Wolfram Alpha - The semantic search leaderDo you know what Wolfram Alpha is? Don’t worry if you answered “no”, you are far from alone. With the tag line “Computational Knowledge Engine”, its not a product that has been positioned for the masses. That changed a a year and a half ago when Apple introduced Siri. The reason is Wolfram Alpha powers a huge segment of what Siri does. Specifically, it is responsible for answering most of the general knowledge questions you ask her/it. For instance, if you ask Siri what the average snowfall is in Flagstaff, Arizona Wolfram Alpha processes your questions and gives the correct answers. It accomplishes this by gathering information from hundreds of thousands of data points — from weather to mathematical proofs and major/minor pentatonic scales. This is where the “Knowledge Engine” part comes from. Unlike Google it doesn’t search for things, it “knows” things and figures out the correct answer to gives you. This process is generally referred to as semantic search because it is based on understanding your search intent and the meaning of terms based on context and the words used, as opposed to looking for the exact verbiage used in a search query and providing matches.

siri users are searching semantically and don't even know itNow you may be wondering, “Dan what does this have to do with web marketing?”, and I’m glad you asked. Lots of people own iPhones. And as Google has been telling us for a while, over 50% of mobile searches have local intent. Since Apple has over 50% of the mobile market share that means that a significant number of mobile searchers have access to Siri. Even if only a fraction of those people are using Siri for search it is still a channel that should be optimized. But besides that, Apple has a large foot in the door of semantic search, which is something Google wants.

What does all this mean?


It means a change in what SEO even is. In the case of Google’s current attempt at semantic search, Knowledge Graph, the information requested in a search query is able to be displayed by Google itself in SERPs rather than displaying pages with relevant data and expecting you to click on them. This is a big change from the document retrieval model of search that we have all grown accustomed to for the past 10+ years. Don’t worry though, there are still tactics and techniques you can use to make sure you aren’t left out in the proverbial cold. This SEOmoz article is an excellent beginning point. The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t panic because full-fledged semantic search is still off in the future, and while it is always prudent to future proof your business (and your web marketing) the world isn’t quite changing just yet.