has put through lately.

    Cutts and Coots could be synonymous. However mis-placed modesty may have prevented Google from showing lots of results for Matt Cutts. Instead it shows results based on how Google views him i.e. as a lion. Hence the confusion.

    A possible proof of this hypothesis is if you do a search for “Cutts mating behaviour”. This time you get: Did you mean: cats mating behaviour

    Even more proof is the first result which is the Wikipedia article on Wild Turkeys i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Turkey

    The coots result is so wild and such a Turkey that this must be the explanation. 😉

  2. This would be funny if it didn’t have serious implications for someone wanting to search out the mating behaviour of coots for a school project (OK, so don’t use Google but …).
    Please don’t give up on it.

    1. At least there is a very big difference between between coots and lions and one would hope that even young school children would spot that. But would they notice if Google decided to pick up results for other water birds as synonyms?

  3. Not a lot as far as I can see. So obviously they are indeed “so subtle” that I don’t notice them. There is plenty of comment coming from SEO sites. The Search Engine Land article “Number Crunchers: Who Lost In Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Change?”
    http://searchengineland.com/who-lost-in-googles-farmer-algorithm-change-66173 is a good overview of the what;s happened so far.

    As commented in the article, the dreadful eHow seems to have been unaffected so far. I’ll have to switch over to Chrome and try out the experimental site blocking extension.

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