Feb 12

An Introduction to Small Business and Semantic Search

Search engines are changing and they’re evolving faster than ever before. Have you ever felt that Google knows exactly what you are looking for? That you are being prompted with suggestions that are eerily close to what you have in mind? Sometimes even before you’ve finished typing your query. How does Google understand your thoughts so well? How can it possibly know what you’re looking for? Welcome to the world of semantic search.

Semantic search is one of the most exciting developments of our time. It is also one that is levelling the playing field between large and small businesses. Now, even small businesses have a place in the search results – a place where they can attract visitors and triumph.

What is Semantic Search?

The word semantics comes from Ancient Greek and involves the study of meaning. Attempting to find meaning is nothing new on the internet.

Indeed, Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the modern web, originally coined the term semantic web, which is defined as “providing a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.”

semantic_search_hummingbird

Although the theory and concepts behind semantic search are fairly easy to grasp, their very mechanism and the mathematics behind them are incredibly complex.

We are moving from a web of things to a web of people. From strings to things. Gone are the days where you can hide behind a large faceless portal and expect to build trust over the Internet.

The Knowledge Graph

The knowledge graph is often referred to as the brain behind semantic search.

Amit Singhal, the head of the Google Search team, retired last week. His replacement is John Giannandrea, none other than the man behind the Knowledge Graph, the recent Rankbrain update, the so-called Hummingbird algorithm and most of Google’s artificial intelligence initiatives in the last few years. With John around, AI and semantics will undoubtedly remain the major focus for Google.

John, like most techies, is a huge Star Trek fan. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Star Trek cannot help but be impressed by the computer onboard the Starship Enterprise – you know, the one that responds to voices, and that gets increasingly intelligent over time. The computer that ‘understands’ what you are asking it.

This is exactly where Google is headed. The search engine takes our queries, tries to understand the words, and delivers the same results a human would – the same results a friend would give you. And not just any friend, a close friend. A friend who understands you, who knows your current and previous locations, who knows your tastes and preferences and most importantly, knows your intentions.

Central to this new understanding is the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge graph semantic search

 

The knowledge graph uses fuzzy logic, which was first identified in the 1960s by Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Fuzzy logic is a way to introduce “degrees of truth” into mathematics. It ascribes a mathematical value to logical variables, rather than a straight binary “yes” or “no.” Unlike traditional boolean logic, fuzzy logic allows Google to introduce probabilities into its calculations.

Each time you query Google, the results appear via semantic search, in the form of a list of possible answers. Google attempts to interpret the meaning of every query, by using all the information it has on you (for example, your location, search history, preferences, associations, friendships, your friends’ reviews, shopping history, the content of your emails and much more). It does all of this in order to give you answers based on your intent. Something which Google has become surprisingly good at over the years.

What can small businesses do?

When you think of semantics, you have to think about transparency and understanding. Semantics is all about you and the reasons you started your business in the first place. It’s about putting your passion on display and showing visitors what makes you stand out. What makes you special? And more importantly, why should visitors give you their business? First and foremost it’s about building trust.

Semantic search is so all encompassing and vast, that any attempts to manipulate it are doomed to failure. As a small business with limited time and resources, concentrate on the basics. Having a carefully optimised website, with a strong local presence and valuable content. Content that is going to help people. Content that is going to answer their questions and built trust.

It’s of little surprise that one of the most visited pages on any website is usually the ‘about us’ page. More so for e-commerce sites. People relate to people, they want to know about the people behind the site. A carefully thought out and written about us page goes a long way to building confidence.

Key Points for Small Businesses to keep in mind

  • What makes you special?
  • How do you stand out from your competitors?
  • Which qualities do you have that will make people trust you?
  • Think about your target demographics, the people you are trying to reach, your potential customers, what kinds of questions might they have? How are you addressing these questions?
  • Are you addressing these questions using the language your target audience would use?
  • Identify the problems that your business will help solve. How will you go about solving them? What solutions do you offer?

It is now more important than ever to provide real value to the end user. To take full advantage of semantic search, we have to go back to our basic values.

In other words, we have to provide value, answer visitors’ questions and exceed their expectations. The goal is to establish trust and build lasting relationships. As Tim Berners-Lee also stated, “The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people.”

 

For further reading on semantic search I recommend any books or articles written by David Amerland, his small business easy checklist and for a more technical (Google patent themed) reading list – seobythesea.

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