What Is Semantic Search? Definition, And How It Works

A brain with a thought bubble, thinking about search, with the text "What Is Semantic Search?" next to it.

By Gareth Henry   |   Last Updated 20 May 2024

Semantic search is changing how we find information online. Unlike traditional searches that match exact words, semantic search understands the meaning behind words. This makes searches more accurate and helpful.

This blog will explain what semantic search is, how it works, and why it’s important. Let’s dive in!

What Is Semantic Search?

Semantic search is a technology that understands the meaning behind search queries. Instead of just matching keywords, it looks at the context and intent of the words you type. This means it can give you more relevant results.

For example, if you search for “apple,” a semantic search engine can tell if you mean the fruit or the tech company based on the rest of your query.

How Does Semantic Search Work?

Semantic search uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) to understand and process your search queries.

When you type a query, the search engine converts it into a numerical format called vector embeddings. These embeddings capture the meaning of your query.

The search engine then matches these embeddings with those in its database to find the most relevant results.

It’s like having a smart assistant that knows what you’re looking for even if you don’t use the exact words.

Why Is Semantic Search Important?

Semantic search is important because it makes finding information easier and faster. It understands what you’re really looking for, so you get better results.

For businesses, this means happier customers who can find what they need quickly. For users, it means less time searching and more time getting things done.

Key Components Of Semantic Search

Several key components make semantic search work.

First, there’s semantic understanding, which is the ability to understand the meaning of words in context.

Next, vector embeddings are used to represent words and their meanings numerically.

Lastly, the search engine considers the context and intent behind your query to deliver the most relevant results.

Semantic Search Engines

Semantic search engines are designed to understand and interpret the meaning of queries. Examples include Google, Bing, and specialised engines like Elasticsearch.

These engines use advanced algorithms to deliver relevant search results based on the context and intent of your queries.

Implementing Semantic Search

Implementing semantic search can be done using various tools and technologies.

You can use platforms like Elasticsearch or vector databases like Milvus. There are also libraries and frameworks in Python that help you build custom semantic search engines.

Setting up a semantic search engine involves creating vector embeddings, indexing your data, and configuring the search algorithms to deliver accurate results.

Semantic Search Vs. Keyword Search

The main difference between semantic search and keyword search is how they process queries.

Keyword search matches exact words, while semantic search understands the meaning behind words. This means semantic search can provide more relevant results, even if the exact keywords aren’t used.

For example, a keyword search for “car” will only look for that word, while a semantic search can also find related terms like “vehicle” or “automobile.”

Examples Of Semantic Search

Semantic search is used in many real-world applications.

Google uses it to provide more accurate search results.

Online stores use semantic search to help customers find products even if they don’t use the exact product name.

Social media platforms use it to show relevant content based on users’ interests.

Benefits Of Using Semantic Search

Using semantic search has many benefits:

  • It improves user experience by providing more accurate search results.
  • It helps businesses by making it easier for customers to find products and information.

This can lead to higher customer satisfaction and increased sales.

Common Challenges And Solutions

Implementing semantic search can be challenging.

One common issue is the complexity of setting up and configuring the system. To overcome this, use well-documented tools and frameworks.

Another challenge is ensuring the search engine understands the context and intent behind queries. This can be improved by continually training the system with new data and examples.

The Future Of Semantic Search

The future of semantic search looks promising.

With advancements in AI and ML, search engines will become even better at understanding and processing queries. This will lead to more accurate and relevant search results, making it easier for users to find the information they need.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is semantic search?

Semantic search is a technology that understands the meaning behind search queries to deliver more relevant results.

How does semantic search work?

It uses NLP and ML to convert queries into numerical formats called vector embeddings, which capture the meaning of the query.

Why is semantic search important?

It provides more accurate search results, improving user experience and helping businesses satisfy their customers.

Final Thoughts

Semantic search is transforming how we find information online.

By understanding the meaning behind words, it delivers more accurate and relevant search results. This technology benefits both users and businesses by making searches faster and more efficient.

As AI and ML continue to evolve, semantic search will only get better, making our online experiences even more seamless.

Gareth Henry is the founder and Managing Director of AppSalon, a digital marketing agency in Sydney, Australia.

Gareth saw an important mission that needed doing in Australia - AppSalon's mission has been to provide world class, user centric design and SEO for websites, that assures small business success with client acquisition.

Gareth's marketing background is of an SEO specialist the last decade, with countless top 3 ranks for major commercial terms, such as skip bin hire, fish for sale, crystals for sale, and many more.

However, he realises not everything is SEO, and seeks mastery with website design, conversion optimisation, and content production, so a businesses brand and website can deliver beyond simply creating traffic.

This year has been a tremendous learning curve with AI and building web apps, and so now gen AI capabaility is part of the toolset Gareth delivers.

Gareth is considered an authority on creating websites and web apps that people adore, and is happy to provide insights to both established business owners and brand new hobbyists.


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