SEO is a constantly changing and evolving game. The latest chess move in the quest to ‘organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful‘ (Google’s mission statement) is something called semantic search.

What is semantic search I hear you say? Well let’s take a second to recap on how search engines, as we know them, work before we dive into this.

In essence, search engines operate through a document retrieval system. Having indexed billions of web pages they will attempt ‘match search queries’ to the keywords within the indexed database. Once matches are found, determining which results are more relevant than others is largely understood to be based around how ‘popular’ a site appears to be. In other words, a site that wants to appear for a certain search term would not only need to include the search query keywords but also have related websites linking to it, in order to provide search engines with additional context to a site’s meaning.

So accepting my extremely basic run down of how search engines currently operate, let’s have a closer look at this semantic fuss.

What is Semantic Search?

Semantics can be defined as an adjective of, pertaining to, or arising from the different meaning of words or other symbols. Or simply put; the study of meaning.

Thus, semantic search is a paradigm shift in search, moving away from simply matching keywords to documents and instead trying to identify the relationship between the meanings of search queries. Once the ‘semantics’ are understood the goal is to match the users ‘intent’ to a ‘concept’.

In all honesty, the idea of semantic search has been around for a while.  However, search engines are only really starting to turn their heads due to the launch of Apple’s artificial intelligence software, Siri. Siri is dubbed as a virtual knowledge assistant and uses a natural language interface (semantic engine) to try and understand the meaning of queries in order to answer questions, perform tasks and make recommendations. Apple also claims that Siri will learn over time and deliver more and more personalised results.

Though the idea has been around for a while, the obvious player in the market, Google, has really begun to take notice. This is evident in some of the questions Google appears to be answering directly in its SERPs.

So what does this mean for SEO? In my opinion, semantic search is potentially going to be a godsend. The days of link farms and ‘blackhat’ SEO techniques will be finished. In their place SEO will be even more reliant on thorough keyword research and strategy than ever. The key will be identifying the questions behind the users search query and ensuring website content is answering that question.

Check out this YouTube video: Breakfast with Google’s Search Team. Skip to 12:05 for a great summary on ‘understanding meaning,’ aka semantics issues.

Overall, semantic search is set to enhance our ability to obtain information quickly, and the fact that Google has some extra competition in the form of Siri is more than welcome. Besides, Google’s ideal future for the web is simply only going to be Google, with its knowledge base. Therefore there will be no need for other websites, as Google can already answer everything… or maybe that’s a tad extreme?

Final thought, will search engines soon be a thing of the past, replaced by the more user-centric knowledge engine?

4Ps isn’t just another SEO agency. To discuss how technology and search are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction and behaviour, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user experience across all inbound channels. Where could a data insights project from 4Ps take your brand next?