Sometimes search engines just don’t understand. But who can blame them when all the searcher gives them to go on is a single word, like “deal.” David Harry’s post in Search Engine Journal on semantic search & SEO really got me thinking about the semantics of single-word searches, and how words and phrases that are crystal clear to a business can have multiple meanings when viewed through the engines’ eyes.

His example of “jaguar” illustrates my challenge at Groupon extremely well. When a user searches for “deal,” they could be talking about the card-game-related verb or the savings-oriented noun. A quick glance at search results confirms that “deal” and “savings” are closely linked in the engines’ understanding. But even more interesting is that the TYPE of deal that the engines deem most relevant is very clearly linked as well.

Groupon’s bread and butter are the city + deal keyword phrases like [new york deals]. That’s what we sell, deals to local businesses in cities across the US and Canada, and now the world. Interestingly, though, travel and city guide sites dominate the rankings for these city + deal keyword phrases. The engines have linked “deal” with travel and tourism. So despite the fact that Groupon’s business competitors include copycats LivingSocial and BuyWithMe, our biggest SEO competitors are TripAdvisor, Expedia, & CitySearch.

Groupon’s challenge, my challenge, is to speak the algorithmic language of the engines through a website that must remain focused on user conversion, to improve our semantic relevance to deal and city + deal concepts to such an extent that the strong semantic link between deals and travel/tourism is expanded enough to allow the inclusion of our flavor of deals. Good thing I like a challenge, because we’ve got a long way to go.

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