Today, keywords still play a significant role in search habits, and in how Google and other search engines deliver search results. The trend, however, is moving further and further away from this, especially on Google's side. Google wants to become less dependent on keywords, and gradually doing so.
Do you see this trend as a problem or a potential problem to your online marketing efforts? Tell us what you think.
When Google launched the Knowledge Graph, it was clear how proud the company's engineers and executives are of what they have put together.
Google's Matt Cutts proclaimed, "It’s another step away from raw keywords (without knowing what those words really mean) toward understanding things in the real-world and how they relate to each other. The knowledge graph improves our ability to understand the intent of a query so we can give better answers and search results.”
SInce then, Google has made numerous enhancements to the Knowledge Graph, and has tweaked its algorithm in other ways that would seem to indicate a decreased dependence on keywords. In fact, there have probably been a number of changes related to this that we don't even know about because Google stopped publishing their monthly lists of algorithm updates for some reason.
Then there's search-by-voice and conversational search.
Google put out a pretty interesting Webmaster Help video this week in which Cutts discusses voice search's impact on searcher behavior. In response to the question, "How has query syntax changed since voice search has become more popular?" Cutts talks about the trends that Google is seeing.
"It's definitely the case that if you have something coming in via voice, people are more likely to use natural language," says Cutts. "They're less likely to use like search operators and keywords and that sort of thing. And that's a general trend that we see. Google wants to do better at conversational search, and just giving your answers directly if you're asking in some sort of a conversational mode."
While search-by-voice is certainly a growing trend on mobile, Google, as you may know, recently launched its conversational search feature for the desktop, and improvements to that shouldn't be far off.
Cutts continues, "At some point, we probably have to change our mental viewpoint a little bit, because normally if you add words onto your query, you're doing an 'and' between each of those words, and so as you do more and more words, you get fewer and fewer results, because fewer and fewer documents match those words. What you would probably want if you have spoken word queries is the more that you talk, the more results you get because we know more about it, and so you definitely have to change your viewpoint from 'it's an and of every single word' to trying to extract the gist - you know, just summarize what they're looking for, and that matching that overall idea."
Good luck trying to optimize for gist.
"If you take it to a limit, you can imagine trying to do a query to Google using an entire document or you know, a thousand words or something like that," Cutts adds. "And rather than match only the documents that had all thousand of those words, ideally, you'd say, 'Okay, what is the person looking for? Maybe they're telling you an awful lot about this topic, but try to distill down what the important parts are, and search for that.' And so it's definitely the case that query syntax has changed. I think it will continue to change. You know, we allow people to query by images. You can search for related images by dragging and dropping a picture on Google Image Search. So people want to be able to search in all kinds of ways. They don't want to think about keywords if they can avoid it, and I think over time, we'll get better and better at understanding that user's intent whenever we're trying to match that up and find the best set of information or answers or documents - whatever it is the user's looking for."
These days, Google is pretty hit and miss on the relevancy front when it comes to voice search, but I have no doubt that it will continue to improve rapidly. It's already gotten significantly better than it was in earlier days.
Can you optimize for gist? How will you adjust your SEO strategy as Google moves further and further away from keywords? Let us know in the comments.