Semantic SEO is at the heart of reading the searcher’s intent.
Different people Google in different ways.
Semantic SEO is writing and optimizing your content improves your website’s traffic. It creates content that’s relevant to a user’s search query. Semantic SEO involves structuring your content topics, sub-headers, and overall text in a manner that systematically answers questions that users may have. Semantic SEO affects traffic, lead generation, and search engine ranking in multiple ways.
Semantic SEO is (sort of) about mind-reading
Say you want to find a good proofreader. You might type any of the following:
- “good proofreader”
- “best proofreading”
- “what’s the best proofreading company?”
- “need an editor”
…and so on. Hopefully, you’ll find me!
Google wants to serve up the best reply, but to do that, it has to know all these variations. This is why Google’s constantly updated its search algorithm.
it wants to give search results and information as close as possible to the searcher’s original intent. Happy searchers use Google more, and pump more money into the company’s may services. It’s good business.
These days, Google is ambitiously trying to read this intent by recognizing these many ways we search for what we want. This is at the heart of what’s called semantic SEO
In SEO marketing, you can use this to your favor. Especially in English, with so many different people using it in so many ways. Introduce variations, phrases, and other ways of anticipating variety, and your content will soar. Not just in English, by the way. This works for global marketing in multiple languages.
What really is semantic SEO?
The basic step in SEO used to be finding your keywords and inserting them in your title, headers, sub-headers, and throughout your text, many times.
It’s still important to know your target keywords (single and long-tail), but it’s grown beyond that. In ranking webpages, search engines now consider the target phrase in more detail to suit the searcher’s intent.
The semantic SEO concept has been around since 2003 when a team from IBM, Stanford, and W3C published a paper on it. It’s become increasingly relevant since Google and other search engines began to understand search queries better in terms of intent, meaning, and context rather than just a combination of keywords.
In semantic SEO, search results don’t necessarily contain your exact search term. Instead, the search engines read into a search query context and give results based on what it seems the user wants (in other words, search intent).
Google dives into the analyses of how words are related and how they work together to understand what the words mean.
Semantic SEO figures out the deeper meaning of a user’s search intent. You make Google’s job easier if you accommodate more possibilities, in a natural way.
If you’re not a writer, it can be a bit trickier. But it’s not rocket science.
How does semantic SEO affect search rankings?
Google goes through constant updates and becomes an increasingly strong global semantic search engine. It wants to connect searchers to good, reputable, well-written content, in all languages. Of course, English is tops, which is probably why you’re reading this.
What does this mean for you as a web content developer?
Take the following search query as another example:
What is a healthy diet?
Initially, Googlebot would rank search results by parsing web context for the keyword search phrase entered. So it used to be that when someone set out to rank well, they stuffed in the keyword as much as possible. This resulted in many low-value web pages that didn’t meet the user’s real search intent. There was also a lot less content.
Search queries are now looked at contextually. Googlebot uses natural language processing, better understands the context of the search item, and resultantly can serve up better results. Not always, but quite a lot of the time.
From this perspective, with a broad search term like “healthy diet”, a web page that comprehensively addresses “benefits of a healthy diet”, “healthy foods to eat”, “ways to eat healthily”, and so on, may rank better. There are, after all, lots of ways to think about “healthy diet”.
Semantic SEO also helps you get a higher ranking through topical content. Topical authority is one of the ranking factors by search engines such as Google.
Considering the “What is a healthy diet?” example.
Topical content is where your content fully addresses questions the searcher might have about what a healthy diet is. You may include topics such as “healthy diet for vegans”, “what to look for in a healthy diet”, “is keto a healthy diet?”. This way, your content answers the search query in detail. It will also stand to rank well on those terms themselves, if you go into detail, provide a smart answer, and there’s evidence that you have the authority to be talking about this topic.
Food and diet, by the way, are tough to rank on because you’re up against expert sites with huge authority, like WebMD and Healthline, not to mention governmental and university sites. But you might drill down to a specific topic, like “Asian keto recipes” or “best cities for a vegan to live in”.
