Google is forcing you to change your thinking

SearchIf you run a Search Engine Optimization business it is time to close it down and do something else. Google is about to change the game dramatically. But if you don’t run a SEO firm, you still have to change. The shift in what Google is doing is of seismic proportions and will require anyone doing business online to radically re-think what they are doing.

For several years Google – and other search engines – have been tinkering away on the whole notion of “semantic search“. This is the “holy grail” of search. Rather than searching for what you typed in, the search engine understands what you “mean” by your typing and presents results for that instead. For example, let’s imagine I typed in “book publishers reading”. At the moment, Google does not provide me with a list of book publishers based in Reading, UK. But the “new Google” would understand that with those three words, that’s what I meant.

The change is being introduced gradually by Google over the coming months. This means that not everyone will see it straight away and it may be towards the end of this year before your Google searches start including semantic results. But your customers and prospects could start getting semantic results any moment now. And that is going to be crucial for your business.

Already we know that the “number one” position is very attractive to searchers. Even though people do frequently go beyond the first page – much more frequently than SEO firms might tell you – the “number one” position is still the most popularly clicked on item. However, the “new number one” is going to become the semantic result; Google will present this before any other keyword-based listings. And that spells danger – real danger. Consider the “book publishers reading” examples. With semantic search, Google will know what you mean by those keywords and will discover that the real answer to your question lies on page 96 of a book which is a directory of UK publishers. When that kind of result is presented as number one, you won’t look elsewhere because it will be exactly what you want.

This presents two issues. Firstly, with the improved accuracy of semantic search results people will very rarely click on the keyword listings. They will get used to realising that the semantic result is almost always exactly what they want. Secondly, no amount of improving your Title Tags or other SEO fiddling will help. Google’s semantic system will be searching deep inside things in order to match meaning to results.

The result of all this will be the need to reconsider the way your business uses the web to attract business. Focusing on SEO as the key pastime of website owners will die – except for Pay Per Click, thereby costing you even more money. Google will be looking so far inside your site it means your content will finally be King. But that content will have to be high quality in order to answer the questions semantic search raises. So we can also wave goodbye to those mass-produced sites with articles and blog posts of dubious quality and those which have been “spun” to say the same thing using different words, often with grammatical errors.

So, what does this mean for your business? It means you can no longer think of the web simply as a promotional tool. It means you have to think of it as an information tool – and that means your business has to focus on providing up-to-date, relevant and useful information. You can soon forget keywords.

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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones

@grahamjones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
RT @SteveHeadSpeaks: Thanks to @GuidesForBrides for having @ChrisHeadMagic at #ukwedconf @MiltonHillhotel learning from the best @grahamjon - 2 hours ago
Graham Jones

9 thoughts on “Google is forcing you to change your thinking

  1. Hi Graham
    I hope you’re well.
    Thank you for an interesting and enjoyable article. I agree with much of it but perhaps you have a deeper belief in Google’s abilities (and motivations) than I do, you say:
    “Firstly, with the improved accuracy of semantic search results people will very rarely click on the keyword listings. They will get used to realising that the semantic result is almost always exactly what they want.”
    But will they?
    Let’s first look at the concept of Google being so very clever that they know what we want before we do… two answers – Google+ and Google Local/Places. IMHO Google doesn’t – we don’t like Google+ and people don’t click on Google Places (if others have high CTRs from Places I’m interested to hear from them).
    The question of Google’s willingness and ability to deliver what people want is probably best covered by the post written by the most recent senior ex-Googler – http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jw_on_tech/archive/2012/03/13/why-i-left-google.aspx
    The fundamental issue is – if Google gives every searcher exactly what they’re looking for in the first organic place Google’s revenue will dry up in an instant; Google has a (huge) vested interest in presenting us with ‘almost’ the right answer – it’s why Adwords exists.
    And Adwords is why Google exists.
    Presenting us consistently with exactly what we want rather is where the opportunity lies for Google’s successor…

    • Thanks for your comment G. I agree that Google has had its ups and downs; indeed I have been a strong critic of their attempts at social networks. But one thing Google does understand is mathematical algorithms more than people. And they have been working on semantic algorithms for a decade now. They also understand keyword auctions to generate review and that is why semantic search is fundamental to their future. If they get it right they will almost always deliver exactly what we want in the organic side of the results page, meaning we will not need to look further down. Because the search will almost always be right (at the moment it is more frequently wrong than right) then we will use Google more. And then they will be able to drive all the keyword obsessed companies to AdWords. By getting semantic right, Google will drive higher revenues – but only from businesses not prepared to play the organic game of creating information-based content. No-one else is even close to Google’s semantic abilities.

      • We’re 100% agreed on Google being better with algos than people – think of Google as an American savant billionaire and you’re on the mark IMHO.
        I think your possibly right – in theory – semantic search is a cool idea but GOOG will make more money by selling us on the idea of semantic whilst selling our search history to the highest bidder – Google became billionaires selling classified ads… the bit that’s not rocket science.
        If people wanted a better search engine they’d just go to duckduckgo rather than google – search there for savant or mustang and you’ll see a perfectly useful improvement right now – no semantic required.
        Returning to the title of your post:
        ‘Google is forcing you to change your thinking’ – the world we be a much slightly place if just a few people could assert their individuality and try a few search alternatives… possibly ones that are ethical enough to pay tax here in the UK.

  2. I also agree with the comment that Google cannot understand how each of us is really thinking when we type in a query, or the type of information we’re after.

    Here’s a good example. I was recently searching for ‘kenwood’ (mixers) on Google and Google presented me with a travel company called Kenwood. I had to adjust my search to get to the Kenwood mixers site. But I could equally have been looking for Kenwood hi-fis or Kenwood House in London. How could a computer algorithm ever know that?

    There’s far more to SEO than just keywords too. Site architecture is a key part of SEO and directing visitors around a website in a clear, understandable way. Any content created on a site or blog still needs to be found wherever the audience is, whether browsing within a website, via the search engines or social networks. 

    I think SEO will still have an important part to play in the foreseeable future.

    • Sam, your example is a good one which shows just how basing a strategy on keywords alone is not good enough for businesses. However, Google’s new semantic system will ATTEMPT to make the distinctions between the various uses of the word Kenwood. Semantic algorithms have been the subject of much “behind the scenes” research between mathematicians, engineers and psychologists for 20 years or more now. Google has been doing it for over a decade and clearly they reckon they must be pretty close to being able to make it workable if they are launching it in the coming months ahead. Strange as it may seem, a computer will be able to work out what people actually mean when they type something. One way, for instance, is that words that are spelled the same have different meanings which can be spotted by typing speeds – when the word means one thing we tend to type it in a different way than when the same word means something else. Distinguishing features like this will help semantic algorithms work out what we mean.

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