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April 25, 2007

Google’s Last Dance! Could Semantic Search Mean the End of Google?

As a full-time online marketer and webmaster I try to keep my eyes peeled to what is happening with the search engines. These complex creatures control the Internet. They truly are the heart, soul and brains of the web.

Unfortunately, they also control the faith of many struggling webmasters who are clawing their way to the top of SERPs in organic search. Being listed on these first page results for your chosen keyword phrases is the ultimate goal and it is often the determining factor in the success of your site.

Recently, I have noticed some strange movements with my closely watched keywords, especially in Google. Which shouldn’t alarm anyone because there are often sudden movements and adjustments as Google tweaks and refines its algorithm, the complex series of formulas it uses to determine which pages and sites get featured.

(Ed. note: An excellent resource on Google’s Algorithm and ranking factors can be found at: http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors#f41

It’s way too early to jump to any conclusions but the big question on everyone’s mind: Is Google Moving Towards Semantic Search?

Or more precisely will Google have to move to semantic search if it has any chance of surviving in our ‘here today – gone tomorrow’ search world. Most of us old folks can easily recall a pre-Google web. Is a post-Google web possible?

That’s very hard to swallow but stranger things have happened on the net. But the real question should be: will Google have to embrace semantic search or perish?

Wikipedia defines Semantic Search or Semantic Web as the evolving process of taking all the content on the world wide web and “expressing it not only in natural language, but also in a förm that can be understood, interpreted and used by software agents, thus permitting them to find, share and integrate information more easily.”

As can be imagined, finding the formats and framework by which all this data can be processed into meaningful responses directly related to a search enquiry is mind boggling. Technologies such as RDF (Resource Description Framework), data interchange formats (e.g. RDF/XML, Turtle, N3, N-Triples), RDFS (RDF Schema) and OWL (Web Ontology Language) will all probably play a role. Many believe microformats will be very important in this evolving semantic web.

New Semantic Search Engine

We now have our first search engine supposedly based on semantics or meaning: Hakia. Is it the first in a whole new wave of search engines generated and powered by the Semantic Web which is now tagged as Web 3.0? More importantly, can it compete against a more text based search engine such as Google?

Hakia has some great features such as highlighting potential answers to your posted question. For example, ask it a question like: What is the population of Seattle? And you will get an answer. But you will also get a gallery page featuring all the relevant information about Seattle: How to get there? Local Hotels, Restaurant Guides, Local Weather…

Of course, do the same search in Google and you will also find your information along with images and maps of Seattle. However, using Hakia will show you the relevant information faster because it is highlighted and easier to find. And in my opinion having a whole gallery page of information somehow makes your search more relevant and useful.

Can Google Compete?

Is this a better mousetrap? Maybe, maybe not… but it is definitely pointing the way to a better method of searching on the web.

Granted, this type of search engine has a long way to go to match Google’s massive resources and obvious dominance in the search market. But even the most devoted Google user like myself must admit Google’s method of ranking pages and content on the web is not without some flaws. Take for example the issue of Google Bombing where different webmasters influenced the listing of the keyword ‘miserable failure’ to point to President Bush.

Google has now solved that problem but Google is basically an elitist system where sites and content are judged by the PR ranking system and its algorithm and filters. One would like to believe it is a democratic system where the best and highest quality content rises to the top. One would like to…

Information is one thing but opinions and the quality of those opinions is something entirely different. Will the new semantic web/search be able to judge quality content and rank it as good as Google presently does?

Problems For Webmasters

Regardless of how the whole Semantic Web scenario plays out, it may have some consequences for webmasters and marketers. At least in the initial stages until you can adjust or optimize your sites to this new 400 pound Gorilla on the block.

One major concern is how will the literal translation or semantic meaning of your site’s title and URL determine your placement in a semantically themed search engine? Most webmasters know to place their major keywords in their site’s domain name but, if you cover many topics within your site, this is not always possible.

Plus, does a Semantic Web mean everything will probably have to be tagged to the nth degree as we are seeing in blogs, social media and Web 2.0? Thankfully this can be easily done with free software such as WordPress which has tagging already built into its programming.

If we do get truly semantic search, wouldn’t on page factors play an even greater role for ranking? Special care would have to be taken as regards to your keywords and keyword variations. Great care will also have to be taken with page Titles, Meta Tags and your URLS.

I notice I am listed in Hakia for certain keywords but those have the direct phrases in the URLS.

Keen observers will also note that Google is now listing five or six related links in the number one SERPs position for certain keyword phrases. All these links come from the same site but are they more semantically related to the search enquiry than traditional links we have seen in Google? Or are they more in line with the gallery pages we see in Hakia?

Of course, jumping to any conclusions based on just one or two examples is foolhardy to say the least. Especially where search engines are concerned.

Brave New Internet

No doubt, Semantic Search or a Semantic Web poses some difficult obstacles and challenges as we seek a more human response from all those bits and bytes. For example, will semantic search mean we will have more closely focused sites strictly sticking to the topic of the url or domain name. Will the semantic web be more restricting than liberating?

When it is all said and done, will we really be able to devise a computer/machine/system that will be able to truly interpret the vast stored knowledge and give us the right meaningful answers to our questíons? Will it be able to be programmed so it’s human enough to not only understand but also interpret the subtle differences and meanings we have for different words in the whole context of a webpage?

Perhaps the most intriguing question, can someone take the present day ‘www index’ and then apply microformats or even new technology to this massive data and build a supplemental exclusive extension of the present day web? Turn it into a more semantic ‘natural language search’ accessible index. If such a gigantic feat was even feasible, you would also have to wonder who could have the resources to make such a creature possible!

As we have seen from Google a dance is not necessarily a dance and a slap is not necessarily a slap. Could an index be more than an index? It may be too early to tell, but Google will probably be better equipped to quickly adjust than anyone to this new Semantic Web whatever shape or form it takes.

Author:  Titus Hoskins is a full-time online marketer. For the latest and most effective web marketing tools try: Internet Marketing Software Or for the most powerful marketing software try: Internet Marketing Tools

21 Responses to “Google’s Last Dance! Could Semantic Search Mean the End of Google?

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