Semantic Search: How You Are Shaping The Way Google Works

by Emily Oswalt on November 23, 2016

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"Semantic search" is one of those terms that make people think, "Oh great, this sounds complicated." But really it's designed to make things simpler: This is good news for internet users everywhere! However, it also means important changes for online marketers are on the rise.

Semantic Searches and User Intent

User intent is the concept that it's more important for the internet to guess what we mean, rather than taking us verbatim. Now that the internet is becoming a very good guesser, user intent is prepped to change the world. Semantic searches are an early form of focusing on user intent. Here are a few common ways it works in the average search:

  • Different Spelling or Misspelling: We don't think much of it now, but in the old days a misspelling or different spelling could really throw off search engines. Today Google is happy to suggest alternate spelling or search for all known forms of a particular word. It's some of the earliest semantic searching ever used.
  • Casual Questions with Specific Answers: This happens when we treat Google like a friend we're having a conversation with. Our questions may not always make sense or ask for the right details, but may have very specific answers. This is particularly true in voice searches.
  • Weird Syntax: Google is adept at tossing out improper grammar and understanding what a question really means, no matter how it is phrased.
  • Colloquial Searches: Google is smart enough to know that someone searching for "taters" is probably more interested in tater tots than raw potatoes, and probably not interested much at all in home runs, although the word can be used for all three options. Understanding how culture and location impact language is surprisingly important to semantic searching.

Of course, these examples are all related to language, which is common. But semantic searches don't stop there. They seek to connect a vast amount of information in meaningful ways, which means bringing other aspects into the equation, such as geography, cultural interest, family ties, portfolio or work, and much more. The catchphrase for semantic search might as well be, "Everything is connected."

The Future of Semantic Searches: It's Gonna Be Big

Because of the rise of user intent and the evolution of search algorithms, semantic searching is becoming important and will continue to grow even more important. Results will become increasingly focused on local options and popular results, and less focused on specific words – yes, that also means less focus on keywords. Machine learning systems will grow more adept at analyzing online data and past searches to find out what users want before they're even done typing.

It's also going to change what we think of as the Long Tail at the moment – that collection of lesser-used search terms and goals that search engines still have to deal with. Is the Long Tail even going to exist in the future? Will it become irrelevant, or will it become more important? Are searches going to become so local and specific that everything will be in the Long Tail? Nobody knows yet, but it's good to consider the possibility.

The Case for Better Content

Ultimately, the rise of semantic searching is yet another in a very long line of reasons to create quality content. As algorithms become smarter at divining meanings, they'll also get a whole lot sharper at understanding when content is "unnatural" or stuffed with keywords and awkward phrasing.

That means more penalties for poor content. However, high quality content can actually participate in the online conversation and even help change how search engines understand specific terms used within your industry. And that's pretty exciting, isn't it?

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Emily Oswalt

As social media manager at 21 Handshake, my passion of social media shines through to bring awareness to your brand. From the latest hashtag trend to engaging influencers, my desire is provide the best content to get your target audience talking online.