How Natural Language Processing in Search Impacts Small Businesses

Appearing near the top of search engine results used to be a largely keyword-driven affair: The more relevant your website’s content was to a given term, the higher it ranked for said term. Not anymore. Search algorithms used by the likes of Google Now, Google Glass, and Apple’s Siri now allow for queries phrased naturally, as in how people actually speak. This means small-business owners should start to approach online marketing differently.

According to Nathan Safran, director of research for the SEO platform Conductor, search engines used to rely on a database lookup model that required keywords. For instance, when people searched Google for “LCD TV,” its algorithm would find all of the pages that contained those terms. Because of this framework, users had to phrase queries “in a manner that mapped to a database lookup,” to get optimal results.

However, the natural language processing allows people to phrase queries as they typically would when asking questions of another person. Safran offers Siri as an example: The personal assistant for Apple’s mobile devices lets users ask questions and replies using voice recognition and casual speech. It draws on tools like WolframAlpha and Yelp to produce the majority of its search results, not currently Google or Bing.

Google Now, Google Glass, and the standard Google search accessible in your web browser is now powered by Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update, which enables its database to understand relationships between things.

“If you ask, ‘What’s the closest place to home to get a slice of pizza,’ Google will understand what you mean by ‘home’ (location), as well as the understanding what pizza refers to and return relevant results,” Safran says.

Google no longer returns results based solely on keywords searched. Its results also take into consideration the context in which the terms are used, such as your location (if applicable), and the relative meaning of keywords.

Key Small Business Takeaways

All of this means that small businesses should change how they approach online marketing. Safran says marketers can now make assumptions about Google’s understanding of relationships, which means it’s important to help the search engine understand how the various elements of your company’s website are interrelated, as well as how your content relates to your industry at large.

The key takeaway here is relevancy. “In the past we’d create content that mapped to a specific keyword,” Safran explains, “[but now] we are more focused on creating content that (a) users find valuable/relevant and (b) demonstrates to the search engines that our content is relevant.”

The two-pronged approach considers readers and search engines. Attracting readers to your website, of course, is a matter of creating high-quality content that’s engaging (informative or entertaining or, preferably, both). Capturing the search engine’s attention means creating “good site maps, intuitive site structure, verbiage, and titles,” Safran says.

Ultimately, Google aims to create a positive experience for its users by delivering the highest-quality, most relevant search results. The more you do to serve up content that falls in line with its approach, the higher your search engine results are likely to be.

About Brenda Barron

Brenda Barron is a writer from Southern California. She specializes in discussing how technology and social media are used in business practices. Her work has appeared at The Motley Fool, The Content Standard, and Post Joint. You can find out more about her at Digital Inkwell. You can also follow her on Twitter and Google+
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