Google's Semantic Search will probably be the biggest shake up of how we find things on the net that we have seen for years.
It will fundamentally change the SEO landscape and for the most part we are actually pretty blind as it takes place, and it has already started taking place.
What is the Google Semantic Search?
A bit of background. The total content of the internet is growing at a phenomenal rate and vast amounts of this content are absolute trash. Blogs or articles written and re-written by so-so SEO companies hoping to create something that Google will latch onto.
So if you are in Google's shoes and you want users to have a better experience the question is how to serve up better answers because in effect most of our searches are really questions. The biggest headache comes with generic terms and I'll use one of our U.S. Clients, The Aloe Vera Site, to demonstrate this.
Say someone types 'aloe vera' into Google. What the search engine needs to figure out is, does this person want:
- biological information about aloe vera
- historical information about aloe vera
- to know about medicinal uses of aloe vera
- pictures of aloe vera
- the latest news about aloe vera
- videos about aloe vera
- to buy aloe vera
And in reality Google just doesn't know but offering a mixed bag of results gives everyone a majority of websites that they aren't looking for. So no matter the motivation of the searcher, they are going to have a bad user experience.
If there is some user history to go on, say this searcher often buys aloe vera or visits shops which sell aloe vera, Google can offer more ecommerce sites. But if not what to do?
The new Google Guess
Well the my theory is the searcher will be served up information sites as a first option. Remember Google already has sub searches listed to the left of the results Images, Maps, Videos, News, etc.
So does this means we'll see deserving sites falling like flies from the rankings?
The answer is yes and no. They will fall from the generic search but it's Google's hope that these changes will make internet users smarter. That they will say to themselves, These are not the results I want, what should I search instead. Perhaps 'buy aloe vera' or 'aloe vera for sale'.
In overall terms this is a great change because, once we get our search phrase right, the results will be much, much better.
From an SEO practitioner view it's going to be a bit of a nightmare because we don't know, beyond an educated guess, what that 'perhaps' is going to be in the internet users mind.
In the past there has been assistance such as the Google Keyword Tool which gave us a rough estimate of how many times a particular word or phrase is searched but this is all historical data. It, and us, cannot see into the future actions and reactions of internet searchers.
We are entering a period of flux where many will be optimising their websites based on an educated guess of how users will change their behaviour but we may have to optimise all over again when we finally know their behaviour.
Is Google about to be evil?
There is also one dark shadow lurking in the corner.
I mentioned earlier that Google already has sub searches to the left of the search results but increasingly it is letting these infringe on the main results. In the 'aloe vera' search, for example, one of the top ten results is 'Images for Aloe Vera' which is simply another Google directory.
It is conceivable that Google will simply fill up the front page with options like this the first result would be 'Images for Aloe Vera' followed by 'News for Aloe Vera' and then 'Shopping results for Aloe Vera'.
This would suit Google very well as it would drive webmasters to use ever more of their tools such as Google products (Google Base, Froogle or whatever you like to call it) and because the user stays longer within Google's bounds there may be an increasing reliance on Google Adwords.
But the reality is that we will have to wait and see. For now we are likely to see a great deal of changes to our ranking positions as the changes are rolled out.