What Is Semantic Search and How Does It Benefit My Business?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how semantic search improves search engine results. Get answers to many questions you might have and discover how semantic search might make your business better.

[Featured Image] A woman performs a semantic search on her laptop in her home office.

Semantic search is an evolution in search engine technology and an effective solution to the complexity of internet searches. Using elements like context and user intent, it matches queries and content. 

Getting to know about semantic search can help you stay up to date with current search trends and reap any future benefits. Use this guide to learn more about what a semantic search entails and explore who uses semantic search and the elements that guide it. You can also discover how it works, how it differs from keyword searches, why it's important for users, and more.

When you type a query into a search engine, semantic search attempts to understand the context of your search and your intent for searching to deliver the most relevant results. Semantic search platforms depend on two types of artificial intelligence (AI). These include natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML).

Google and other search engines use semantic search to provide users with more accurate and relevant search results. Companies use semantic search to boost market visibility, increase sales, and more.

Additional applications of semantic search include:

  • Establishment of centralized business directories for various companies and their employees

  • Archival of academic or legal research

  • Organization of current news articles and archival of older news

  • Integration of automated customer tools like chatbots and voice search into business websites.

Three key elements help guide search algorithms to make semantic searches more intuitive. These elements include context, meaning, and intent. 

Context: How a particular search may be different for you than for another user based on data like preferences, geographical location, and previous user behavior

Meaning: How the search engine finds what you're looking for based on the meaning of your search terms

Intent: The purpose of your search (for example, to get information, find a web page, buy something, etc.)

How does semantic search work?

As mentioned, semantic search uses NLP and ML to process search queries. While NLP works to understand the meaning of the search terms, ML helps detect patterns in data specific to a particular user. When combined, these processes work to comprehend the meaning of the query and the intent behind it to deliver the proper search results. For instance, if you've noticed that Google has gotten better lately at delivering the search results you want, you can thank semantic search.

How does semantic search differ from keyword search?

To understand semantic search better, it helps to know how it differs from keyword search. Basically, a keyword search matches the words in a query. The results of a keyword search might produce listings featuring:

  • Exact search words or parts of words

  • Synonyms of search words

  • Words that look similar to search words

While this type of search can produce varied results, semantic search offers more precision than keyword searches. It attempts to decipher your intent and match the contextual meaning of your search terms, not the terms themselves.

For instance, if you type "yellow tablet" into a search engine, keyword results might include paper tablets, electronic tablets, and medicine tablets in various shades of yellow. Semantic search analyzes elements like your past user interactions, searches, and preferences to figure out precisely what you mean, a process called personalization. Semantic search may also analyze all searches for yellow tablets and narrow down the meaning of this search based on data such as:

  • The type of yellow tablets searched most often

  • The type of yellow tablets usually searched at this time of year

  • The type of yellow tablets searched most often in your geographical area

Why is semantic search important for users?

Whether you need to locate a certain recipe, find a news article on a particular topic, or buy a product, you don't want to spend hours sifting through various web pages or sites. Semantic search offers a variety of important ways to make your searches easier and more pleasant. 

Common benefits of semantic search for users include:

  • High-quality search results

  • Quick search results

  • Ability to comprehend vague or incomplete queries

  • Ability to process chatbot or voice queries

  • Enjoyable user experience

Because semantic search algorithms get better with more and more data, they should offer even greater benefits over time.

How does semantic search benefit my business?

By providing quicker, more accurate searches, your customers have an easier time finding what they're looking for, which can result in greater customer satisfaction and higher sales. Improving the quality of content on your site can help bring more traffic to your pages and raise customer engagement.

Primary advantages businesses may experience include:

  • Broader reach for improved visibility beyond targeted customers

  • Expanded brand recognition

  • Ability to build stronger customer relationships

  • Improved user experience 

  • Shortened consumer path from search to purchase 

  • A widened pool of interested buyers

You can enjoy the benefits of semantic search for your business by optimizing SEO. To make semantic SEO work better for you, it helps to improve your content. 

Consider these strategies:

  • Know your target audience and adjust content accordingly.

  • Understand a user's intent for a search. For instance, do they want to buy a product, learn about a service, or locate a local brick-and-mortar store?

  • Provide targeted information based on user searches.

  • Emphasize topical themes instead of keywords.

  • Create clear, interesting, and natural-sounding content.

  • Increase the length of your content to add depth.

  • Establish industry authority by including vetted internal and external links.

  • Refresh web pages regularly to ensure easy navigation.

Getting started on Coursera

To develop a deeper understanding of search marketing and SEO, consider taking the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialization on Coursera offered by the knowledgeable staff at the University of California, Davis. This five-course series provides a general understanding of Google SEO, including updates to search engine algorithms and best optimization strategies. 

You'll also get hands-on experience using SEO tools and engaging in tasks like analyzing a web page, developing buyer personas, and creating site maps. At just 10 hours per week, you can complete this Specialization in about three months.

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