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The define: Operator Results

     
6:47 pm on Sep 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Does anybody know how Google gets the definitions that are returned from the Define: operator?

I've got a couple of glossaries on my site and I just added a new term. Out of interest, I then decided to see how others had defined it so I did a define:the-term and got no results. That seems odd because a regular search turns up several definitions.

Then, I did a define: other-word (kind of related, but not a synonym) and got a page full of definitions. Some were from sites that I would think are authoritative, but the very first definition is from a PR 0 site that seems a bit sketchy. The definition isn't even very good. I looked at the source and found this term in the meta description tag and the word "definitions" is in the title tag. Other than that, I don't see that anything special has been done regarding SEO. In fact, this page doesn't even use <dl> and other tags that are associated with definitions.

Thanks for any info.

6:58 pm on Sept 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

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There's no one set of sources for the define: operator - instead it's yet another search algorithm, which is known to be imperfect. Google's definition is:

The query [define:] will provide a definition of the words you enter after it, gathered from various online sources. The definition will be for the entire phrase entered (i.e., it will include all the words in the exact order you typed them).

The operator results are not the same as results you get from a search like [define word] which is not using the operator. A third kind of result comes from clicking on the define LINK at the upper right. That link is confined to certain Google partners.

7:32 pm on Sept 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Ted. I don't think that I had ever even noticed the definition link in the upper-right corner of the SERPs. :-)

I wonder how many people actually use the define: operator. I would guess not many compared to just a regular search on a phrase. I didn't create my glossaries to generate traffic from that operator, but it certainly wouldn't hurt if I could show up on a few of those results pages.

7:43 pm on Sept 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I've got one client whose site includes a glossary of hundreds of terms in a highly refined technical area. They also sell printed and bound glossaries to their industry that are even more extensive.

We worked to make the website definitions search friendly, using individual urls for each term or acronym, with semantically precise mark-up and all that. After five years, their definitions are still "in and out" of the SERPs, and when they're out there is often no relevant result at all. It's frustrating, but what are you going to do. The web itself, and search technology in particular, are both still in the pioneer days.

5:59 pm on Oct 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I don't think that I had ever even noticed the definition link in the upper-right corner of the SERPs.

And now it seems to be gone! Looks like lots of people may not have ever noticed it. It had some limitations, since it only every defined individual words and many times it's the special meanings of a two-word phrase that matter the most.

No official word so far about the disappearance of those definition links - I wonder if it's a temporary thing, or a test.

6:31 pm on Oct 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Does anybody know how Google gets the definitions that are returned from the Define: operator?

Both the glossary structure and the page title seem to have a lot to do with it. About a year ago I did a longish post on this, with references to other threads, here...

Where are the define: results pulled from?
[webmasterworld.com...]

I cited a search for define:keywords as a clue to how the operator works. Among the definitions of the word "keywords", the results returned included pages with visible keywords on them that are preceded by a keywords: identifier. Google took this as a glossary entry for "keywords," rather than for the visible list of keywords that it was. Read the thread for more details.

I noted as well that the page title also influences what pages Google returns...

The page was in a directory called "/journal/" ...which might also have had an effect. Many of the other "keywords" definitions come from pages or directories named "glossary," "papers," "library," etc. So, there's a set of bookish references that Google might look for as well.

Re the disappearance of the definition link, that's very interesting. One of the things I've noticed in my own recent search behaviour is that the Suggest tool (on the home page) has been replacing certain searches for which I'd been using the upper right definition link.

For one, spelling... I could get a suggestion of the correct spelling without running the search.

And, for meaning, Suggest would often include searchedword definition in the drop-down list. Possibly, this is now used enough that Google has dropped the definitions link, or is testing whether to drop it.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 6:39 pm (utc) on Oct. 3, 2008]

8:03 am on Oct 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I'm seeing the definition links back again in the upper right corner. :)
 

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