There’s a lot of reaction online to “news” that Google intends to roll out semantic search results. I first saw it in on the DailyMail website, then the Telegraph. Initially I was suspicious because it seemed like the “reporting” was thin on detail and simply reported what other people were saying. The original story seems to have come from the WSJ.
In a nutshell, Google is probably going to roll out more instant answers in response to questions typed into the search bar. It already does this, to a limited extent. If you type in “8 * 4″ into Google, you’ll see a page showing “32”…
Presumably, the next step is to attempt to parse the meaning of a question and immediately give a specific answer. For example, “what was the score at White Hart Lane last night”?
The reason for this new move seems to be to head-off the use of voice-activated semantic searches done by Siri on Apple’s iPhone4. As Google uses Android, it has some catching up to do in this area. Another clue is the purchase of Powerset by Microsoft in 2008, thereby giving it the potential to do semantic searches at Bing.
But what does this mean to us?
Well, it’s yet another set of keywords that will be “off limits” to webmasters. If Google directly answers the visitor’s question while they’re on Google, meaning they never see a traditional search results page, there’s no chance of a webmaster getting traffic.
What will the impact be?
Who knows how many questions Google will try to answer directly? Whatever the size of the query sub-set, it will be another percentage loss to webmasters. You can add it to all the “universal search” results such as Places, Maps, Shopping, Videos, Brands, News and others that clutter up the organic search results.
Of course, with 66% of searches online still done at Google, it’s their ball, and their ballpark. If webmasters want free traffic from Google, they have to accept that Google can change the rules as and when they like.