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Semantic Search

Semantic Search: Brief Summary

“Semantic search” is a method by which the algorithms of search engines, such as Google or Bing, can draw conclusions about the user’s intention or objective. To do this, they put the components of the search query in context with each other and then analyse the relationships between words, parts of sentences and, if necessary, entire sentences. In this way, the user ideally finds precisely what they are looking for more quickly as the context of their search is considered.

Semantic Search: Detailed Description

In order to understand what semantic search is exactly, it is best to compare it with a “regular” search. In the latter, search engines crawl a website for certain keywords. Among other things, depending on how often a certain keyword is present, the website is assigned a certain relevance score. Therefore, this type of search is primarily oriented towards the website. User intention is largely ignored.

The advantage of this method is since each search term “only” has to be related to certain keywords, such algorithms are quite easy to develop for Google and other search engines. The disadvantage, however, is that these keyword searches can hardly be personalised. For example, if someone in London enters “Birmingham City” as a search term, they will receive nearly the same search engine result pages (SERPs) as a user from Manchester. The algorithm is unable to determine whether the user was looking for Birmingham sightseeing tips, info on the next football club match or a map route to the UK’s second-largest city.

Keeping an eye on user intent

While search algorithms look for individual keywords in a regular search, semantic searches are based on the meanings of concepts, sentences and the arrangement of words. Of course, semantic search is not a crystal ball that can magically recognise exactly what the user is looking for. However, by evaluating the search query correctly, semantic search makes it much more likely that the user will get the information they want. If we take the above example a step further, the order of the words – first “Manchester” and then “City” – would indicate that the user is looking for information about the football club.

The longer the query, the better the search results

In principle, the longer the user’s search query is, then the better a semantic search will work. This is because more words mean more information that can be put in relation to each other. In the case of a search query like “London”, even semantic search is largely powerless. This is because it is hardly possible to draw any closer conclusions about the user’s intention on the basis of just one or two words.

In such a case, a search engine like Google will usually present general information about the search term. If, on the other hand, the search query were “London Bridge how high”, a semantic search would instantly recognise the user intent. In addition, semantic search can “iron out” typing and spelling errors. Semantic search is, therefore, able to deliver suitable matching results for the searched content much faster, especially in the case of more complex queries.

Google and Semantic Search

As the top dog among search engines, Google naturally has a special role to play when it comes to semantic search. With the Hummingbird update in 2013, Google introduced the first algorithms for semantic search. This was followed by Google’s machine-learning AI-powered RankBrain update, which made further improvements in semantic search. The basic principle of RankBrain is to establish relationships between words and groups of words. In addition, the algorithm can infer the meaning of unknown words. This made RankBrain a kind of “Semantic Search 2.0”.

Semantic Search and SEO

If the criteria for compiling SERPs are changed, this is, of course, also important for search engine optimisation (SEO). After all, the aim is to design a website in such a way that users find the content they need as quickly and easily as possible via Google and other search engines.

The extent to which semantic search is already having an impact on traditional SEO and online marketing measures is a matter of dispute among experts. There is no question that the methods will have to be changed. However, many experts assume that the development of semantic search is progressing slowly enough that online marketers have ample time to adapt SEO measures that have been effective so far.

Moreover, semantic search has not yet fully displaced normal keyword search – and the latter is ideally suited for many SEO measures since it normally always provides different users with the same results for a given query. This significantly reduces the effort for search engine optimisation.

However, there are also voices already arguing for a stronger orientation of SEO towards semantic search. For these experts, semantic search is the future of Google – and this future has already begun with Hummingbird, RankBrain, E-A-T-T and similar algorithms. Accordingly, they consider it necessary to develop new strategies as soon as possible, with which content and websites also land on the top positions of SERPs in a semantic search.

Refining Semantic Search with Top Content

Regardless of the importance of normal keyword searches, there are many other ways to implement SEO best practices that work for both semantic and keyword searches. These include, for example, optimising the website structure, navigation and loading times. In addition, the ranking of a website can be positively influenced via backlinks and activities on social media channels.

High-quality SEO content is of particular importance, which Google and other search engines can easily identify and distinguish from texts of very poor quality. If a website has a high volume of information and content with equally high relevance to the topic it deals with, the website will perform well in both semantic and keyword searches. The reason for this is as simple as it is obvious: the keywords used ensure that the site ranks well in keyword searches. Meanwhile, the content in its entirety offers a broad field of information that will answer many user questions about the topic of the page. So, the adage “content is king“, often quoted in online marketing, still continues to apply in normal keyword searches.


At the moment, semantic search is still on the rise, but it will become increasingly more important for Google – and also for online marketing and search engine optimisation. There are already some content optimisation methods that are effective even with semantic search, such as latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords. However, SEO content creators will have to develop new approaches for the future. Only in this way will companies continue to be able to actively influence the positioning of their websites within the SERPs.

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