Understanding Semantic Search

In a world where search engines are relied upon so much, Google has ramped up the relevance and accuracy of information retrieval by introducing the notion of semantics. The definition of semantics is the science and study of meaning within language and in the context of Google search and results retrieval, it works like this:
Search engines will look at and assess the content of your page (that’s not new) and strive to understand the meaning and relationship of the chunks of text within your content.
If you write about an ambiguous topic, like oil, the surrounding content will be evaluated and assessed for relevance to either

  • synthetic oil
  • mineral oil
  • cooking oil

or one of many other oils which exist.

Bringing LIfe to Semantics in Google Search

The challenge for semantic search is bringing meaning and relevance to the results returned to the visitor.

Search results can be provided to the visitor within the visitor’s context- with the meaning of the search query taken into account when returning the results.
In many ways, t’s like having the search engine mutter to itself: “Yes, I know what this visitor means. I know what they are really looking for”.
Three important elements come into play during the process of semantic search.
They are:

The Universal Resource Identifier

This is URI- the place where the search engine spider goes, to collect the data. In simple terms, this could be a web address where the information is first discovered or detected. To take the explanation a step further, think of “wool”. It comes from sheep- but a fleece is hardly what you deliver to Grandma with your request for a knitted garment. The fleece- wool in its “raw” state, needs further refinement before it becomes the stuff that is ready to be transformed via Grandma’s needles or crochet hook. Depending on how you look at it, the URI would either be the sheep’s back or the shearing shed floor. Neither of these places is where Grandma goes to get roll of wool. Some processing is necessary first.

The URI is the location of the data in its raw, unprocessed state.

The Resource Description Framework

This is essentially a set of rules that details the “how” of getting stored index data from one database (where the URIs are stored), to another place, namely the search results, without losing the meaning of the original data. If we’re researching wool right off the sheep’s back, the search engine will understand what pages to direct us to. A common element of pages returned to us, will be that they actually speak about wool in that stage of its “cycle”.

If we’re researching wool so that we can buy some to use in knitting, semantic search will direct us to the appropriate authority pages which speak about wool which is ready for needles.


An onthology refers to what exists in a system- the nature of “reality” or “being”. Ontology would make sense of the existence of the wool on the sheep’s back, the wool at the processing mill, and wool offered for sale in a department store, ready for the consumer to use. Ontology refers to what exists in a system, and the relationships between all elements within all category hierarchies within that system.

Where Is Google Going With Semantics?

Google is making the move from being a search engine delivering 10 blue links which you click on and hope for the best, to being a real answers engine where the results page you see after pressing “Search” for your query, actually contains the answer right there on the SERP, or search engine results page, without you even having to click a link to visit a website!

Ranking still counts- however the whole concept of search is no longer all about being within a list of 10 organic links on the front page of Google. It’s a different arena on your mobile device to what you see on your desktop machine. If you use “Google Voice Search”, or “Google Now”, the results delivered are different once again.

Once there was a time when images relevant to your query never showed up on the front page of your text based search results, now they’re well and truly part of the returns, as well as (usually YouTube) a video or two, even if you’re not searching “video” results.

Slowly but surely, these little extras- images, videos, and recently “in-depth articles” have found their way onto the front page of Google as part of search results.

If you really need to see the power-flex Google is capable of, run some searches on topics you find interesting, then repeat them when you are logged in to your (aged and active) Google account.

See how Google’s auto-suggestions for your search query completion differ, depending on whether or not you are logged in.
What you will see, will be an example of the Knowledge Graph at work.

If your website SEO is still focused on keyword rank positions, with page 1 placement dominating discussion at boardroom strategy and marketing department meetings, you are setting your website up for a big crash within Google results, and that moment will come.

Remember- you read it here!

Semantics and the User Experience

You’ve probably realised by now, that user experience is a key ranking factor, and your interactions with a website send important signals back to Google about how you assessed the worth of that website.
The number of pages you viewed, how long you spent on the website, as well as what you did after you left the website- all these factors and more, help Google fill in the blanks about how smart a decision they made in sending you to that site to begin with.
Great semantic content, that is content which follows logic presentation and has a clearly defined hierarchy helps the visitor find what they came looking for, and in turn transmits more “thanks Google- well done” signals, which in turn validate the website as the best choice to return to the visitor for answering that query.
Get this happening often enough with your website, and you’ll soon start to elevate your website’s authority status, as the obvious go-to for the answer to the question or problem you address.

To understand what sort of user experience you are providing to your website visitors-just ask them!
Most will be happy to oblige.

Semantic Search in Reality- an Example

Here’s an example of semantics at work. Take something as basic as a phone number, let’s use our office number. If you are in Melbourne, you could simply dial our number without the area code or country prefix. Dialling those same digits from another country won’t get you connected to us- without the inclusion of a country code and area code, the same digits could connect you to someone in your own city or locality- or to nowhere at all.

The “translator”- the “RDF” translates our phone number into a set of digits that will work for the user. This means the digits- or the format of our phone number returned to someone outside the Melbourne telephone zone but still in Australia, will be different to the format returned to an overseas person using Google to search for our phone number.