Google’s John Mueller answered a question about how Google’s algorithm handles abbreviations. John answered the question in depth, explaining how these are basically synonyms and that Google doesn’t do anything special with abbreviations.
How does Google handle shortcuts?
The person asking a question wanted to know how Google handles abbreviations like “for example” which stands for ergo.
They said they have a lot of these types of shortcuts on their site.
Google’s John Mueller replied:
The short answer is, we don’t do anything special with these kinds of things.
We basically treat them as icons on a page.
And a landmark is basically kind of like a word or phrase on a page.
We may realize that there are known synonyms for some of these and understand that a little bit.
But we’re not going to do something really specific because we’d like to have a glossary of what that acronym means and deal with that in a specific way.
So that’s something, especially when it comes to synonyms, as our systems learn them over time.
And more often than not, we deal with it when people are searching, not when we’re doing the indexing.”
John Mueller then recommends watching a video of Google search engineer Paul Haahr speaking at a search conference posted by Google Search Center where he talks about how search works, in which Paul discusses the use of synonyms for query expansion.
And in this video, he goes through some of the thesaurus challenges we’ve faced in the past.
And I found this very interesting to look at and perhaps also give you some ideas on how to approach some of these expansions when it comes to shortcuts.”
Mueller said the video dates back to December 2019 or 2020 and was posted on Google’s YouTube channel.
And there’s actually a video from 2019 that was posted in 2020 in which Paul Hahr talks about synonyms and query expansion.
Paul discusses query expansion and synonyms at the 1:30 minute mark:
Google video of Paul Haahr discussing synonyms and query expansion
“So first I’m going to talk about something in one of our language understanding systems, which is the system of synonyms.”
The screen behind Paul shows the following text:
"User vocabulary ≠ Document vocabulary
System tries to bridge the gap by automatically adding alternative words
Similar to using OR, but usually less important than original terms
One of Google Search's most important components"
Paul Hahr explains the purpose of using synonyms:
So what is our thesaurus system?
It’s something that exists to bridge the gap between user vocabulary and query vocabulary – or user vocabulary and document vocabulary.
That is, when we see a query, it is often written in a different language than the documents used.
And we try to match these things up.
The way this actually works is that we add an array of terms using an OR.
Who among the public used the OR operator?
And the way our thesaurus system works is efficient, we take the user query and add a lot of OR terms to it.
And that’s actually one of the most important components of Google ranking…and that’s kind of..it’s something we’ve been launching for almost 15 years, and it’s gotten a lot better over the years.”
More videos of Paul Hahr discussing synonyms and query expansion
There is another video of Paul Hahr speaking at SMX West in 2016 where he also talks about query expansion and that also sheds some light on the topic.
Paul discusses expanding the query at 6:35 minutes into the presentation:
Watch Google engineer Paul Haahr discuss synonyms
This was not the video John Mueller was referring to but it also contains interesting information.
Paul Hahr explains:
“We do a query understanding part where we try to figure out what the query means, we do retrieval and logging…then we do some…adjustments.
So understanding the query, the first question is, do we know which entities are named in the query?
San Jose Convention Center, we know what that is. Matt Cutts, we know what that is.
And so we call them.
And then, are there useful synonyms?
Does GM in this context…GM mean General Motors?
Does GM mean genetically modified?
And my point is that context matters.
We look at the query entirely for context.”
Google and shortcuts
What Mueller said in his response seems to be that Google sees acronyms as synonyms. So when considering how Google understands a content page, the acronym may be reduced to a basic meaning that can be considered synonymous.
How does Google handle shortcuts?
Watch John Mueller answer the question at 48:43