Semantic Search: What is it and Why Does It Matter to Marketers?

semantic search

‘Search’ took on a new meaning on the interwebz ever since a “search query form” called ‘Archie’ made an appearance in the year 1990. Space was such a constraint back then that only the listings of results were visible, not the content or websites themselves. Ever since then, search has got better, results have become more accurate and almost anyone who has used the internet has experienced this process.

Semantic Search: A Brief History

So how did search engines get better over time? Continuous tweaking and enhancements helped machines match keywords typed by users to text content on existing webpages. And with early SEO specialists working out the right keywords to get ranked for – search got good. When Google entered the scene, their concept of using a ‘page rank’ revolutionized the way search ranking work today.

However, the one thing search engines hadn’t mastered until recently is semantic search.

According to Wikipedia, semantic search aims to “improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable data space, whether on the Web or within a closed system, to generate more relevant results.”

Intent and Context

The two key words here and ‘intent’ and ‘context.’ They are also key factors that search engines of yore did not account for. Let’s say you ask your friend to help you backup your hard drive. Your friend automatically understands that it involves computers and is different from say, how to back-up a vehicle. Your intent here is to save your data. Humans understand intent. Most computers do not. If you had searched ‘how to backup’ chances are – you would have got a mix of instructions that spanned technology and the art of driving.

semantic search appleHow Google knows I’m not looking for fruit vendors
who have big stocks of apples: Semantic Search

Similarly, your friend asks you if you’d like to hit up that sweet new Korean food place in town and you tell them “I can’t, I’m broke.” A friend understands that you are cash-strapped because it is the end of the month. To a computer? The context may be missed, leaving the meaning a bit too literal. This is where semantic search makes an entry, and a big difference.

How Does Semantic Search Work?

Semantic search is part of an ongoing attempt to help computers learn more about human intent and context to provide better search results. Currently, semantic search considers a number of factors based on information available to give you the most appropriate results. These include, but aren’t limited to:

I. Current Trends and News

If you Google ‘who won the US election?’ You will see that the result is Donald Trump, because according to the the current trends and the latest news, Donald Trump is the most recent winner of the election. Barack Obama and George Bush both won the election too – but you wouldn’t be googling elections from four, eight or twelve years ago now – right? Semantic search understands this, and gives you the most relevant result.

II. Synonyms in Semantic Search

Let’s say you are looking for the hottest desert in the world, but you choose to type ‘warmest desert in the world.’ You’ll still get results for the hottest desert in the world. (Incidentally, Death Valley, Mojave Desert) This is because semantic search understands synonyms and gives you answers based on them.

semantic search

III. Word Groups

If you want to learn more about why popular brands like Netflix and Youtube use online recommendation systems, you may search for ‘recommendation systems brands’ or ‘online recommendation systems’ or ‘brands using online recommendation systems’ but they will all point you to similar results, articles that explain this phenomenon.

IV. Location

If I’m sitting in The Bay Area, and I google ‘best burger in town’ I want to receive a result from the area i’m in. Why? Because I can do precious little with the knowledge of an amazing burger available thousands of miles away from where I am. Semantic search is what makes the result locally relevant and awesome enough for me to be able to pick up the phone and order my meal.

Why Does Semantic Search Matter to Marketers?

Machines increasingly can learn how humans think, their intentions and the contexts they are speaking in using their behavior history, the news and trends of the moment, word groups, and a whole lot more.

autocompleteImage: Klevu Semantic Search

As a marketer or product owner, it is essential to be able to offer your customers a search experience that isn’t 2000 and late. You remember those times when you search a huge website eagerly and find no results? Does anything suck more? Customers and visitors need to be able to feel that you understand their intent as well as their context when they interact with your website or product. As a marketer, you can make sure your SEO, tags, meta descriptions, a semantic analysis tool and a whole lot more are in place. This way, customers can find what they need on your website. Publishers and eCommerce companies can also use these search histories to understand users better and recommend more relevant, contextual products to them every day.

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