The basics of semantic search

There are a number of factors at play when we consider what is involved in semantic search. Yet what this essentially boils down to is offering the Google user a greater search experience by offering phrases, synonyms and domains that relate as close as possible to the intended source.

This concept would be accelerated with incredible speed and efficiency after Google rolled out their Hummingbird algorithm back in 2013. Prior to this juncture, a general search for “phone” would give a litany of results, from historical archives on the history of the phone to some new releases to a sprinkling of news sources.

Today, a search for “phone” on Google would be more specific to the profile of the user, tapping into their current provider and taking cues from past search history to recommend articles or products that might be relevant to the enquirer.

The Basics of Semantic Search

Do you understand the basics of semantic search? Read on to find out! Photo: Jakub Jirsak, Bigstock

Hummingbird sought to change this scenario to give Google searches a more context relevant to the profile of the individual. Every update since then has worked to build on that shift, helping to keep and attract new users by catering a searching platform that caters to their unique needs.

With the term “semantic” referring to the logic and study of words, this is something that has clearly evolved over time. Phrases like “hashtag,” “Gen Y” and “iPod” have only been part of the cultural lexicon for the best part of a decade while other words such as “the cloud,” “windows” and “streaming” have far different meanings today than in years past.

Given that nothing is static with semantics and especially in the digital space where cultural trends and habits are forever altering, the concept of semantic search will remain at the forefront of technology.

Let us delve into semantic search to see what role it plays with search engines and why it is important as an online user or SEO operator to know more about the topic.

Context

The Basics of Semantic Search

Understanding the context of a user’s search phrase is a key part of semantic search. Photo: DizainStock, Bigstock

Search engines love nothing more than to feed off users who have an affiliation with a set of topics. For example, professionals in the world of accounting will be regular shoppers for accountancy software programs and searchers for terms about accountancy practices. Likewise for dance studio operators, they will be on the lookout for studio furniture, music systems and clothing styles suited to their genre of dance.

Google strives to be the central hub and one-stop-shop for all things online, even if they have already reached that mark. Don’t believe us? Just take a glance at their official mission statement:

“Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

To make that objective a reality, they have offer so much more than a generic set of results or recommendations when we are on the lookout for a name, a product, a location or a service. In order to gain the maximum out of your experience by cutting your search time down and increasing your domain navigation, the search engine needs to be ahead of the curve and think one, two and three steps ahead.

To give a practical example, this will illustrate itself with some common features that we now take for granted. Google’s semantic search will be showcased via:

  • The autosuggestions within the search tab
  • The related search topics
  • The extracted knowledge base card

So let’s take a case study to see what we are discussing here with semantic search.

As we go ahead to type “bolters” into Google, they will deliver the following SERPs (search engine results pages) on page number one:

  • Bolters Grill – Country club Tasmania
  • Bolter Warhammer 40K
  • The Free Dictionary – definition of Bolters
  • Bolter – Wiktionary
  • Boxing Day Test: The bolters (Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Bolter- Wikipedia
  • Bolter (aeronautics) – Wikipedia
  • Oxford Dictionary – bolter
  • Rambor – All You Wanted To Know About Roof Bolters

This would also issue a select group of 8 related search terms:

  • Bolters grill menu
  • Bolters bistro
  • Bolters restaurant Launceston
  • Bolters grill prospect
  • Bolters pizza menu
  • Bolter definition
  • Godwyn pattern bolter
  • Bolters dying light

As you can see, there is no consistent theme or past knowledge in which Google can feed off. Is this person after a restaurant? Do they need bolters for roofing needs? Do they need to find an official definition of the phrase?

Due to our domestic location, Google will deduce that there is a likelihood an Australian user could be on the lookout for the restaurant Bolters. Much like a general search for “weather” will lock in your geo-location to outline what the forecast and conditions will be in your area.

The word “bolter” is used in an Australian sporting context often for athletes who emerge from humble beginnings without a profile to become a surprise candidate for a team. Having been based in Australia to conduct that search, they did release one article from The Sydney Morning Herald that related to that enquiry, but there is a clear void of semantic search at play here.