Topical content will also increase the time spent on your website. This will act as an indicator of the quality of content on your webpage – which Google looks upon favorably.
Semantic SEO can also help you earn featured snippets that let you rank above position 1. Featured snippets are especially relevant to SERPs and ‘People also ask’ sections in search engines.
“Position zero” is the best place to be. Position zero is a featured snippet of web content that directly answers your search query. Search engines offer this snippet at the top of the search results. Unless there’s paid advertising on that page, you’re the first thing a searcher sees.
How does semantic SEO lead more people to your site?
In the past, online web content was connected via links, which formed a network of webpages. Today, search engines are looking to bridge the gap between your audience and your webpage through artificial intelligence and machine learning. Search engines can direct the online audience to the right content – this is the world of the semantic web.
You can optimize your content for semantic SEO more effectively in several ways;
- Instead of targeting multiple keywords or a single keyword, you’re building a strong context whose format search engines can interpret and direct online visitors to. That’s how you get organic.
For example, a website selling plumbing fixtures while marketing its services might use “plumbing pipes” as the keyword.
“All-purpose plumbing pipes for your needs”
Another one may use a different angle:
“Steel, copper, and plastic plumbing pipes for every purpose”
If a user searched for plumbing pipes, both articles might be displayed. However, it’s likely that only the second article will be displayed if a search query only looked for plastic plumbing pipes. I say “likely”, because the article content will also have some impact.
By structuring the content specifically for the context, and phrasing things in natural and various ways, it will usually perform better.
- Semantic search is entity-based. This means the rules of natural language processing, understanding, concepts, and content meaning will better match your web pages’ quality and context to what online visitors are searching for.
- Semantic SEO will perform better in auto-prediction since it’s easier for search engines to predict queries.
- Semantic search is also tied in with People Also Ask, Knowledge Panels, Location Packs, Image Query, and Image Packs. These sections usually appear higher in the SERP.
Why is semantic SEO especially important in English?
The significance of semantic SEO in English stems from a number of factors.
Semantic SEO contextualizes idioms
Semantic SEO is important in English because search engines require context to interpret a query properly. This makes it possible to fetch relevant results for that particular query, especially where queries contain idioms.
For instance, you can use a phrase such as “maxi skirt” or “pencil skirt”. These are common for the U.S. audience. A Chinese audience would expect something like “blowing skirt” or “matching skirt”.
Words like “sweater” and “stroller” are common for the U.S. audience but more likely as “jumper” and “pram” for UK, Australian, and Kiwi (New Zealand, see what I did there?) readers, not to mention markets like India and Singapore.
Semantic search engines can understand how idioms and such phrases have been used in context by localizing these phrases. Different people say things differently, especially in the global language of English.
Size and wide use of English language mean there are many ways to say things
The English language is broad: 1.3+ million people speak it natively or as a 2nd language. That’s actually a pretty irrelevant number when much of the world uses English as the global language of business and general communication.
Older forms of the Internet, when volume beat context, would often go to the pages with the highest density of the keyword. This meant lots of low-quality results that weren’t what the searcher was actually looking for.
With much of the world searching in their various forms of English, and most major search engines in the US, this made the Internet’s version of English very U.S.-centric. Some may say it still is, but it’s come a long way, thanks to a semantic approach.
Semantic SEO eliminates the ambiguity resulting from keyword-targeted SEO
Semantic SEO lets the search engine interpret how a phrase or keyword has been used in web content. It goes further to analyze the context in which searched words have been used.
The word horse can mean many things. It can be an animal, a gymnastic apparatus, a carpenter’s tool, or an animal. Semantic SEO aims to find which horse you’re talking about. So if you type “prettiest brown horse” it’s probably going to go with the animal. If you type “vaulting horse” it’ll probably pick up on the gymnastics context or lead you to “equestrian vaulting” (yes, it’s a thing, I just learned that).
