In September last year Google announced the introduction of the new search algorithm “Hummingbird”, hailing a new era of semantic search.
Before then, the algorithm used a predominantly boolean search model which conducted a textual and statistical analysis of the words in your search query and words in the pages stored in its index of the web.
Using over 200 other factors, Google then ranked the relevant pages in an order deemed most useful to the user – as it still does.
However, semantic search is fundamentally changing the way Google sees the web – moving from a place of web pages to a place of people and all the things that effect our lives – work, leisure, interests, habits, preferences, knowledge, social relationships, buying behaviour, the list goes on.
It’s a change that will have a huge impact on your digital marketing strategy in the future.
As Google collects data about all these ‘things’ and combines it with knowledge it learns about every topic imaginable, using content from the web – it builds its “knowledge graph”.
The goal of the knowledge graph is to ultimately understand how all things connect together and use that information to enrich search results giving you instant answers. If you want to see this in action, try searching the name of your favourite film star and check out the results displayed in the box on the right hand side.
The word semantic comes from an ancient Greek word referring to meaning. That’s really what the Hummingbird algorithm is looking for – what did you actually mean when you typed those words in to the search bar, what was your intent.
To do this Google is trying to understand the differences in the wording you’re using and applying all the aforementioned variables it knows about you to answer your question with the most relevant results for you.
You may use the same search query twice in one day and find that you get two completely different results. This is because Google is learning about you and you’re online/offline habits and using that knowledge to better understand what you meant by those words you use.
For example, if you searched “Indian food” early in the day, it may think your simply researching Indian cuisine – giving you results including recipes and articles.
If you conducted the same search around late lunch time or dinner time, it might think you’re looking for a place to eat – which would give you local details including geographically orientated results for restaurants.
To assist Google in providing these granular search results, we can use specific methods to highlight the different elements of our web pages.
So if you have an article, an event, a product, a reference to a person or a place on your site – we can help Google (and other search engines) interpret this better. The outcome is the potential for your content to be found more easily for specific search queries – particularly the longer tailed ones often used in conversational search.
Inserting code called ‘schema’ is one way to do this. When Google crawls a web page, schema code tells it that the item is not simply another line of text but it instead it identifies the meaning behind the text.
Schema mark-up means content within your pages could also be shown as a rich snippet in the search results, which we know can improve click through rate by up to 150%. You’re likely to have seen this in action when Google shows you articles or blog posts linked to Google+ profiles – which is a form of Schema in itself.
Here’s an example. Lets say we had the following text on our website referring to an event like…
The Intergage Seminar
30th January 2014
10.00am – 13.00pm
We would like to highlight to Google that this information is actually displaying information on the date, time and location of the event. Schema allows us to do this.
So if Google thinks the intent of a user’s search query is to find an event, we could have helped Google see more relevancy in our content and therefore display our website in the search results (possibly next to a rich snippet).
There’s a vast array of schema available for various types of data but the trouble is that inserting code is really a job for our technically minded web developers. However, there is a solution!
Google Webmaster Tools is a free service you can use to check the crawl status of your site, security issues and other useful stuff but it also gives you the handy Data Highlighting Tool.
This allows you to go through your site and highlight the different elements without adding schema code, with a user friendly interface. The Data Highlighting Tool currently allows you to highlight:
Using schema and highlighting content could give you a serious edge in the pursuit of semantic search domination, especially if you use it alongside Google+ and its authorship/publisher function. Semantic search is the future, are you ready?
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