Search engines have not only changed the way we access the internet’s expansive riches, they are also responsible for the majority of digital marketing’s most prominent techniques and tactics. However, traditional SEO practices could soon be a thing of the past…
As you’ve probably already guessed, Google is the culprit and has updated its algorithms to give semantic search a much more important role in the way we discover and locate content. But what does it all mean?
What is meant by semantic search?
The word semantic relates to meaning in language or logic and has actually been associated with search for quite some time. But in the past, Google tended to base search engine results and rankings on the aspects of website that demonstrated online proficiency and comprehension, such as keywords, image tags and meta descriptions.
However, in its quest to provide “the best user experience possible” by developing solutions that “will ultimately serve you”, semantic search is now a priority. This technique attempts to establish the intention of users and the reason behind search terms. As such, results should be more relevant and fitting.
How will searching on Google change?
Rather than acting as a search engine, Google could soon become an answer engine, which strives to deliver precise and accurate results by extracting contextual meanings out of keywords and phrases.
One of the best ways to demonstrate this difference is by conducting a little search of your own. Try searching for ‘Brian O’Driscoll’s birthday’ and see what comes up. Previously, Google’s top result could have been a newspaper article that shows what our favourite rugby player got up to on his special day. The content itself could have been crammed with relevant keywords, lots of tagged images and links to other stories about BOD.
Today, a newspaper article is not top of the results pile. In fact, it is not an external link at all. Instead, we are presented with O’Driscolls’s picture, his date of birth and current age. Below this you can also see the birthday details of associated people such as his wife Amy and his international team mates Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara as well as a mini biography with even more personal details. Google has taken your search term, managed to figure out what you’re looking for and delivered the results in less than half a second. But how and why do these results now appear?
The Knowledge Graph
It is all down to Google’s Knowledge Graph, which attempts to understand the world just like us. Essentially, it is the search engine’s aware and active brain. Scary stuff huh?
Along with noteworthy people like Simon Cowell, Knowledge Graph also presents information about countries, cities, organisations, brands, sports teams, television shows, movies and much more through handy visual aids and graphical presentations. That side bar of information isn’t a coincidence and neither is the carousel of images that sometimes appears at the top of Google when searching for terms that have multiple options or answers. The Knowledge Graph is responsible for all of this.
Google collates information from publicly available sources such as Wikipedia and The CIA World Factbook as well as licensed data too. But with this knowledge base bound to increase in the future, publishers of content could very well see a drop in traffic. On top of that, what is stopping Google from presenting the majority of web page information on its results page? A lot depends on whether Google can actually tag and associate keywords with the appropriate content. However, this is Google we are talking about and you can never rule anything out of the question.
What does it mean for businesses?
Brands and businesses are now being forced to rethink the way they go about getting found on search engines. Cramming in keywords or relying on link spamming has been thrown out the window, as semantic search and its machine learning techniques are far too clever for previously successful black magic techniques.
It is now all about reputation, engagement, citation and interaction. The content you are producing needs to create a strong brand identity, receive positive reactions, be mentioned in the right places and shared among various platforms. Even though a great deal of emphasis is being placed on the actual content, it also needs to show up and gain recognition on reputable and influential channels too.
What can a business do?
Make sure every single part of your online footprint is as good as it can possibly be. This will involve content marketing campaigns and social media management as well as website infrastructure and on-page optimisation.
If traffic is coming into your website, be certain that visitors can share content on social networks. While you’re there, make a note of how long it took for the page to load and check in with analytics to see whether page views or bounce rates are performing well. If you’re telling fans or followers about a product development on social media, check that website information is up-to-date. At the same time, stay in touch with industry thought leaders and authorities figures that have significant influence. Share this content to your audience and start to develop a reputation as a valuable source of information. Are you featured on any directory listings? See to it that every single field is filled-in and accurate. Have you been writing a blog? What sources does it link to and are they reputable or respected?
Google will want to be absolutely certain that the things you’re saying and the actions you’re carrying out provide value, sustenance and answers to its users. This is the whole point of semantic search.