Search Needs Computational Linguistics to Solve Its Problems

The increased use of mobile devices means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Research and tech development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. So SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into computational linguistics.

As users have become increasingly dependent on their digital devices, they expect to search on them using more natural language to shape the queries. Search is deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives, and we expect more from it than previously.

We spend hours on our mobile devices every day and have devices that rely on natural language processing in our homes to turn the television on or entertain us. Every search is a quest, and users are constantly looking for and expect answers.

The terrain and contours of most e-commerce quests are reasonably easy to interpret, and SEOs have carefully developed methods for identifying keywords and concepts that apply to the most important quests that buyers/searchers will undertake for the products on offer.

Does this extend far enough? Not hardly.

We must stay with our consumers and develop an understanding of the challenges of search and how they are being addressed by those who build and operate search technology.

What’s Going On?

Each day, Google processes billions of searches and has publicly noted that 15% of those queries were previously unseen. This means that Google has no history of what the most relevant pages are to deliver for the query. These queries represent unfamiliar terrain, and Google has built ways to navigate this space.

What Needs to Happen?

The increased use of mobile devices that encourage the use of natural language means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Current research and technology development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into — are you ready — the arcane science of computational linguistics.

Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field that studies language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists build statistical or rule-based models and approaches to linguistic problems, such as natural language and search. The huge computational power available today has opened the door for rapid advances in the last five years. It is time for SEOs to integrate some of these learnings into their SEO practice.

Improving Natural Language Search

In October 2019, Google announced that it would be launching worldwide the BERT algorithm. BERT, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. Training and tuning are very important steps in developing working search algorithms. (For more on the science, see this Google blog.)

Google expects this improved model to impact 10% of all searches. It will be particularly helpful for improving queries written or spoken in natural, conversational language.

Some savvy searchers search in keyword-ese, putting long strings of disconnected words together in their queries. By keyword stuffing their query, they hope to get better results.

My own research has shown that the most frequent queries are multiple nouns strung together with an occasional adjective for refinement — long (adjective) house (noun) coat (noun). This is a simple example, but queries that are questions are much more difficult to parse. BERT will go a long way toward eliminating the need to use keyword-ese.

BERT is not to be confused with Google’s improved AI-based system of neural matching that is used to understand how words and concepts relate to one another, a super-synonym system. Combine BERT with the other advances, and we can surely expect better quality results.

Search, as a Study, Is Not Static

SEOs need to learn as much as they can about these technologies. Although it seems — at first blush — that we cannot optimize for it, we can create better content that reacts better to the new technology, watch our performance metrics to see how much and if we are improving, and then make more changes as needed. Now, isn’t that optimizing?

Overwhelmed by the Complexity of Mobile Marketing? Start Here

When talking to small business owners,  I hear a lot of reasons as to why they haven’t added mobile to their marketing mix … These excuses illustrate why it’s important to educate folks on the benefits and use cases of mobile and to demystify how it all works in order to eliminate the fear and uncertainty that prevent businesses from moving forward with mobile.

When talking to small business owners, I hear a lot of reasons as to why they haven’t added mobile to their marketing mix …

“I don’t have time to manage one more thing … ”

“I’m not sure where to start … ”

“I feel like my competition has already done that … ”

“I can’t keep up with how fast the technology is advancing … ”

“I can’t afford to use mobile for my small business … ”

These excuses illustrate why it’s important to educate folks on the benefits and use cases of mobile and to demystify how it all works in order to eliminate the fear and uncertainty that prevent businesses from moving forward with mobile.

As those businesses begin to understand that mobile is just a piece of the puzzle they become less confused and you hear more of …

“OK, well. There are so many options. So how can it work for MY business?”

Well, I can tell you that if you’re asking yourself that question, you’re already two steps ahead of most business owners.

And you know what? It’s OK to be confused. The truth is, it’s overwhelming.

Mobile websites, responsive design, SMS marketing, MMS marketing, mobile optimized email, QR Codes, location-based services, augmented reality, smarpthone apps, tablets, NFC, the mobile wallet, mobile commerce …

Holy smokes!

Warning: If you try to jump into all of these areas at once, you will most definitely fail.

If you break down your mobile strategy into smaller parts, integrating one aspect at a time, it will become less overwhelming and you’ll be in a position for a successful mobile program without disrupting the rest of your business.

Remember … mobile is just one part of your marketing strategy. Take it one step at a time:

1. Start by planning how it will play a part into your existing initiatives. Mobile is the most dependent marketing channel to-date. You can’t view it as a solo initiative.

Plan accordingly and make sure it will play nice with your other channels, meaning there is one voice and one message. Chasing the “latest shiny object” thinking it will save your business will get you nowhere fast.

2. Focus on what works and what will delivers results to your business.
You’ll most likely start with your mobile site.

The most important thing to work on is making sure your mobile website is friendly. You’ve probably heard people say that having a mobile-friendly website will give you a competitive advantage.

To some degree, this is true—if your competitors are slow to execute. But, to be honest, a mobile-friendly website is now a cost of doing business.

As a small business owner you’re foolish if you don’t have a mobile friendly site. Let’s say you own a restaurant … A recent Google study stated that 88 percent of total search volume for the keyword “restaurant” comes from mobile devices. Do you own a bar? About 97 percent of search volume for the keyword “bar” is coming from mobile devices.

In fact, “restaurants near me” receives 10,000 searches a month from desktops. Guess what? It’s four times more on mobile devices.

This is the reason that you see restaurants and bars listed in the top of search results in Google from your mobile device but not from your desktop.

Small business owners seem slow to adopt mobile. Surprisingly, a restaurant study stated that 95 percent of independent restaurants do not have a mobile website, and only about half of chain restaurants have some sort of mobile site.

