Discussing Semantics: An SEM Perspective

Google, in an effort to keep up with advances in search and not rest on its laurels, is updating how it handles searches by leveraging a semantic engine to help provide more accurate results.  This is a massive undertaking, in which Google is attempting to better understand the real intent of user search queries.  The company is also uncharacteristically playing a bit of catch-up with semantic systems already deployed in Bing, Apple’s Siri, and Wolfram Alpha.  

Compared to the previously mentioned companies, though, Google is much better about monetizing its pages with advertising.  Google semantic search clearly could have a huge impact on SEO practices: it will be a lot harder to game the system, as it won’t be all about keywords anymore.  But what about paid search marketers? Does this new advance mean anything for us?

Why is this good?

For the searcher, this has the potential to be very good.  A combination of user intent and advanced word categorization could significantly change and enhance the way Google presents search result pages. Google has been an expert on giving users what will make their search experience better and providing the most relevant results, and this is an excellent step in that direction. Users will search more naturally for information and when they find answers more easily, they will probably return more often.

For search marketers, this has the potential to be very beneficial.  If Google’s new semantic technology drives more and deeper searches, it will help marketers to reach more qualified customers clicking through paid search advertising.  It will also potentially lead to less wasted media for advertisers – think “Jaguar” the car vs “jaguar” the animal.  More and deeper searches also lead to more impressions for advertisers to buy.

Why is this not so good?

This development might change user behavior in unexpected ways.  For example, there’s chance this will lead users to find the answers they are looking for directly on the SERP, eliminating the need for click-through.  Or users might actually click on fewer ads if they can find information faster.  But I suspect these fears are overblown, the same way the launch of instant search didn’t impact paid search click volume appreciably after initial industry hand-wringing.

What about PPC keywords?  I have little doubt that this advancement will make its way to helping decide what paid search ads appear on a results page.  There may be less reliance on direct match as we move toward semantic match for ad keywords -- which would be OK as long as the relevance of the ads on SERPs improves significantly.

What should we do?

Change may be unsettling to some in the industry; however, this does not alter the fundamentals of structuring accounts intelligently, tracking and measuring the results of those efforts both from a conversion-goal stand point and engagement, and optimizing bid strategies across an entire portfolio to achieve the best results.  As with all Google algorithm changes, the following recipe holds true:  watch, measure, analyze, and then react as necessary.

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2 comments about "Discussing Semantics: An SEM Perspective".
  1. Reg Charie from DotCom-Productions , April 20, 2012 at 6:11 p.m.
    Hi Roger, Perhaps you could explain why you think that Google is trailing "Bing, Appleā€™s Siri, and Wolfram Alpha."? Perhaps you could also explain your understanding of "Semantics". Mine is one of understanding that comes down to word selection. As such, there is no real problem with SEO and keywords. Keywords will ALWAYS be the primary ingredient in search. (And SEO). Google has been using semantic search almost totally since the Mayday update in 2010. Their focus on relevance has been on the increase since Google appeared on the market. It took them over a decade to tune it the way they wanted it. Best, Reg
  2. Reg Charie from DotCom-Productions , April 20, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.
    Can't you fix the formatting? I did not type one long paragraph.