How Does Google Search Use Synonyms?
Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller explains how the search engine uses synonyms and whether there’s a human component to it.
Mueller discusses this topic when addressing a question submitted to the Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on January 14.
The question asks how automated the process of understanding synonyms is, and if humans are involved in helping Google understand which words are related.
Further, the person who submitted the question notes that generic keywords sometimes bring up knowledge panels for major brands.
They give the example of “moving trucks” bringing up search results for the Budget truck rental company.
Mueller touches on each of these concerns in his response, which you can read below.
Google’s Understanding Of Synonyms Is All Automated
Google’s system of understanding synonyms is fully automated, Mueller confirms.
There are no humans manually writing code to teach Google’s algorithms which words mean the same thing as other words.
“As far as I know, the whole synonyms system is completely automated. It’s not something where someone is manually working on a spreadsheet of synonyms and saying, ‘well this is the same as this,’ because that would never really work out.
We see something along the lines of 10-15% of queries completely new every day. So it wouldn’t be possible for someone to keep up with this all the time.”
Mueller references a video from a conference in 2019 where Google Engineer Paul Haahr explains in more detail how the synonym system works.
The video contains real-world examples Google has come across where it got synonyms wrong and how its engineers learned from those mistakes.
“There is a video from one of the events that we did, I think like two or three years back now, where Paul Haahr, one of the engineers that works on the system, kind of presented some of the situations that we ran across with regards to synonyms, where we try to figure out like what are the synonyms here and some of the cases where we got things completely wrong.
And I thought that was really interesting to look at there. And if you’re interested around synonyms, and how google figures that out, I would definitely check that out.”
That leads to Mueller addressing the situation where generic keywords bring up search results for brand names. He says that’s likely something that Google’s algorithms learned automatically.
Mueller reiterates the automated system doesn’t get everything right, but searchers are always welcome to submit feedback.
“With regards to that generic switch between “moving truck” and Budget Truck Rental, that’s something where most likely we also learn that automatically. And some of these cases we get well, where things kind of work out, or essentially kind of make sense. And some of these we get wrong.
If you see cases where we get synonyms wrong then definitely send us feedback in the search results so that we can try to figure out what we can do to improve that.”
Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below:
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