The Tilde (~) is Not Just For Spanish Class Anymore

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The Tilde (~) is Not Just For Spanish Class Anymore


Posted by Luis Nieves, Account Manager

Search engines accept many different operator functions, such as “+,” “AND” and “OR,” which can be used to help refine a search and deliver improved results. Some searchers know how to use the most common functions; however, as search marketers, we know that most searchers typically type in their query and click the result with the highest relevancy.  In an effort to assist the majority of searchers, search marketers should increase awareness of the search engine operator functions and develop a method to easily integrate them into their toolset.

There are many search operators that can be found by simply typing “Google operators” in a search engine query box.  For example, tildes (~) are commonly used to denote a Spanish “n,” which phonetically sounds different than the English “n.”  However, in mathematics, and now search, a tilde is a symbol used to denote similarity.  To use the operator properly, you must place the symbol directly before the word(s) (without a space) in a query.  The results will display any and all synonyms indexed for that query.


For example, type in “~notebook” in the Google search box. The results pages offer a multitude of Web sites, movies, news and image results for the term, as well as synonyms that are all bolded in typical Google fashion. Now, conduct the same search again without the tilde, and you will notice that the search results page is dramatically different; it is more focused on the term “notebook.”

You might be wondering to yourself, “So what? It doesn’t look any different than a typical search results page. As a search marketer, why would I need to know all of this?”

The following outlines the benefits of the tilde search operator:

  1. Synonyms for your Target Keywords
    The tilde helps you find similar keywords for the content structure on your site. It avoids “keyword stuffing” and instead, matches more queries from a wider audience. This can also be adopted for anchor text within the links that point to a particular page. If you always use the same keyword(s) within your anchor text, you should sprinkle in synonyms as well to provide alternate page descriptions.
  2. The Competitive Landscape
    Every business has a select group of competitors within their respective industry, and most businesses assume that they use the same keywords. As a result, these businesses closely monitor their competitors and try to acquire market share whenever possible.  However, in search, your business vertical (and often, closely related verticals) can have numerous types of competitors, some of which may be overlooked based on queries from potential consumers.  For example, a consumer might type “notebooks” in the Google search box, but their search intent may be for spiral notebooks, the movie “The Notebook” or a laptop computer.
  3. Phrase Relationships and Page Focus
    With the addition of keyword synonyms, there are new keyword possibilities and combinations for both natural and paid search, as well as negative keyword combinations; terms you do not want to avoid. This can help you direct more qualified searchers to your site and keep your costs down.

Like most tools, the tilde operator does have a few limitations.  First, it works very well for generic terms, but not as well for branded terms. Common words like “dog,” “cat,” and “bagels” will return some interesting and useful results. The operator also works well for some keyword combinations such as ”car insurance,” “body wash” and “pencil sharpener,” but you must place the tilde next to each word in the phrase (e.g. ~car~insurance). Otherwise, you will receive mixed results of synonyms for each word and not the phrase as a whole.  When using a branded term like “~Kleenex,” you will see results for Kleenex brand tissues, but you will also get mixed results that include body tissue and skin.  These results may not be as relevant or beneficial.

Google AdWords has a high-quality keyword tool that can help you discover keywords and their variants based on existing search queries.  The tilde operator helps you uncover various phrases and keyword combinations that might not be displayed by Google or other search engines yet. It can also provide you with a quick snapshot of your competition for a particular term as well as insight on better ways to identify your product or brand with searchers. This “out-of-the-box” thinking could enhance your search program in the long run.


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