For some time now the search engines have discounted what they call “stop words.” These are words like “the,” “and,” “a,” and “an,” which do not have any real significance for most searches. For instance, if I am searching the mating habits of wild Australian kangaroos then I might search for the phrase:
The search engines see this:
This is the way the search engine view your search query because the words “the” and “of” add no particular meaning to them regarding your search query. Therefore, they are called “stop words” and the search engine merely ignore them when crawling. The spiders stop crawling at those words and proceed beyond them.
But this is inadequate as a hard and fast rule. What if the stop word is an important part of the search query? For instance, when the word “The” is an important part of a title like “The Washington Post.”
Because “The” is a part of the title, it is not counted as a stop word. Reasonably, however, if you were to search for just “washington post,” the search engines would know that you mean The Washington Post, but for less popular queries they may not. That’s why Google and Yahoo! have made an exception for some uses of the stop words. Until now, Microsoft Live Search has not.
Today, on their blog, the Live Search crew reported that they have changed their algorithms to make some exceptions for the use of these stop words. That’s a good thing. It means that Live Search is on the road to being more competitive. It might be too late for some people, but for those who are regular users of Live Search, it’s not a moment too soon.