Synonyms in search

Synonyms are a feature of Google Search that we’re not expecting using a great deal, but worth discussing so that people are aware of the pros and cons.

Synonyms have two parts, a Term, and one or more Variants. When a user’s search query matches a configured Term, the search which is conducted silently adds the Variants, hopefully making the search more relevant.

This is great if you have terms which have a particular meaning in the context of the search engine.

At the moment, we only have a couple of Synonyms configured. One of them is alloc8, which was the name of the old timetabling system. It was included because, even though it’s no longer in use, the logs showed that people were still searching for it. Rather than have these searches go to a dead end, the Term alloc8 now invokes the Variant Timetable, which returns results that are at least relevant to the user.

The only problem with Synonyms is that they are silent. It may confuse a user to see all these results – none of which contain the actual term alloc8 anywhere. So, with that perspective, we’re going to be super careful about adding new synonyms, as they do have a potential for unexpected results.

We’ll soon be releasing a process that allows requests for new Synonyms to be included, so keep it in mind.