NASHVILLE, TN – Until recently, Google users typed in search queries, and a neat list of blue links popped up. Within these links, users hoped to find answers to their questions.
But what if the information they’re searching for is fact? What if they’re searching for the capital of Spain? Google now wants to tell people these factual answers without needing to click away to another website.
On March 15, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google would phase its search results into more semantic modes. If you’ve ever used Wolphram Alpha, you have an idea of what this means. For Google users, when you type “2+2” into the query bar, you’ll now get the answer “4” instead of a link to a webpage that can help you find that answer. If you type certain words into the query bar, the definition will pop up even before you finish the word. When I typed “tumultuous” and “lethargic,” Google gave me definitions. However, no definitions appeared when I tried “general” and “advice.”
“Google isn’t replacing its current keyword-search system, which determines the importance of a website based on the words it contains, how often other sites link to it, and dozens of other measures,” WSJ reporter Amir Efrati writes. “Rather, the company is aiming to provide more relevant results by incorporating technology called ‘semantic search,’ which refers to the process of understanding the actual meaning of words.”
Is this new?
When I told my computer programmer husband of this change, he replied that Google’s been doing that for a while. Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan agrees. Sullivan’s March 15 post goes through the WSJ article, wondering why it’s news.
“As for ‘spitting out’ those ‘facts and direct answers’ that the WSJ story talks about, Google’s been doing that for so long that it’s hard for me to even know exactly when it all began,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan believes that Google is trying to offset criticisms to Search Plus Your World, as many people were worried that search results would lose quality from this personalized search change. “It’s helpful to counter that type of bad PR with interviews talking up forward-looking technologies,” says Sullivan.
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Efrati writes, “the move could spur millions of websites to retool their Web page—by changing what’s called a ‘markup language’—so the search engine could more easily locate them under the new system,” said Larry Cornett, a former Web-search executive at Yahoo Inc.
Boiled down, Google’s going to be answering more things on its own, meaning that websites may experience fewer visits. Websites such as Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia may take hits, but relevant, focused content will still bring in visits.
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