Google’s Semantic Shift – and It’s More Than Semantics

Yesterday Google announced that it will increase its focus on semantic search results that better understand user intent and show people more answers on Google itself (in addition to linking people off to other sites).  As The Wall Street Journal reported, with this shift “people who search for ‘Lake Tahoe’ will see key attributes that the search engine knows about the lake, such as its location, altitude, average temperature or salt content.  In contrast, those who search for ‘Lake Tahoe’ today would get only links to the lake’s visitor bureau website.  What’s behind this?  Google wants to increase page views on and sell more ads.  They will also help users get answers more quickly…. and “helping the user” is a good business model.

The good news is for B2B marketers is that in our business we see lots of long, detailed search phrases, e.g. “fixed field sensors for background suppression” and complex queries are harder for Google to database, which means they’ll have to link off to other sites.

What are the implications for search engine optimization?  I’ll leave that for the SEO gurus to sort out but, long term, it would seem to pose some real challenges.  My observation right now is on the way Google has handled the announcement.

I don’t recall them so explicitly signaling, er, warning the market before about keeping more people on Google itself. In a masterful PR stroke, Google has become really transparent about the thinking that goes into their search algorithm and the huge amount of engineering talent they have put into organizing the world’s information for our collective benefit. (1000 man-years of labor and as many calculations as it took to send a rocket to the moon).

Check out the video below. It’s an internal Google staff meeting with their engineers discussing the minutia of algorithmic changes.  With PR like this, Google is trying to send a signal that it means no evil and that no specific sites are earmarked in its algorithmic decision making — but we all know that big algorithmic changes inevitably result in some collateral damage and major traffic drops for some sites.


I’m just waiting for Facebook to launch an improved search engine…then things will get really interesting.

2 thoughts on “Google’s Semantic Shift – and It’s More Than Semantics

  1. Thanks for sharing Greg. With every major Google algorithmic change, the SEO experts clamor to figure out how to game, er, optimize the system. No doubt they will rush in, only days after Google’s announcement, and proclaim strategies on how to be effective with the new algorithm. We’ll see.

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