Most search queries are unintentionally ambiguous
Google users have different intents when using the same search terms. And many of them can’t spell that well or they have fat thumbs that create typos.
For example: “How big is the Coliseum?”
In itself, this search query is ambiguous because the word Coliseum can be big in terms of capacity or height. It’s also more commonly spelled as Colosseum.
Google’s best guess is that a user is looking for the land space (in hectares) of the Colosseum. It’s also important to mention that web content that goes into detail about the Colosseum by answering questions regarding the height and capacity will have addressed the query better. In this case, as is often the case, Wikipedia wins.
I’d bet that if you wrote a comprehensive blog post titled, “How big is the Colosseum?” on a site with reasonable credibility, and some connection to Roman architecture, you could win this one.
Based on the intent, search engines can now provide a better answer, thanks to semantic SEO.
The need to rank on multiple keywords
With semantic SEO, you’re phrasing your content in a way that addresses multiple keywords.
This can be achieved in combination with latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords. LSI keywords is a Google system that gauges how other keywords have been used around the main keyword.
Carefully drafted content should create a smooth relationship between the main keyword and LSI keywords. This enables it to rank high irrespective of the search phrase used.
- “Ladies shoes for sale” can be a search phrase.
- “Ladies’ shoes for sale online” is another.
- “Cheap high heels for women” is another.
Google and other semantic search engines might rank one page highly for both search phrases. How is this so?
The secret lies in how you structure your content around such keywords. When developing optimized content, semantic SEO ensures that phrases can be used interchangeably while addressing the same concept.
- What type of shoes? (heels, pumps, for a certain occasion?)
- Where are they selling?
- What other qualifiers are there?
If you anticipate these queries and adjust your content with the language people are looking for, you’ll perform better in the SERPs.
Why is semantic SEO something most websites fail to do?
If semantic SEO is so important, why are websites generally lousy at it? Why do they keep cranking out content that’s hard to read and full of bad English and empty prose? Lots of reasons, including:
Lack of awareness
We’ve found most writers simply don’t know about it, or if they do, they don’t care enough to put in the effort.
Many of the better content creators are still getting to know semantic SEO.
On the whole, semantic SEO may seem like a lot, but if you take the time to read up on your topic, see the language people use when they discuss it, and then use that in your article, you’ll be in great shape.
Lack of language skills
Semantic SEO includes lexical hierarchy, canonical query, and dominant search query, among other concepts. Big words, but they boil down to being good at the language and have a good ear/eye/nose for how people communicate.
And in English, many so-called content writers are not true natives, so they don’t know how to really use the language and all its nuances. Good native English writers, who read a lot and have a love of language and communication do best.
That’s why English majors are finally in demand.
You can only tune your content to be semantically optimized for search engines by understanding how content is affected by language use. If you hire non-inner-circle English speakers to do your content, don’t be surprised when it’s full of awkward, outdated English that your target consumer might even laugh at. Most Americans don’t have a clue what “do the needful means” or what it means to “avail of” something. Hire a native.
Poor semantic HTML coding
In semantic HTML, you use the correct HTML elements to describe their content. An example of this is when the right semantic HTML is required to describe all text or media on a web page semantically.
If you fail to use the correct semantic HTML for these elements, semantic search engines cannot rank your page accurately, or highly.
Not using latent semantic indexing (LSI)
LSI helps search engine algorithms rank web pages effectively. However, this is based on your content; hence, the keywords must be contextually presented. Moreover, you must provide semantic keyword relationships throughout the webpage.
Conclusion on semantic SEO and moving forward with it
If you’re plowing ahead with content creation, semantic SEO may be something you overlooked. You’re not alone, but this investment in language adjustment can set you up very well for the future.
For starters, you need to structure your content in a way that answers questions related to a search query. Find the questions that relate to your topic and answer them in your content comprehensively.
Think about topics and beyond keywords to ensure you match your content to the user’s search intent. Even more, upgrade toward semantically structured content by optimizing for featured snippets and include structured data.