Semantic Search: A Primer

The following post is from Jaci Gentile, TIG Global SEO Coordinator.

Semantic technology, the driving force behind knowledge engine Wolfram|Alpha and Apple’s voice-based software Siri, may start playing a larger part in traditional search results from the Google search empire. In Google search executive Amit Singhal’s interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, he mentioned that Google plans on increasing the use of semantic technology in order to compete with Siri.semantic serach_tigglobal_blog

What is Semantic Technology – or Semantic Search?
A form of artificial intelligence, semantic technology in search strives to understand a user’s intent more clearly and return the most relevant results based on the meaning and context of their query. In the early days of search, engines were merely matchmakers – simply matching the keywords in a user’s query to those in a site’s content. As engine algorithms matured, they began to take into account keyword synonyms and phrasing to better respond to user queries.

Today’s search engines are a hybrid of both techniques, able to match keywords while also understanding simple query strings. We can already see the effects of semantics on certain types of Google queries – search for “population of Boise, Idaho” and Google returns the figure right at the top of the page, quickly and efficiently answering the user’s question without them having to search through the traditional 10 blue links for. Search for “The Hunger Games” with your location setting on and Google recognizes that this query is currently a popular movie and provides the location and times of showings in your area, while still addressing the fact that it is also a book series in the blue links below.

As with every public comment that Google makes about its search formulas, we have to ask: What does this mean for SEO? With more of a move towards semantic search, Google is making every effort to ensure that their users’ needs are being met and that people can’t game the system with unfair tactics and manipulation to get their sites into results. SEO is no longer a matter of plugging keywords into the right places on your site, but of understanding the needs of the user and being able to provide answers to their questions. Marketers of the future will need to know their audience so well that they are able to create valuable experiences and information well before the question is asked or the need is conveyed.

So what does this mean for you, the consumer, or you, the marketer?
In June 2011, Google, Bing and Yahoo! launched Schema.org, a markup vocabulary universally understood by the three search engines, in an effort to promote the growth of the semantic web. By using semantic markup throughout web content and defining the meaning of different aspects of the content, developers and webmasters can tell search engines that 9,656,401 is not just a jumble of numbers, it’s the population of the state of North Carolina and that “G” isn’t just a letter, but the rating of a movie that is suitable for children.

The bottom line:
Once again, Google is reiterating the themes they have been preaching for the past few years – that search is about helping people find what they want as efficiently as possible and, if your site doesn’t fit into that goal then you’ll find your visibility in the search results slipping in the future.

Interested in ramping up your online strategy? Check out the full suite of TIG Global interactive marketing tools, send us an email, or give us a call +1 301.841.4700(US) | +44 (0)20 3004 9468(UK).

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