It was announced this week that Google is about to undergo one of its biggest changes since its inception in 1996. A long-term overhaul of the search engine's algorithm is set to include new “semantic search” technology. These changes will become apparent in the next few months and will impact how search engines analyse and index sites.
Google is once more stepping up the game to provide users with the most relevant results. Currently the search engine functions using the “keyword-search system”, which (in very simple terms), determines how relevant a website is using the words contained in it (along with numerous other metrics!). Google's new semantic technology will simply merge with the current system, not replace it.
So What is Semantic Search?
The idea is that Google will now, to a certain extent, be able to understand the actual meaning of words. For example, it will be able to differentiate between words with more than one meaning, for example “Jaguar” the car or “jaguar” the big cat.
At present, as great as the U.S search engine giant may seem, it simply doesn't understand you. Or, it does, but only to a limited extent. Take the example of the search query “New York”. The search engine's algorithm is sophisticated enough to realise that when the words “New” and “York” appear next to one another, it changes the meanings of these words. In this respect, semantic technology is not an entirely new change. However, the search engine is not sophisticated enough to understand that “New York” is a city, with a specific location and population.
In a recent interview, Google's senior software engineer Amit Singhal used the example of someone searching for “the 10 largest lakes in the U.S”. Google will aim to give you the best and most relevant result based on the keywords in the phrase authoritative sites containing these words and groups of words. However, it doesn't really understand the question, and doesn't really know if it is giving you the correct answer to your question. As Singhal stated: “We cross our fingers and hope there's a web page out there with the answer.”
Google's new semantic technology aims to fix this uncertainty by presenting more facts and direct answers, rather than a list of blue web links. It aims to change words into entities, that have both a meaning and attributes. To do this, over the last two years the company has been building a “huge knowledge graph of interconnected entities and their attributes” to help understand queries and provide answers to specific questions. This “knowledge graph” as it's called, is set to make huge changes.
What Might the Changes Mean for Businesses?
Of course, good old Google is keeping its cards very close to its chest by refusing to give webmasters any specifics at the moment. However, it has been suggested that webmasters should jump on the semantic mark-up bandwagon in anticipation of the changes. This includes using schema.org to match your keyphrases and select specific schema types for your information. For an ecommerce site, for example, this allows you to mark-up content on product pages to specify brand, manufacturer, availability, price etc.
I doubt Google's aim is to transform search in order to exclude more businesses, but it appears it is going to become increasingly important to keep websites in line with the latest web changes. After all, every business is supplying some kind of solution, it will be a case of ensuring that your business is answering the question which your product or service intends to answer.
You may not agree with Google's search engine change or, like a lot of people in the industry, you may think it's yet another storm in a teacup. However, as we are not entirely sure about the impact this will have on search, it's best to be prepared. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.
Let us know your thoughts on the upcoming Google search change.