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Google recently announced that it’s using “neural matching” in its search algorithm to understand queries better and improve search results. But what, exactly, is neural matching — and how might it affect law firm website marketing? In this blog post, we’ll discuss Google’s use of neural matching and what it could mean for your law firm’s website.

What is neural matching?

Understanding synonyms has long been an important aspect of search. “How people search is often different from information that people write solutions about,” writes Danny Sullivan, Google’s Public Liaison of Search.

Consider what a search algorithm has to understand to provide the best answers when someone conducts a search query. It’s not simply the matching of words; it’s about understanding the intent behind them. Take the word “change,” for example.

The word “change” can have several meanings depending on the context in which the term is used. It could mean: 

  • “To adjust” (“How do I change the brightness on my laptop?”)
  • “To convert” (“How do I change a PDF into a Word document?”)
  • “To replace” (“How do I change a light bulb?”)

…Among others. (To convert, to switch, to replace, to modify…)

For humans, understanding the subtle differences in the use of the word “change” is easy. For a computer, this is significantly more challenging.

Google uses machine learning to help its algorithm understand complex queries and provide better answers. Neural matching is part of that. Google describes neural matching as an AI-based “super-synonym system” that is learning how words are related to concepts.

How is Google using neural matching?

In short, Google is using neural matching to help Google better relate words to searches, which will provide better search results to Google users.

Danny Sullivan describes how neural matching helps Google’s algorithm provide better results by understanding the intent of a query:

“For example, neural matching helps us understand that a search for ‘why does my TV look strange’ is related to the concept of ‘the soap opera effect.’ We can then return pages about the soap opera effect, even if the exact words aren’t used.”

What could Google’s neural matching mean for law firm website marketing?

For attorneys who use their law firm’s website to create educational content for potential clients, these recent advancements from Google are good news. Google has always focused on providing the best search results to its users, and this is one more step in that direction. 

In the past, keyword density was a popular search engine optimization (SEO) topic. The theory was that there was a “right” ratio of desired keywords to other words on any given page. The belief was that, when achieved, this formula would result in a better chance of ranking for that particular keyword. 

Google has matured significantly over the last decade, and, while keywords still have some degree of importance, there is now diminished importance on specific keywords. Instead, as we see in this neural matching example, there is an increased emphasis on the context and the intended meaning of the words on the page. If you are adding keywords or phrases just because you believe it will benefit you in search results, it will not only sound unnatural, but you are also less likely to rank well. (Keep in mind that one of Google’s longtime mantras is to “Make pages for users, not for search engines.” To learn more about keyword stuffing, see, “Why Attorneys Should Avoid Keyword Stuffing on Law Firm Websites.”)

Now, however, pages on law firm websites can now rank well for keywords that don’t appear even once on the page. For example, a well-written article about hiring an “attorney” can do very well in searches about hiring a “lawyer” even though that word does not appear on the page. 

The bottom line is that, if you are creating well-written and relevant content that answers the intent of a searcher’s question, the keywords that you use, and the frequency with which they appear on the page is not a needle-mover.

Google itself notes that:

“…[T] here’s nothing special searchers or webmasters need to do [to benefit from neural matching]. These are part of our core systems designed to naturally increase understanding.”

Those attorneys who write educational, detailed content surrounding the questions that clients are asking and researching will likely be rewarded with better placement in search results as Google ramps up its use of concepts like neural matching.