The search engines aren’t trying to frustrate you, just trying to reduce the prominence of spam. Their answer to this is to lend an unnaturally high prominence to what they call “authority sites”. But that means you won’t see sites that may have the answer to more specific things you are looking for.

Here’s how that works at the moment.

It is said in some quarters that if you are an authority site, and if you have the same words on the page as are contained in the search (they need not even be in the order), as long as your authority seems to match the subject being searched for (inbound links with the same words, etc.) that page will be at the top of the search results.

So the more specific page related to that search will not be found at the top of the search results.

Here’s how to improve your searching. These examples are for the Google search engine, though the other major search engines have their own equivalent terms. Google and the other search engines have already published these guidelines, so this isn’t anything new – it’s just that most people don’t know about them.

Put your search term in quotation marks. Typing in a search phrase without quotation marks will include all those words, in whatever order they are in. Pages that are considered by Google to be high authority sites may well return pages in which these words appear in a different order, or somewhere on the page. Typing “best tennis match” into Google’s search box will show you a different set of results than if you typed in that search phrase without the quotation marks. Try it. Ask yourself which set of results seems most relevant.

Secondly, search by the title in quotation marks: allintitle: “best tennis match”.

This really zooms in on your subject. When you use this search command the results feature only that exact search phrase in the title tag of the web page. The person who made that web page specifically put that phrase in the title of the page because that is what the page is intended to be about.

Search by the incoming links in quotation marks: allinanchor: “best tennis match”.

This shows results from outside web pages linking to a page with this exact phrase in the text of the hyperlink itself. So this is what other pages think the page is about.

Search by the name of the web page in quotation marks: allinurl: “best tennis match”.

The exact search phrase appears in the name of the web page itself. As with the title tag, the person who made this web page specifically intended this page to be thought of as being about “best tennis match”.

These procedures should improve the accuracy and relevance of your searching. Remember that the search engines are not there to hide information from you, they are just trying to prevent spammy pages from being returned in the top search results. Unfortunately this seems to oblige them to give undue weight to authority sites which are known not to be spam pages. The result of this is that pages that may more accurately reflect your search criteria will not get shown in the top results. Use the above techniques and your searches will be much more productive.