How do synonyms work?
Synonyms are two or more search terms that mean the same thing. These can be individual words (e.g. “bicycle” and “bike”), but also concepts that consist of several words (e.g. “home cinema” and “home theatre”).
How does it work?
Synonyms can be managed via the Pando Panel. After you have entered and applied synonyms, visitors will also see search results if a synonym of the search term used appears on the page.
Example with “bicycle” and “bike” as synonyms: if someone searches for “bike”, pages that contain “bicycle” (but without “bike”!) will appear in the search results. This also applies the other way round: if someone searches for “bike”, pages with only “bicycle” will also be returned.
Synonyms can be very useful, but they are not a universal remedy. The rest of this article goes into more detail about optimising content and what the limitations and pitfalls are in using synonyms.
The bottom line: speak your visitors’ language
If you see that visitors are using search terms for which no search results are coming back (e.g. via the Reports in the Pando Panel), you might be tempted to “quickly add a synonym”, simply because you are already working in the Pando Panel anyway.
It may sound a little strange, but our advice is to look for alternatives first!
Why do we say that?
Many of our customers have public websites with a lot of information for a broad target group. They use Pandosearch to make the search function on their website as good as possible. They also want to get as many visitors as possible to their website via external search engines (Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.). For both purposes, it helps to speak the language of (potential) visitors as much as possible.
The best way to do this is to use the words that people search for in the texts on your website. For external search engines (SEO) this means using these words in the visible texts on your website. This is also a good place for Pandosearch. We always also look at the title and body of web pages by default when indexing information.
By only entering a synonym within Pandosearch, you will miss out on the automatic optimisation for external search engines. After all, the synonym is not really on the page, so external search engines won’t be able to find it. That is why we recommend adapting your language where possible to the target group you are trying to reach.
Changing your use of language invisibly
It’s good to speak your visitors’ language. However, for the sake of readability, it is not always desirable to use synonyms everywhere. In the example from the beginning of the article, a text is not improved by alternating between “bicycle” and “bike” everywhere, or by forcing yourself to write “bicycle (or: bike)” just to get better search results.
Fortunately, there is an alternative within Pandosearch: using meta tags. Meta tags are pieces of HTML that are not visible to visitors, but are visible to Pandosearch (and many other search engines and web applications). We will tell you more about it in this article. For synonyms, the following meta tags are specifically relevant:
- description – a short description of the page (1-3 sentences)
- keywords – a comma separated list of search terms
The meta tags above were very important to external search engines (SEO) in the past. In recent years, however, these are not or barely being used anymore to determine the relevance of a web page. Google does sometimes show the description as the content of the page in search results.
From this last point of view and from a historical perspective, almost all content management systems (CMSs) have support for filling in descriptions and keywords. And these fields are often also filled well.
Pandosearch therefore processes this information in a similar way to the main body of a page. This ensures that things like conjugations are recognised automatically and that the search terms also appear in autocomplete suggestions.
This ensures that synonyms will appear naturally in the suggestions and search results from Pandosearch without you having to modify any information visibly.
Using synonyms anyway
Modifying invisible text via meta tags may not be desirable in some cases, or simply not possible. Synonyms are often still the only way to get search results if a word is not included in the information on a page.
However, it is good to know that synonyms do not work in the same way as other information that Pandosearch indexes. The reason for this is that the synonyms you enter in the Pando Panel are not really in the actual text on the page. This creates a number of technical limitations in automated processing:
- Automatic recognition of conjugations (e.g. singular/plural, verb roots) is not always 100% accurate
- Showing synonyms in autocomplete suggestions is disabled by default and is not always technically possible
Both are related to the advanced text analyses that Pandosearch performs and when they take place during processing. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the full technical details here.
In practical terms, we recommend starting with singular forms of synonyms (“bicycle” and “bike” in the example). After you have applied these, you can test if you get the expected search results for both words. Also try the plural forms (or other conjugations) and see if this works well. If not, add a separate synonym for the plural (“bicycles” and “bikes”) or add the plural forms to the singular synonym. The choice between separate synonyms or merging is a substantive choice.
As for showing synonyms in autocomplete suggestions: if you want to activate this, please contact support by email. We will then see if it is possible to do this in your specific situation.
This article is about synonyms, but recommends looking at alternatives first. You might ask: why do we offer this functionality at all?
In practice, our customers often come across specific cases where the alternatives are simply not workable. This may involve domain-specific language or words for which automatic recognition of conjugations does not (yet) work well enough. Our customers sometimes also consciously choose to introduce a new term themselves, where a synonym can help to introduce visitors to it.
That is why our conclusion is to speak your visitors’ language as much as possible. Use synonyms as an extra functionality to make your search even better.