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Are we prioritising structured data over search intent?

The Semantic Web is an interesting concept, fuelled from a desire to be able to establish URIs for information on the web. The end goal of structuring unstructured data on the web is an ambitious one, which I don’t think will ever totally come to fruition in its current form. Turning the web into the equivalent of a giant database is great, but will need wide spread support within HTML5 and via CMS creators.

“The Semantic Web is a collaborative movement led by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) [1] that promotes common formats for data on the World Wide Web. By encouraging the inclusion of semantic content in web pages, the Semantic Web aims at converting the current web of unstructured documents into a “web of data”.” Wikipedia

With the Wall Street Journal highlighting a renewed focus in this area for Google (as reported by Searchengineland, it again raises questions about search engines use of this semantic data. Webmasters and marketers adopt semantic web mark-up to help make the proposition possible, in turn dedicating their own resource and time.  Google has long strived to be able to use this data effectively, pretty much one of their long term goals in fact. This approach could stem as far back as when Google began to provide search results for synonyms, as opposed to results for an exact match of the search query used.

##Search intent considerations The interesting part for me is that searcher intent seems to be a bit of an afterthought when using data from the semantic web. Take football as a prime example. Within the UK football scores are returned regularly for top level queries around recent / current matches. This would see me search for “Celtic v Rangers” and I would be fed back the current score via aggregated sources. This is a mixed blessing, as at this stage we don’t actually know what information the searcher was looking for.

##The great “semantic search” swindle Alongside this, there is the on-going concern that as people are adding structured mark-up on site, Google is taking more and more of this information, whilst providing little in return. The whole experience of search is based around getting the most relevant, insightful content and being able to either narrow your search down, or browse through a number of sites to build a general opinion on the given subject. As any University project will tell you, multiple sources are always better than a single source; with structured data you’re losing the personal aspect of peoples “opinions” on the subject, instead having them grouped together in a “one best answer” approach.

Whilst not applicable in all instances, it is certainly something worth thinking about. The advancement of this area of Google’s game is definitely an exciting one. People will again have to innovate to ensure they see any form of benefit from it.  I would ask;

“Are we prioritising structured data over search intent?”