TECHNOLOGY

Google’s Search Changes: Should You Care?

Google's adding more semantic features to its search engine. Here's a reality check on what it might mean for your business.
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Google is in the middle of a long-term search engine rework that left some of the press positively breathless. "The changes to search are among the biggest in the company's history and could affect millions of websites that rely on Google's current page-ranking results" wrote The Wall Street Journal. Google is incorporating semantic search technology that should better understand the context in which search keywords appear.

Wow, sounds like heavy stuff. But if you're getting ready to overhaul your website, search engine marketing, and search advertising strategies, wait. Not only are there still too many questions of what the company will do differently, some experts wonder if what it does will really be a significant change after all.

Semantic Web expert Nova Spivack said in an email exchange with Inc.com that it sounded as though Google was talking about "answering questions intelligently" using "linguistic reasoning":

What I mean by this is that they are going to try to actually understand the meaning or intent of the query—and then simply use that to do a better, more relevant search.

Google could correlate social networking and personalization data about users as well as information about people, places, and things that it got when it acquired the open database Freebase. In theory, by understanding the content of websites and queries, Google should be able to deliver answers tailored to specific users.

Search expert Danny Sullivan at the blog SearchEngineLand wondered if this wasn't just a PR attempt on Google's part to counter perceptions that its results have gone downhill to some degree. As Sullivan points out, Google has worked for years on including semantic understanding of the contents of Web pages and of queries to achieve better-matched results.

Even the idea that Google might directly provide some answers to questions, rather than sending people to other websites, is not new. The search engine has been doing that for years, as well.

So what exactly is new here? Maybe not all that much. You could semantically mark up your website in anticipation of what Google might be doing. But while Google may be changing things in search, it's always doing that. No one ever really knows the impact until after it happens. So, as the meme goes, keep calm and carry on... with an eye on your website and ad metrics and the number of your SEO service provider. Just in case.

Last updated: Mar 22, 2012

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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