Google’s New Synonyms Search

Minie Ng

The goal of a search engine is to return the best results to its users for their search queries.   To do that, it is important for search engines to understand its users’ language and understanding synonyms is a part of Google’s approach to it.

What are synonyms?  They are words with the same or nearly the same meaning.  Take words like “photos” and “pictures” for example, we use these words almost interchangeably.

Google’s new implementation considers that users typing in a search using words for “photos” may actually be interested in the results for “pictures” as well.

To test out this system, I carried out a search for [pictures taken by iPhone] and you can see below that Google also includes relevant results for “photos”, the synonym for “pictures”.

Google Synonym Search Example

However, do note that “photos” may not always be a good synonym for the word “pictures” all the time.  Take a search for “motion pictures” for example.  It is important for the system to understand and differentiate the usage.  In this instance, “motion pictures” would mean a specific genre of movies and replacing the synonym of “pictures” into “motion photos” would not make much sense and the search results would probably be totally irrelevant to the user.

This development has been in the works for more than 5 years now and while it is far from perfect, Google is encouraging users to provide feedback to inspire improvements.

So how have they been performing so far?  Quoting from Google’s blog on 19 January 2010:

“Most of the time, you probably don’t notice when your search involves synonyms, because it happens behind the scenes.  However, our measurements show that synonyms affect 70 percent of user searches across the more than 100 languages Google supports. We took a set of these queries and analyzed how precise the synonyms were, and were happy with the results: For every 50 queries where synonyms significantly improved the search results, we had only one truly bad synonym.”

How does it affect  SEO?

In my opinion, other than the obvious benefit of improving search quality for Google users, this new implementation further emphasizes that Google is constantly seeking out good, relevant natural content.  I hope that this new implementation would encourage SEO copywriters to avoid unethical keywords stuffing but instead, craft out good natural content using a variety of keywords and phrases.

With that, I look forward to update you the next time with more great implementations from Google.

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