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Understanding the Factors in Semantic Search

Jun 10, 2019
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In the early days on the internet, getting contextually relevant results in search was nearly impossible. As more data has been collected on not just keywords, including content, user behavior and more, search engines today are beginning to grasp context.  In essence , this is what is as the heart of semantic search.  It is the attempt of search engines to understand "intent" and deliver the most relevant results.  Semantic search is guided by two principles: 1) the intent of the user and 2) the semantic meaning of search terms. (Source: https://blog.alexa.com/semantic-search/)

 

 

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Image from Semantic Search and SEO: Everything You Need to Know - Eric Enge (Read this post)

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Let's talk a little bit about semantic search. Semantic search is the customization of the search results, and how Google is trying to deliver the most contextual information to the end user as fast as possible. Now a lot of times when we think about SEO and things that we can do to influence the search rankings or help improve visibility of our site, we think about things that we can control as the website owner or the webmaster. The reality is there's a lot of other factors at play when it comes to search rankings.

Now we do know some of the top factors like content is important and having a strong link profile is important. But then we have this thing called RankBrain, which we don't really fully understand and lot of people dissect it and kind of dig a little bit deeper, but RankBrain is driving semantic search. It's driving Google's understanding of queries and how those connect with different elements and how those connect with a user at the other end of the screen.

Now one thing I talk to my marketing team about all the time, and I want to make clear here. We have to understand that at the end of a query, at the end of the search, there's always another human being, and we need to market to humans, we need to market to people, and to solve people's problems. If we want to rank, solve somebody's problems. Over time if your content is good and you have a good link profile, you're going to rank for that content.

Let's talk about how search is being influenced now by a semantic search. We've got three different things here working together. We've got the searcher, the person that's typing in the query, and we have the publisher, the person who owns the website. And then we have other factors, these are the factors that we don't control. These all play a role in what people see and when they see them.

Starting at the searcher. This is not everything involved, but these are some pretty substantial things. The conversational content that the searchers have. Maybe it's been on a chat platform or something that's been tracked by Google Analytics, maybe it's been on a third-party social site. That stuff plays a role in what that searcher sees. So does their personal preferences, so what did they set up in their Chrome installation, with Safari, or Mozilla, or whatever they're using as a browser? What do their personal preferences say? What's their searching purchase history? So what websites have they gone to? What websites did they make a transaction on? Most of the websites that we're going to online understand that. They know what's going on. They're tracking that. And if they've got Google Analytics or another analytics platform attached to them them, they're being tracked and this stuff is understood.

Let's talk a little bit about the device. So are they browsing on a mobile device or tablet or are they on a computer? Those are going to play roles into what is being seen and search. Their Google Doc history plays a role as well. What are the things they're searching for? You maybe noticed that if you're logged in to Google Drive and you search for something, inside the search results Google will sometimes actually show you one of your own Google Docs. Now this is something just saying, "Hey, you have some information about this in your knowledge base, or in your documents. Is that what you're actually looking for?" They're trying to help solve your problems quickly. And also the social connections, what are you doing on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, these other things that you have connected with your search browser? All of those can play a factor in what you're going to see.

Now, let's go from the publisher side. From the person who's running the website. Things that influence, pricing. If somebody's looking at something cheap and you have an expensive product you're not going to show up. Let's say if somebody's looking for something expensive and you have a cheap product. It works vice versa. You also need to understand links. Do you have good quality authoritative links linking to your site? If you don't, that's going to play a role in a semantic search.

Structured data, and I'm going to pair this with a Knowledge Graph. These play a role. This is why I've done a ton of videos on schema markup and adding structured data to your site because this is helping the search engine understand the intent, but also understanding how your content is connected to what they call an entity. And you can think of an entity as a person, place, or thing, and then structured data helps associate what you do in entity. And then Google My Business plays a role as well, especially if you're a local company. You having that local Google My Business portfolio built out and structure properly, this will help make sure that you can have some influence.

Now the other thing we want to look at are the other factors. Now these are things that neither the searcher or the publisher have control over, time and day. Day of the week, the time of day the search is being done plays a role, so do social signals from alternative sources. You just don't have control over all of those things.

Entity recognition. Now this is slightly connected to the Knowledge Graph and structured data, but if Google doesn't understand what you're connected to and they don't have that entity relationship with your content, you're not going to show. And then concept mapping. Kind of the similar thing is do you have understanding of the full concept? Have they been able to align your content with the entire idea or topic of what you're promoting or selling? Each one of these different bubbles plays a role in semantic search. Again, the goal behind semantic search is this more personalized experience for the end user so they can get the content that they need at the right time.

Now, if you notice this little box over here. These are things that play a role in all different areas. It's a language terminology and location. The searcher can type in a location modifier. They can use English, or Dutch, or Spanish, their language. They can be somewhere and search for something. All of those are going to play a role and how they use it. Like maybe they say a word in this context versus that. They have control over that. We also have control on our websites. We can put locations, we can adjust our terminology, we can change the language that were showing, and other factors can also play a role there.

So search and ranking isn't as simple as creating good content and getting links and you're going to automatically rank. Today's search changes a lot. We have a lot of other factors in place and this is why I have to tell clients sometimes stop Googling yourself from your office because you're not going to see a true view of where you actually rank.

Where you rank is actually more of an aggregated value, an average value today rather than a, I am X position on this keyword all the time. There's a lot of things going on. Search is continuing to change and adapt. And we as publishers, site owners need to understand that in order to take the things that we actually have control over and put most emphasis on them in order to make sure that our content has that visibility. If you have any questions on sematic search, please comment below. And as always, Happy Marketing.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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