Google Takes On…Wikipedia?

March 15, 2012

Google logoYesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported on some major changes coming to Google’s “Organic” search results in the next few months. Don’t worry, this isn’t a change to the algorithm that ranks search results, but rather an “enhancement” to the information displayed on the search results page. Instead of ads and links to websites containing what Google assumes to be the answer to your query, Google will begin displaying some of those answers right on the search results page. Google will use what it is calling “semantic search” to better understand the intent or meaning behind the words users input into the search query box. Backing up semantic search is years of data amassed in the past few years by Google users’ query behaviour.

So, why the change? Given that we’ve heard a lot from Google about Mobile in the past 12+ months, I think the reason is two-fold. First, predicting someone’s needs and providing those responses in a more accessible way on mobile searches is critical to keeping up with the lady we know and love as “Siri” from Apple.

Additionally, I’m sure Google would like to keep users on the search results page longer. Why send users elsewhere, and potentially away from paid ads, to read content that Google can provide right on the search page? In addition, many savvy internet users start their queries elsewhere, like Wikipedia, when they just want answers to specific questions. If Google brings those users to the search results page instead, provides them their initial answer as well as paid search links to further detail on these queries, ad revenue is likely to increase. While the use of “semantic search” isn’t being included in paid search initially, a version of it already exists. Check out “Broad Match (session based)” in the Google AdWords help centre:

Google blog post

This matching feature shows ads based on an individual user’s prior searches. So, let’s say you’re advertising a hotel in New York and a local user queries “New York Rental Car,” followed  by “New York Things To Do.” Your ad may show, based on Google’s inference, that this user is someone looking for travel-related things in New York. In theory, with the change to Google’s natural search results, after your first query you might get weather information, rental car links, hotel links, event links and more, along with relevant ads.

So what do we expect for retailers with this change? I would anticipate minimal impact to paid search initially. Maybe an uplift in Google Product Search as those search results are incorporated. If someone searches “Best Price On Dyson DC39 Animal,” wouldn’t it make sense for Google to go ahead and show the best price based on the products in Google Merchant accounts?

Blog post by Jackie Jenkins, Global Manager, Search Services


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