This means a lot of unhappy mobile searchers and no repeat visits.

3. You see, mobile searchers have a different intent than those on a desktop. They are looking for different things. When it comes to local locations like a restaurant or bar they most often look for your location, hours, directions and how to contact you.

4. What’s the cost of not offering these folks a mobile friendly version?
That’s easy … a whole lot of sales.

The same Google study found that 94 percent of U.S.-based smartphone users look for local information on their phones and 90 percent take action as a result, such as making a purchase or contacting the business.

90 percent take action …

Read that again.

Basically, if your site is not mobile friendly when a prospective customer is looking for you, the odds of you losing a sale are close to 100 percent.

5. Speaking of being more “findable” … If you list your business in the various directories AND location-based services, such as Google Places, Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, etc., you’ll put yourself in a better position to be found. It’s like adding your listing to the Yellow Pages.

6. OK. So you built a mobile-friendly website. Now what?

Your mobile website is what many would consider a “pull” channel. This means that it doesn’t offer you the level of outreach that other channels do, but allows you to be right there when your customer needs you.

So next time, we’re going to dive into the second aspect of your mobile strategy to put in place. It’s actually the most overlooked part of mobile, in my opinion.

Seeing as how you are going to start mobilizing your website right now, you have time to prepare for the second part of your small business mobile strategy … mobile-friendly email.

Genuine Strategies to Outsmart Paid Search Counterfeiters

According to MarkMonitor, counterfeiters sold $135 billion in goods online in 2010. Many counterfeiters are now using paid search to engage U.S. consumers. Search engines make this possible by allowing third parties — potentially counterfeiters — to bid on others’ trademarks (e.g., Coach bags, Oakley sunglasses, Rosetta Stone). Search engines prohibit advertisers from promoting counterfeit goods, but smart counterfeiters regularly evade the engines. Offshore counterfeiters also evade U.S. law enforcement, which only has jurisdiction to seize domestic domains. As a result, some high-end retailers and software providers are being forced to wage a constant paid search battle against counterfeiters.

According to MarkMonitor, counterfeiters sold $135 billion in goods online in 2010. Many counterfeiters are now using paid search to engage U.S. consumers. Search engines make this possible by allowing third parties – potentially counterfeiters — to bid on others’ trademarks (e.g., Coach bags, Oakley sunglasses, Rosetta Stone). Search engines prohibit advertisers from promoting counterfeit goods, but smart counterfeiters regularly evade the engines. Offshore counterfeiters also evade U.S. law enforcement, which only has jurisdiction to seize domestic domains. As a result, some high-end retailers and software providers are being forced to wage a constant paid search battle against counterfeiters.

Let’s look at Coach, a brand susceptible to counterfeiting. According to Coach’s website, the only sites that sell authentic Coach products are Coach.com, Macys.com,Nordstrom.com and Dillards.com. However, according to Google’s search engine results page (SERP), searchers can buy authentic Coach products from sites like Cosaletoday.info, Aomart.info, Alibuys.info and Bestaomall.info.

Actually, the domain names of the counterfeiter sites don’t even matter; every time Google removes an ad, the counterfeiter puts the same content on a different domain and buys a new ad. Controlling counterfeiter paid search ads is like a game of Whac-A-Mole — every time one is eliminated, a new one pops up.

A “Coach bags” Google query on May 26 I conducted illustrates the paid search visibility that some counterfeiters can achieve. Although rare, the results showed an instance where the top three advertisers are all Coach counterfeiters. Coach’s official website was found in the sixth position.

The most interesting aspect of this example is the position of the counterfeiters’ ads in the top sponsored box and above Coach’s own ad. Google has stated that for an ad to display in the top sponsored box it must meet a high quality score threshold. It’s unlikely these ads — which contain misspellings and are obviously suspect — have high quality scores. Thus brands cannot rely on quality score alone to keep counterfeiters from the top of the SERP. Brands must employ sophisticated strategies to outsmart paid search counterfeiters, including the following:

Powerful monitoring and workflow technology: Brands that are susceptible to counterfeiters must monitor their keywords in real time, 24/7. This requires powerful technology that not only identifies when a counterfeiter is bidding on your brand, but automatically does something about it.

When your trademark monitoring technology identifies a counterfeiter, how long does it take to you or your team to:
1. contact the search engine to remove the listing;
2. increase your bid to ensure you’re running above the counterfeiter until the engine removes the ad; and
3. ease back bids once the counterfeiter’s ad has been removed?

Best-in-class performance marketers optimize the campaign management process to scale across keywords and publishers by combining business intelligence tools with trademark monitoring and workflow automation technology. While speed to market and quality of implementation are important success factors when trying to blunt the competition, it’s critical when a counterfeiter is bidding on your brand.

Multidomain distribution strategies: Brands should consider SERP domination strategies to overpower counterfeiters’ ads. For instance, most luxury retailers sell via channel partners like department stores. These retailers could employ paid search co-op strategies where they provide their channel partners with money to bid on the retailer’s brand. For instance, a retailer could bid on its brand in conjunction with four channel partners, effectively pushing counterfeiters below the fold. This strategy requires clear communication with channel partners, as well as bidding rules and monitoring to avoid cost-per-click (CPC) inflation.

“Official” ad copy: Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of ad copy that contains your trademark symbol and the phrase “official store.” Searchers seeking the real product will look for this kind of copy.

As you can see, complicated paid search challenges require sophisticated, customized solutions. This blog only scratches the surface on how to deal with counterfeiters and other unauthorized parties who bid on your trademarks. Do you have a complicated search challenge? If so, leave a comment below or send me an email at craig.greenfield@performics.com.