Google’s Semantic Search is Broken

I use the same browser, and I don’t delete my cookies. I am signed into my Google account and I’ve searched for the same phrases hundreds of times. I search “5s” on this particular day, again one of those terms I search for several times a month. What I am expecting to find are a bunch of results for “5s” (a lean manufacturing term based on five Japanese words and transliterated into English), but outside of the Wikipedia page and the Environmental Protection Agency website the SERP is littered with results for the “iPhone 5S.” I still own a slide phone, have no intention of upgrading to a smart phone, and if I did, it wouldn’t be an iPhone, suffice it to say this isn’t a search or related website that I have done or visited. Google is making a false assumption that this was my intended search, and they are wrong and I am pissed.

Let’s take it back to one year ago, January 2013. The iPhone 5S had yet to be announced, despite that inevitability, and SERP results for the phone were limited to leaks of information or speculation on blogs. Most importantly, these results weren’t showing up for “5s.” No, all was grand in my little lean manufacturing world. The page I was working on was ranked high, it was on the first page, averaging a 2.2 rank. January saw a about a 1,000 visit dip (about 10%) from the previous year, but we had more relevant competition now, and our conversion rate was up, so I wasn’t concerned about it…yet.

5s 12vs13.JPG

As the year progressed the variance widened. The iPhone 5S was officially announced on September 10th and released ten days later. August and September SERPs were flooded with iPhone 5S related results and kept pushing my page further and further down. I figured much of the news related results would drop out overtime, and some did, but the damage was done, “5s” searches now belonged to the iPhone.

Luckily, not all of the traffic to this page isn’t exclusively based on the “5s” search term. And I’ve seen a little growth back up through other keywords, but why can’t Google figure this out? With two completely different connotations, shouldn’t semantic search solve this problem? Look at the ads from Adwords on that SERP, “5s” returns only lean manufacturing related ads (at least at this time). It seems to me that his page was hijacked, something that before semantic search I would understand, but not now, not with my search tendencies and history taken into account.

The fact that an industrial worker who searches “5s” and ends up with iPhone results is “mind-bottling (thanks Will Ferrell).” This example completely exhibits what’s wrong with subjective search and defeats the purpose of Google’s semantic search. It’s even more frustrating when we’ve kept our ranking for Bing and Yahoo.

Undoubtedly semantic search is still finding its way, but I’d just like an unbiased approach to what I am searching for that doesn’t mean I have to hide my “private results.”

Graham McConnell