Google Plans Major Search Upgrade Over The Next Few Months: “Semantic Search”

2012 John CusackIf there’s one thing the fellows at Google can count on even in these messy times, it is the company’s CORE search engine (WITHOUT the Google+ integration joke). As long as people like Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts will run the search team and the company will cope with its social obsession, the search engine will be fine.

Now, according to a new story on the Wall Street Journal, Google plans to take its search engine into the next level and during the next few upcoming months it will bring some of the biggest changes in the history of Google’s search (which makes them also the biggest historical changes in general).

The major upgrade relates to what Amit Singhal has talked about last month (what now turns out to be a preparation)- The search engine will gain a serious artificial intelligence overhaul called “semantic search”, which predicted to affect directly 10 percent to 20 percent of all search queries.

Just to understand these change’s proportions, the Panda algorithm update which launched on February 2011 has impacted about 12% of all search queries while changing the search marketing industry from end to end. With the semantic search upgrade, it seems that the ground beneath the industry is about to shake again.

So, What Is It Exactly “Semantic Search”?

While the basic formula of backlinks and the page’s content isn’t going to change (at least not drastically), the upgrade would mostly change the way the search engine understands words. The semantic search upgrade will make the engine see words more just as humans see words, as entities.

Meaning that if we conduct a query search for a certain person / place / other element, the search engine would really grasp what stands behind the term we typed and won’t just offer keywords-based results from web pages.

For example, if we would conduct a search for the term “Alec Baldwin”, the search engine will understand we are referring to this specific PERSON who’s mostly known for being an actor and can offer more relevant results like recent TV/movie appearances, related actors or shows, awards and even details such as birthday and height.

“Answers” On The Search Results Page

Another major change mentioned in the story, is that Google’s search engine would also offer answers by itself and not only refer users to other websites. It means that for some queries, the result/answer will appear directly on the search results page. Google already doing it in some extent today and the upgrade suppose to expand it tremendously.

For example, today if we conduct a search the the term [lady gaga age], this what appears at the top of the search results page:

Google Search Lady Gaga Age

We can see that the search engine understand our query and provides us the “answer” at the top of the page. It is doing so by referring to keywords as entities when crawling web pages and extracting the relevant query-information about the entity. In this example, it extracted and managed to understand the age of Lady Gaga from six different websites.

If the search engine will indeed managed to extract answers with a high level of accuracy, it really is something that can benefit the users- It provides them what they were looking for, without the “hassle” of browsing through different websites. But the users won’t be the only beneficiaries from this move.

By keeping the users on the search results page as they engage with its contents for longer times, they are also much more exposed to advertisements which is obviously a something on Google’s mind (apparently, now more than ever).

What The “Semantic Search” Upgrade Means For Website Owners?

At this point in time, it is pretty difficult to determine what will be the exact effect of the changes, but I will try my best according to the only official Google resource that offers some sort of guidance related to these kind of things, the webmaster quality guidelines.

The first basic principle that mentioned on the quality guidelines is to make pages for users and not for search engines, and as Amit Singhal stated in the WSJ story, Google search is advancing towards “how humans understand the world”. So I think I can conclude that websites which relies on keywords-stuffing tactics (on any level) would be negatively affected.

In contrast, websites that covers on their pages entities (like people, places, phenomenons or any other attributed elements) in a quality and unique way will probably benefit the most. In fact, I can maybe describe the “semantic search” upgrade as an advanced mutation of the Panda algorithm…

The Big Questions…

Besides the obvious “how it will be” and “how it would look like”, there are few more important questions:

  • Does Google plans to launch the semantic search changes all of a sudden at once on one specific point in time, or it is more of a gradual implementation process?
  • How would the semantic search integrate with other algorithms like Panda or the Freshness algorithm (if it will be a separate algorithm at all)?
  • Does Google will reach an agreement with other major web players like Facebook and Twitter that can certainly contribute precious entity data of people and brands?
  • How the SEO industry would adjust to the new changes?
  • Would Google succeed with this move?

Soon or later, we will have all the answers (we may even receive them on a simple Google search)…