Semantic SEO: What It Is and How It Can Boost Your Rankings
Wondering how to use semantic SEO to not only drive rankings in search, but future-proof your rankings? Discover how to create valuable content that displays in the SERPS.
*Special Note: This is part 4 of a 4 part series by featured guest author, Jasmine Melikyan, if you missed the previous posts, click here.
Semantic SEO is the process of creating optimized content about topics, not just single keywords.
But why do we need to bother about it? How can search engines know what we are writing?
Well, search engine developers are constantly making improvements to search algorithms and semantic search is a change that turned the SEO upside down. SEO specialists can no longer rely only on a single high-volume keyword to appear on the first page. Ranking high has become more complex.
Google is a lot better at understanding human language. And instead of focusing on SEO tricks, you need to have high-quality content to appeal to search engines (and users).
But how can you leverage your rankings? How can semantic SEO help you? Continue reading to learn how to use semantic SEO to dominate Google Search.
What is Semantic Search?
Let’s start with the definition of semantics.
Semantics is the study of the meaning of the words, phrases or sentences in the language. For example, the words “drinks” and “beverage” are synonyms and mean the same thing. And now Google can understand that, so if you type these words in the search bar, you’ll probably get the same results for each of them.
What about semantic search?
Well, semantic search is meant to better identify the search intent by understanding the contextual meaning of the search query. Contrary to the lexical search, semantic search is more about bringing results based on the meaning of the query rather than the literal match.
As a user, you have probably noticed how good search engines are at bringing the exact results you need. In most cases, you’ll find what you need in the first three results. You don’t even have to scroll down to the last results of the first page. Search engines bring not only the most relevant but also quite personalized results.
Semantic search uses the search intent, contextual meaning, and the relationships between words to better understand what the user is looking for and show the most relevant results.
All this means that keyword-stuffing won’t work anymore. Search engines will crawl through your website and see that you provide no valuable information, no matter how many times you used the keyword (or keywords). And besides that, they’ll pay attention to the structure of your content and whether you have supporting topics related to the search query.
How Search Works
Now, we need to go back in time and see how search algorithms have revolutionized. You need to know this in order to find the best way to improve your strategy.
The first significant update for the semantic search was Knowledge Graph which was introduced in 2012. Anyone who uses Google has surely noticed its use. That’s the special box in the right corner that shows information about people, places, and different facts and things. When you search a person’s name, you’ve probably seen short general information about him/her in that box, which is called the knowledge panel.
These knowledge panels help people learn general information about a subject without even clicking on any webpage. This was a great improvement, as before that users would have to visit different websites to find the information they needed.
We can say that Knowledge Graph is a giant encyclopedia, a collection of facts, information about people, places, brands and so much more. If you want to explore it more, go to this tool and you’ll see what Knowledge Graph knows by typing anything you want to know.
Hummingbird was a big update that changed the way search worked. It was the start for search engines to understand conversational language. Before that, Google couldn’t really understand the questions that people were asking. If you typed “the difference between Facebook and Twitter”, you would have probably got only these websites as results rather than an article about their difference.
After Hummingbird, it changed. Now Google can understand what you want, whether you’re asking a question or want to compare two things. Hummingbird allowed Google to provide better and more accurate results.
RankBrain has operated since 2016 and it still remains as one of the top-ranking factors. RankBrain uses machine learning technology to bring the results and better understand the meaning of the words. If any word or phrase is unclear for the search engine, it will convert the word into similar words or phrases to better understand its meaning.
So synonyms, difficult phrases are not a problem for Google anymore. It can easily understand what the user wants. RankBrain was a big step towards understanding the search intent.
BERT (or Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) was also about better understanding the search queries. It wasn’t just about understanding the single words, but rather their meaning in the phrase. It takes into account the context of the word, by analyzing the words that come before and after it.
With BERT, Google can better understand human language and the contextual meaning of the phrases. See how important the user intent has become?
Google never stops improving the search and there are yet new updates to come. SMITH is a new algorithm that will be able to do more complex tasks that BERT can’t.
According to researchers, SMITH is better at understanding long queries and passages within documents, the same way BERT understands the words and sentences. Google hasn’t formally stated that SMITH is in use, so we might wait a couple of years until it’s officially introduced.
There is also a new technology called MUM that Google is developing. It is going to help users with complex queries. More particularly, it will be able to answer complex queries with snippets. So far, it’s only possible for simple questions like “what’s the weather now”, but soon it will be able to answer you “how much it will cost to travel to Paris” by showing you not only the flight costs but also car rental, accommodation and other things together.
Why is Semantic SEO Important
Let’s get back to semantic SEO. Semantic SEO means optimizing your content for topics rather than a keyword. And how is it going to help you? Why do you need to optimize for topics and not keywords?
Well, the answer is simple: you have to consider semantic search if you want to rank high and drive organic traffic. Google’s aim is to provide the most relevant result to its users. And it’s pretty good at it. Google understands the contextual meaning of the search query, the user’s intent and what kind of content they are looking for. And your content needs to provide exactly what users want to see.
And even more than that. You need to answer all the additional questions of users even before they ask them. Google will crawl through your website and see whether you have what the user needs and what additional content you have. It all comes down to topical authority and how well you can satisfy user queries.
If you were thinking of search engines first for creating content, you need to reconsider it. As Google understands users better, you need to learn more about what your audience wants, instead of trying to trick Google.
So, do some more research about your audience, find out what topics they are interested in and create your content around them. It’s better to create your content as topic clusters. Topic clusters are built around one broad topic, they have one pillar page and many subtopics. It will also help you to have more structured content.
Also, consider keyword clustering for creating your topic clusters. Users look for the same thing using different search queries. And you need to consider both low- and high-volume keywords, long-tail and short ones to have better chances for ranking. With clusters, you can target many topic-related keywords, not just one.
Well, this is all you needed to know about semantic search. I’m not going to tell you about its importance again, but there is something you need to remember.
Write content for people first and then for search engines. Search engines are trying to find out what people want to know and you need to do the same for your audience. If you create content that matches the search intent and answers all their questions in detail, both users and search engines will be pleased.