Once we take that next step further to narrow our search down to the more specific enquiry, we do the work for Google ourselves. Having typed in “bolters cricket,” they will be able to offer more hits that resemble what we are talking about:

  • Bolters vs. Stingers – Northern Inland Cricket Council
  • com.au – Marsh sees Test promise in ODI bolters
  • com.au – Experts pick England Ashes bolters
  • The Northern Daily Leader – Bolters headline Tamworth cricket ‘circus’

It is understandable from a search engine perspective why a random search for the word “bolter” would not immediately link the term to the world of sport and more specifically, cricket.

It is only having these individual endeavours underway throughout the country over the course of time that allows the website to change their system and deliver a page that takes into account the collective profile of the given sex, age, occupation, location, hobbies, interests, links and history.

From this example we can glean that semantic search revolves around context. It is a process that works to fill in the gaps and leads the user to reach their search query with greater speed and efficiency.

Insight into cultural behaviour

The Basics of Semantic Search

Semantic search provides unique insight into cultural search behaviours. Photo: Suthisa, Bigstock

Semantic search offers an analysis of two distinct features – your personal micro habits and the macro behaviours being undertaken on a community level. Your single profile will be picked apart and utilised for following search purposes, but when we encounter such problems as the “bolter” case study, Google will revert to their central system to determine search habits.

One simple method to understand this in greater depth is the autosuggestion tab. A search for “computer” in this location will issue the following phrases to complete the enquiry:

  • Computer cricket games
  • Computer games free download
  • Computer desk
  • Computer repairs
  • Computer alliance
  • Computershare
  • Computer monitor
  • Computer science
  • Computer shop near me
  • Computer says no

Much like the “bolter” example, the results are broad and varied without any previous history to build upon. What this tells us is that the market for free download computer games is strong as domestic users are on the lookout from anything including repairs to shops and even GIFs and memes from the television series Little Britain.

These autosuggestions might appear to be random on first look, but semantic search is always at play in this instance to give us a more rounded view of the cultural habits of collective users.

SEO relevance

The Basics of Semantic Search

Now that you know more about semantic search, what’s its relevance to SEO strategy? Photo: Rawpixel, Bigstock

Long gone are the days when a search engine optimisation (SEO) operator could discover their set of relevant keywords, plug them into the relevant locations and see their domain organically rise through the rankings.

While this practice is still similar to what it was in the early days, the emergence of semantic search has placed as much currency in associated and linked terms as to the original words themselves.

The trick is to tap into the tricks of the trade that the search engines utilise themselves. Should your domain revolve around the service of “plumbing tools,” take note of the autosuggestions:

  • Plumbing tools and equipment
  • Plumbing tools list
  • Plumbing tools list PDF
  • Plumbing tools names
  • Plumbing tools Bunnings
  • Plumbing tools for sale
  • Plumbing tools Australia
  • Plumbing tools Sydney
  • Plumbing tools Gumtree
  • Plumbing tools for sale Gumtree

This now offers a plumbing tools operator a roadmap for their keyword strategy based off Google’s own semantic search algorithm. Especially for an enterprise based in Sydney, they should be looking at including a list of tools in the form of a PDF, have a presence on Gumtree and offer a sale. That is just for starters, taking into account the related search phrases as well.

The key aim of the optimiser is to address these queries directly and with genuine purpose. semantic search gives SEO marketers a guide to create targeted content that can arrive in the form of a paid commercial, an article on your webpage, a video, a collage of photos, a how-to guide, or anything that requires a keyword fitted into a description or heading.

Individual users are not expected to understand how a search engine as powerful as Google will offer a list of related terms, phrases and synonyms. The science behind semantic search is continually evolving as we saw with the Hummingbird alteration back in 2013, laying the groundwork for a continued evolution.

What we do know is that the access is there for SEO beginners and experts alike to see what the personalised results are, enabling you to cater your campaign to various markets and locations.

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Kieran is the Social Media Manager and SEO Expert at SEO Shark. He is an expert in Social Media, link building, PPC and of course SEO. In his time off work Kieran enjoys reading and playing rugby, as well as following all kinds of sports! You can read some more of his articles here.