How to Prepare for Google’s Semantic Search Update

The Wall Street Journal recently announced that Google will be undergoing a big change. The search giant plans to do a large re-fresh of its algorithm to include “semantic search” technology.  The support system will be Google’s Knowledge Graph and the change is expected to take effect in the next couple of months.

The overall goal of the refresh will be to provide users with direct answers to a search query by understanding the actual meaning of the words, which is generated through an understanding of the association between words used. Amit Singhal, a top Google search executive, said the update will allow Google search to more closely replicate “how humans understand the world.”

This is nothing entirely new, as Google has performed similar updates in the past. Google’s primary goal seems to be to maintain their lead ahead of Bing and catch up to Apple’s Siri voice-activated mobile search. Singhal said, “Let me just say that every day, we’re improving our ability to give you the best answers to your questions as quickly as possible, so stay tuned for updates on what will continue to be a long road ahead.”

Semantic Search Details
A semantic search engine is designed to give results based on context as opposed to just keywords. For example, a search for the word “election” in a semantic search engine would return results containing “vote”, “campaign”, and “ballot” even if “election” is not present.

The 2009 search engine, WolframAlpha, was anticipated to challenge Google but has only gained traction in research and academic communities. Its ability to provide answers to queries is what set it apart; the goal of WolframAplpha isn’t to index the web and return results. It is designed to make computations based on a database of historical knowledge. When a user queries a location, the engine retrieves details of population, maps, time, weather, and more. The Google update is expected to do the same according to Amir Efrati, “results will be provided above other search listings and act like an answer in an encyclopedic fashion.”

Google will be attempting to provide an answer to a user’s query based on the intent of the keywords they entered into the search box, rather than providing lists of sites containing the same keywords as the query. They are going to achieve this by utilizing all the data they have been gathering in the Google Knowledge Graph. This graph of information started in 2010 when Google purchased Freebase, a community-built knowledge base with approximately 12 million entries, which Google has grown into 200 million entries to date.

Staying SEO Compliant
Up to now, SEO strategy has been centered on keywords and key phrases; with the update, optimizing for the intent of keywords and phrases will also be vital. Because Google will provide answers instead of results, companies will be competing against each other for visibility in addition to the Google answer being provided above all results.

So how can you stay competitive? As always, following SEO best practices and staying away from any black hat techniques, like keyword stuffing, is the first step. Google implements algorithm updates to combat those techniques and ensure they are providing relevant results for every query.

Another tactic is optimizing sites with semantic markup code. According to an article from Blue Anvil, this is the act of descriptively coding sites to represent the information contained in elements. It puts emphasis on areas of importance to help crawlers understand the meaning of the content by understanding relevance and importance.

Due to its potential influence on search structure, it’s important to keep an eye on the semantic search update as it takes effect. Once there are more official announcements from Google, more specific areas of optimization can be identified. Until then it is important to be aware of potential changes and stay updated on solutions and additional implications, including the potential impact on Google paid search. Stay tuned to 90blog for additional updates as semantic search rolls out.


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