15 July 2008 | Tanya Goodin

Semantic Search

Natural language search engines evolving

There is a really interesting post here by Pierre Far on how some search engines are developing the ability to understand and translate natural language search queries rather than the keyword based methods employed by most people and search engines today.

We know this is something that Ask tried to do for a while and indeed Human powered ‘search engines’ such as Mahalo are attempting to address how people search and what information is delivered in response to this.

As more people come online their expectations are rising. We forget how clumsy the search engine results used to be and while by no means perfect they have come on in leaps and bounds. But this has been a process of evolution, not revolution, and that is what is needed to satisfy new generations of searchers.

We do not want to have to ‘work’ to get our search results. Re-typing new keywords to drill to the correct answer is not quick enough and the expectation is that the search engines shoudl be able to deliver the results we want right now.

So this is what natural language search engines are trying to deliver and while all very much still in beta I would suggest you have a look at the following:

What you need to do

So that’s all very interesting but what do you need to do as a site owner? Well, it’s really back to our old friend content. In the shorter term having content that will mimic questions (think what, why, when where etc) may help. Particularly with Google just now.

So FAQs are a great way to place the right content in a form that the search engines understand. But it needs to beyond that. I have never really been a fan of FAQs as they are either really long to scroll through or if they include a search facility they produce too many varients of the same inaccurate answers.

When thinking about the content really think hard about the questions people may ask, get inside their head. Do not answer with your knowlegde and understanding but assume you know nothing and take it from there. Pose the questions and answer literally.

And if you are developing FAQs or even semantic search on your own site to help users through a process make sure this is published ‘flat’ so the search engines can pick it up.

There is no doubt that semantic search will play a much bigger part in delivering relevancy than it already is. Making sure your site reflects that need will help you not only now but in the long term as well.

Tanya Goodin

Tanya Goodin

Founder of Tamar

  • http://scienceforseo.blogspot.com CJ

    I think that semantic search is actually quite basic because the bigger picture is natural language understanding and natural language generation which use semantic search as a small part of the system, largely based on A.I. It’s not quite there yet though 🙂

  • http://www.tamar.com Neil Jackson

    Thanks CJ, I was going to reference you but wasn’t sure if you were still reading the blog! All thoughts on this greatly appreciated as it is a big deal and is going to get bigger!