• Google Search Challenges & SEO

Google On The 2 Types Of Searches It Still Struggles With

  • Felix Rose-Collins
  • 2 min read
Google On The 2 Types Of Searches It Still Struggles With


Despite significant advancements in AI, Google continues to face challenges with certain complex search queries, particularly those involving the word "not" and prepositions. Elizabeth Tucker, Google's Director and Product Manager, discussed these issues in a recent episode of the "Search Off The Record" podcast, highlighting ongoing difficulties in matching user intent with relevant information.

The Struggle with "Not" Queries

Search queries that include the word "not" are particularly problematic for Google's algorithms. Tucker explained that it's difficult for the search engine to discern whether "not" is meant to exclude certain information or has a different semantic meaning. For example, a search like "shoes not made in China" can be ambiguous, leading to challenges in delivering the most relevant results.

The Preposition Problem

Prepositions, which establish relationships between words in a sentence, also pose significant difficulties. Queries like "restaurants with outdoor seating" or "hotels near the beach" rely on prepositions to convey key information. Google’s algorithms often struggle to interpret these relationships accurately, affecting the relevance of search results.

Long-Tail Queries

These challenges are especially pertinent to long-tail searches, which are highly specific, multi-word phrases that constitute a large portion of search traffic. Although long-tail keywords can indicate high user intent and typically face less competition, Google's difficulty in understanding complex queries can hinder effective ranking for these terms.

The Impact of BERT

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) has been a significant breakthrough for Google, improving the understanding of complex linguistic issues since its introduction in 2019. BERT helps Google grasp the context and nuances of words in searches, but as Tucker noted, it hasn’t fully resolved all the challenges.

Google's Continuous Improvement Efforts

Google is actively working to improve its handling of these complex queries, though Tucker admitted that it's a work in progress. The search giant’s ongoing investments in natural language processing and AI-driven technologies aim to enhance understanding and deliver more relevant search results.

Implications for SEO Professionals

SEO professionals and website owners can take several steps to adapt to these challenges:

  1. Clarity and Specificity: Ensure content is clear and specific, effectively communicating relationships between key concepts and phrases.

  2. Structured Data: Utilize structured data and technical SEO best practices to help search engines better parse and understand content.

  3. Monitor Performance: Keep an eye on search traffic and rankings for complex queries, and be ready to adjust strategies if inconsistencies or drops are observed.

  4. Stay Updated: Keep up with Google's advancements in natural language understanding and adapt as new algorithms and technologies are introduced.


While BERT and other advancements have significantly improved Google's ability to understand user intent, the search engine still faces challenges with certain complex queries. As Google continues to refine its algorithms, SEO professionals must focus on clear, specific content and technical best practices to ensure their content is effectively parsed and ranked.

Felix Rose-Collins

Felix Rose-Collins

Ranktracker's CEO/CMO & Co-founder

Felix Rose-Collins is the Co-founder and CEO/CMO of Ranktracker. With over 15 years of SEO experience, he has single-handedly scaled the Ranktracker site to over 500,000 monthly visits, with 390,000 of these stemming from organic searches each month.

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