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Semantic Search: A Brief Overview


March 27th, 2022 07:23

What is semantic search?

Semantic search has been around since the start of the 21st century. Before semantic search, the internet showed us links because of the keywords that matched in the search query. With semantic search, the internet now delivers straightforward answers which are directly linked to the question in the search query.

Tim Bernes Lee, popularly referred to as the father of the internet, explained that semantic search is a process of using mathematics to do away with guesswork and approximation to pave the way for a clearer understanding of what is being looked for in the search box.

You can also read:

Tips To Write Better Content: An In-Depth Guide

Let us break this down and understand what semantic search really is:

I tried this vague query which can be obviously understood by any human that I am looking for Rubeus Hagrid from the Harry Potter books. But the beauty of semantic search is that even the search engine is able to understand my query and deliver the desired result.

At its heart, semantic search is concerned with understanding the real object of the search query. Let’s see why semantic search is so important for search engines 

Different ways to look for the same answer

  • Like here I have searched for Dumbledore in FOUR completely different ways. The results displayed understood the context of my query and gave me my answer.


Searches can be ambiguous 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Wingardium Leviosa - YouTube

  • English is a funny language. Words can sound the same and have different spellings or have the same spellings and still have different meanings. A word as simple as set has 430 meanings listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. 
  • Semantic search solves this dilemma as it looks at the context of the query and not just individual words. For instance, a broom can mean different things in the context of regular use and in Hogwarts.

Words in a sentence can have different meanings depending on the relations 

  • Search engines not only focus on the words but also the possible relationships that words can have with each other and what the user’s intent is behind putting this sentence together in the search query.

Other considerations in semantic search 

  • Apart from understanding the intent and meaning behind a query, semantic search also takes into account the following:
  1. Your search history
  2. Your location
  3. Global trends in search
  4. Local trends in search
  5. Variations in spellings

The journey of semantic search and its impact 

  • For an SEO professional, semantic search is crucial in improving the ranking of the webpage and boosting traffic and clicks. Google introduced Snippets in 2012 to allow users to discover new information quickly. Moreover, through Knowledge Graph, Google shows rich results which are more relevant to the query placed. As they put it, Knowledge Graph lets you:
  1. Find the right result
  2. Get the best summary
  3. Do a deeper and broader research 
  • In 2013, Google launched Hummingbird which focused on search engines matching the context and not just the keywords. RankBrain, an upgrade to Hummingbird, was launched in 2015 which included Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to provide better search results.
  • Semantic search has impacted the way users interact with the search engine. Voice search has become possible because of semantic search and users are relying more and more on the web search for the simplest of queries. 
  • In 2019, Google was visited over 62 billion times. It is also impacting the way businesses operate. Websites are offering a better user experience and businesses are getting a better platform for discussion among consumers.  

Tips to optimize on lines of semantic search 

Topics and themes

  • Topics and themes should also be as important as keywords. Your content must be comprehensive enough to be recognized by the search engine algorithm. This will ensure that the search engine shows your results to the user.

Change the way you identify keywords

  • Keywords are not just individual words but also combinations of words forming different sentences that can answer queries. For example, a person looking for ways to do a thing will look for how to. So, your keywords must include different combinations around how to.

Include related keywords

  • These will help the search engines algorithm to understand the context of your content and list you in its results. 

Optimize your webpage

  • This should be done in order to feature on Google Snippets. Google Snippets are the best display of semantic search where Google shows content to users on the Search Engine Result Page itself. 


Semantic search has transformed the way SEO specialists look at their content. With this article, I hope that you can now align your content with the norms of semantic search and optimize it for better SEO ranking. 

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Frequently asked questions 

1. Does Google use the semantic search feature?

  • Google and other search engines use semantic search techniques where the emphasis is not just on keywords but also on the meaning and context of the query.

2. Why is semantic search important?

  • Semantic search is important because it gives more meaningful and personalized results, leading to a better experience for users. 

3. Is semantic search AI?

  • AI is now used for semantic search as it brings sophistication to search results and helps in the automatic upgrade of the program.

4. When did semantic search begin?

  • The idea of semantic search has been around since 2001 when research by Tim Bernes Lee was published in the Scientific American journal. Although the paper laid down a general idea of how semantic search can work, Google launched Hummingbird in 2013 which marked the beginning of the use of semantic search.

5. How can I find semantic keywords?

You can find semantic keywords on:

  • Google Ads
  • Google Trends
  • Google Search Results
  • Websites that track SEO trends
  • Google-related search suggestions.

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