Google: Can Semantic Relaxing Display More Ads?

June 10, 2019

For some reason, vendors of search systems have shuddered if a user’s query returns a null set. the idea is that a user sends a query to a system or more correctly an index. The terms in the query do not match entries in the database. The system displays a message which says, “No results match your query.”

For some individuals, that null set response is high value information. One can bump into null sets when running queries on a Web site; for example, send the anti fungicide query to the Arnold Information Technology blog at this link. Here’s the result:


From this response, one knows that there is no content containing the search phrase. That’s valuable for some people.

To address this problem, modern systems “relax” the query. The idea is that the user did not want what he or she typed in the search box. The search system then changes the query and displays those results to the stupid user. Other systems take action and display results which the system determines are related to the query. You can see these relaxed results when you enter the query shadowdragon into Google. Here are the results:


Google ignored my spelling and displays information about a video game, not the little known company Shadowdragon. At least Google told me what it did and offers a way to rerun the query using the word I actually entered. But the point is that the search was “relaxed.”

The purpose of semantic expansion is a variation of Endeca’s facets. The idea is that a key word belongs to a category. If a system can identify a category, then the user can get more results by selecting the category and maybe finding something useful. Endeca’s wine demonstration makes this function and its value clear.

Today the semantic relaxing or adding broader terms or truncating a user’s query make it possible to show more results. Plus, the semantic relaxing allows Google to match more ads. If there’s a way to expand “anti fungicide” to “medicine” then the advertisers wanting to reach those interested in medical content can have their ad displayed.

Flipped around, the semantic relaxing means that the user get less useful results and sees more ads. The advertiser thinks he or she is getting the ad in front of a person whose search was directly related to the content of the ad.

Semantic relaxing is good for Google. For me, the irrelevance of Google’s search results is now par for the Google free golf course.

Why am I writing about this aspect of showing search results?

Navigate to “Google Tweaks Its Search Results to Show You More Variety.” Think about the number of advertisements which can be matched to “tweaked search results.” The change does zero for relevance. The change means that advertisers will have their ads displayed in contexts which are probably not going to result in the type of pay off advertisers experienced in the good old days of the Google.

The new approach is good for Google because as more ads are spewed in front of more eyeballs, there will be a tiny percentage of people who click on those ads out of curiosity, carelessness, or malice.

I prefer good old fashioned Boolean queries and unrelaxed results. Category labels are okay, but not used to generate more irrelevance, tedium, and annoyance with trying to find the cyber intelligence company which uses game lingo as a name.

Why not use a field code so one can separate cognates? Oh, right. That’s not what generates revenue. Money, not precision and recall, are important when search is free, editorial controls non existent, and relevance is an opaque series of functions designed to whittle down the ad inventory. I get it.

Stephen E Arnold, June10, 2019


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