Natural Language Search and what does it mean from an SEO perspective

When was the last time you asked Google to “drive you home” and it knew exactly what to do? Or have you ever typed an entire conversational sentence in the search engine and received precise results with extra information on what you are looking for? Natural language search is a change to the algorithm that will make searches more conversational by understanding word relationships better. For example, if you type “Who was the Finance Minister when India adopted globalization” Google will understand your intent as looking for members of Indian parliament.

google voice search screenshot

You receive a concise, well placed, and easy-to-read result with the answer to your query accentuated in bigger, bolder letters along with extra information on the year of liberalization and the Prime Minister who was on duty during that time.

This change could cause us to rethink how we classify our content on websites or blogs because these changes impact how well-known pages rank in the SERPs.

Let us try again. Search for “what’s going on with ufc”. You will immediately find the details of the events, schedules, matches and their outcomes so far, some pictures, and a list of other commonly asked questions on the topic.

google natural language search screenshot

This is achieved with the use of Natural Language Processing.

What is Natural Language Processing?

Natural Language Processing or NPL is a machine learning concept that states that given enough data and the right technology for it, machines have the capability to read and understand everyday conversational languages and communicate with us as well.

If you have been on the internet for a long time now, you most likely know the drill! Break down your query into a couple of what you think are the most important words in it (keywords), plug them in, and hope to find a nearly relevant result. This keyword-based search is slowly being replaced, or should we say, advanced into Natural Language Search.

Natural Language Search is when you make use of everyday conversational language to communicate with the search engines. This advanced technology is personalized and precise. It incorporates connecting words like “the, of, and, or” etc. and hence is less ambiguous for a consumer as compared to the keyword search.

The first prototype of Natural language Search

Did you know that the idea for an NLS has been around for over 50 years now? One of the earliest uses of this is by Ask Jeeves. A website in the lines of an encyclopedia, it covered topics under the umbrella of Geography, Science, History, and more. It encouraged people to frame their queries in a conversational manner. Unfortunately, it was way ahead of its time and did not gain the traction it would have in present-day times. Over time, Google, Bing, and other search engines began using this technology to make the customer experience more seamless and interactive.

Now, one common but not often answered question is “why would I make the effort to type an entire sentence when I throw in relevant words and find information?”

This can be attributed to the increasing popularity of virtual assistants like Google, Alexa, Siri, and more. It is simply a lot more convenient and natural to communicate with them in a colloquial manner. These assistants also have inbuilt languages and netizens can interact with them in their native language.

Moreover, a keyword search may not always give us the results or the information we are looking for. Content creators incorporate a set of keywords that they think are relevant to the article which may or may not always be the case and as SEO works, you will only be shown articles that have the keywords you typed in.

What happens in the backend? How are machines able to understand us?

Let us break down the process for you and put it in a simple manner.

When you call your virtual assistant by its name, say “Ok Google/ Hey Siri/ Alexa/ Hey Cortana/ Hey Bixby”, the device is activated and ready to record your voice. It then makes a voice note out of it which is sent to a speech-to-text interface which in turn filters any background noise and makes a proper text out of it.

The search engine then analyzes this text using Natural Language Processing and looks for any mention of people, place, a group, or any other data that would help it de-ambiguities the queries and break them down into components and converts them into elements that it better understands.

For instance, if we consider the above example of India’s Finance Minister during globalization, the machine does away with words like “who, was, during” etc. and holds to keywords like Indian, Finance Minister, and Globalization. It now knows that it needs to search for a file of Finance Ministers in its database who fulfil the conditions of a file by the name Indian and has taken initiative during Globalization. Such breaking down of queries into a group of files is called Named Entity Recognition.

Once the search engine finds relevant data, it compiles it into an answer and sends it back to a text-to-speech API which in turn will convert it into a proper phrased sentence and sends it back to you in the form of an answer along with some related trivia.

natural language processing flowchart

The use of Natural Language Search has made internet usage so much simpler for everyone as people can receive information on the go and almost instantly.

What does Natual language Search mean to a content creator and for SEO

Content Creators are heavily dependent on SEO to give their blogs a better reach. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a process that evaluates content on the internet and ranks it according to its standards. A higher ranked blog or article is the one that is shown to a consumer at first glance and the one that they will most likely click to read. Naturally, a higher SEO ranking means more reach.

Natural Language Processing is changing the way SEO works which in turn has a great impact on the content that is being created off-late. Here’s what a content creator must keep in mind to design NPL friendly content-

No more black-hat SEO

Many times, creators incorporate a lot of keywords, unnecessarily repeat phrases, and build multiple links to have their articles and blogs better ranked by SEO. This practice is called Black-Hat SEO.

Because of the advent of NPL, search engines are now not appreciating this and ranking articles based on the value they offer.

Create content for the consumer

It must be a no-brainer that any content on the internet must be consumer-focused. However, in their need for wanting a better SEO ranking, creators often churn content that is not of much help to the consumer or has repetitive phrases as we discussed earlier. Since the search is more natural language-oriented now, creators must design content that is easy to consume, adds value, and gives the consumer what he or she wants without unnecessary dilly-dallying in the name of ranking.

Use a conversational tone in your blog

Incorporating conversational phrases and sentences in your blogs will help you gain more traction. You will, however, need to do thorough and accurate research on how a person communicates. What kind of questions do they pose? What is the sentence structure? How are they most likely to speak? These are some of the questions that need to be answered and content must be created accordingly.

This brings us to-

Create content that answers questions

Since more often than not, a consumer poses a question and the search engine provides an answer, it is beneficial to structure your content in a manner that sounds like an answer to these questions. This will allow the search engine to recognize the data immediately and present it to the consumer.

Incorporate voice search

People are always on the go! They prefer anything that will make their interaction with a website easier and offers the information they are looking for instantly. When consumers have a “get it and be done with it” attitude, they would appreciate a voice search feature on a website so they can simply speak their query and hear the answer.

natural language search in marketing

In Conclusion

SEO is still very much the backbone of content creation on the internet. Only, the way it functions is changing and it will keep evolving over and over with time. We have written a blog about writing SEO friendly blogs for a better SEO ranking. Do give it a read!

What do you think about Natural Language Search? Has it made your life easier? What do you think the future for this will be like? Let us know in the comments section below and stay tuned with us for more digital, media, technology, and marketing-related content.

The Purple Papaya Blog

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