SEO Relevance Killer: Semantic Search

January 22, 2018

I am not sure if this Forbes’ write up is “real” journalism or just a pay-to-play story. Either way, it makes clear that the trajectory of search has been to destroy the once useful methods for determining precision and recall as part of an effort to explain or define relevance.

The write up which made me reach for my bottle of Tum’s is “Why And How Semantic Search Transformed SEO For The Better.”

Here’s a passage I highlighted in bilious yellow:

instead of finding exact matches for keywords, Google looks at the language used by a searcher and analyzes the searcher’s intent. It then uses that intent to find the most relevant search results for that user’s intent. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that demanded a new approach to SEO; rather than focusing on specific, exact-match keywords, you had to start creating content that addressed a user’s needs, using more semantic phrases and synonyms for your primary targets.

So what’s this mean in actual practice.

Navigate to Google and run this query with zero quotes and no additional words or phrases: 4iq Madrid.

Now look at the results:


The information is about the firm’s US office. The company was founded in Madrid and has some R&D facilities in the high-tech section of that city across from what used to be a hunting preserve for a former government leader. No address is Las Rozas, no LinkedIn listings of staff in Madrid, zip.

The world of search as described in the Forbes’ flag waving prose is great for expanding a user’s query. The purpose is not relevance, providing answers, or delivering on point results.

The purpose is to make it possible to broaden a query so more and usually less relevant ads can be displayed.

If you want relevance in search, you have to work very hard.

For example, to get the Spanish information related to 4iq, you set up a proxy in Spain. Google no longer makes it easy to query its index for content in a language different from the one Google decides you speak based on where you are in the world the moment you run your query. Then you enter the query and peruse the Spanish Google index results.

Yeah, that’s something the average eighth grader will do when writing an essay about Madrid. I know lots of adults who cannot perform this workaround.

The Forbes’ essay states:

The SEO community is better off focusing on semantic search optimization, rather than keyword-specific optimization. It’s forcing content producers to produce better, more user-serving content, and relieving some of the pressure of keyword research (which at times is downright annoying).

Why even bother providing results even marginally related to the user’s query. Do what the NFL Sirius Radio Network does. Run ads all the time. Football is a bit of distraction to the real business of pay-to-play information.

Ads, ads, ads.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2018


One Response to “SEO Relevance Killer: Semantic Search”

  1. Edwin Stauthamer on January 22nd, 2018 5:48 pm

    I would think that a more semantic approach to search is better than pure keyword search. Most of the times we use search terms that do not reflect the terms used in content. That’s why pure (and dumb) keyword search does not work when exploring information.
    One can still search for exact terms by phrasing them, right?

    You get what you search for.

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