Natural language search has been around for quite a while – ever use AskJeeves.com or WolframAlpha? But the shift from keyword-based search to natural language comprehension has gained much more attention since the release of virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri and mobile search applications such as Google Now in 2012.
Throughout 2013, other tech giants have made moves to accommodate the growing natural language search trend as well. In March, Facebook released their natural language search engine Graph Search. Then in August Google announced Hummingbird, their latest search algorithm update. Both Graph Search and Hummingbird aim to not only understand what the searcher is asking but provide accurate and relevant search results to them. With the announcement yesterday that Yahoo has acquired natural language processing technology SkyPhase (most likely to keep up with competitors), it’s time to discuss what exactly natural language search is all about.
Understanding Different Searches
First, it’s important to understand the differences between keyword-based search, semantic search, and natural language search. Traditionally, search engine algorithms aimed to provide search results based on matching keywords in the query to website content with the same terms in it. Search results were based on what keywords were found in the query so the user had to adapt their search terms then sift through a list of results in order to find what they were looking for.
Search engines want their users to find the information they are seeking as quickly as possible. Over time, as search engines started to learn more about user behavior as it related to search, they evolved their algorithms to help users find their answers faster. Semantic search, according to Mashable, “seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable dataspace to generate more relevant results.” Instead of focusing on keywords, semantic search attempts to provide search results to the user based on what the search engine thinks they meant to search for.
For example, let’s say a user types in the following queries:
- “Who is the President of the United States?”
- “How old is he?”
Traditional keyword-based search would not be able to answer the second question. But a semantic understanding of the query would because it understands that the question is about the President of the United States (even though those words are not included in the query). By formulating a semantic meaning of the search query, search engines are able to introduce and improve rich search experiences like natural language search.
According to Pew Internet, as of May 2013 56% of American adults own a smartphone. Verbally requesting information from virtual assistants and mobile applications is where the majority of natural language search queries come from. Increasing adoption rates of mobile devices has changed search user behavior and has been a major driver of the evolution of search.
What Does Any of This Have to do With Healthcare Marketing?
Organic search traffic to your healthcare organization’s website is directly impacted by changes in search engine user behavior and the algorithms used to serve up results. If your site isn’t optimized for natural language search the revenue generated by your website will decrease as you have less organic search traffic finding your site.
Healthcare marketers can optimize their websites for natural language search by:
- Helping search engines understand what content is on your Web page (schema.org microdata).
- Creating authoritative content that shows your organization as a trustworthy source of information.
- Optimizing your site for mobile users with a responsive website design.
- Consider formatting some content into questions and answers.
- Thinking about the end user and what they are asking by avoiding medical jargon and keeping the language simple.
Need help understanding the impact natural language search is having on your healthcare website search traffic? Contact Geonetric today.