A Guide to Semantic Search and Why It’s So Important for SEO
As recently as 2010, the key to earning the top positions on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) was to gain as many backlinks as possible while ensuring your content was packed with the keywords you wanted to rank for.
Nowadays, such tactics are unlikely to get you very far, largely thanks to the rise of semantic search.
Google, along with other major search engines, has come a long way since its primitive days, and its increasingly sophisticated algorithm now searches for more than just exact keyword matches in content. Now, it’s crucial to understand user intent as well as the meaning behind keywords so that you can provide rich information that relates to them.
In this article, we’ll tell you exactly what semantic search means and its impact on SEO before explaining how you can optimise your content to earn those top positions on the SERPs.
Semantic Search Explained
In basic terms, semantic search refers to Google’s efforts to understand natural language in the same way as a human does. Search engines try to produce accurate results for search queries based on the understanding of:
Relationships between words
For example, if somebody asked you “What is the longest bridge in the world?” followed up by “How long is it?” you’d know that ‘it’ referred to the world’s longest bridge. However, before the 2013 update, search engines wouldn’t understand the second question’s context. Instead, the results you’d get for the second question would be based on the wording, meaning you wouldn’t find out how long the world’s longest bridge was.
To address this, Google now distinguishes between different entities and interprets searcher intent by assessing various factors, such as:
User search history
Global search history
As a result, filling your content with keywords without giving them context or targeting the user’s intent won’t get you very far in the world of SEO. We’ll explain what you need to do to improve your content and your SEO performance regarding semantic search later in this article.
The Evolution of Semantic Search
The Knowledge Graph
In 2012, Google introduced the Knowledge Graph, which represented the first step towards understanding the context of keywords and the importance of entities. The Knowledge Graph collects public domain information and properties of entities (for example, a machine has an age, inventor, purpose, etc.) to create a huge database of information.
In 2013, Google unleashed its Hummingbird update, which set the stage for the modern era of semantic search. Hummingbird serves to ensure pages that match the meaning of a search query will rank higher than pages that simply have the query included within the content.
In 2015, Google rolled out its machine learning system, RankBrain. Like Hummingbird, RankBrain sets out to better understand a user’s intent behind search queries. It analyses the performance of search results and identifies similarities between pages that are valuable to users. Consequently, RankBrain allows pages that answer a query to rank high on the SERPs even if they don’t contain the query itself.
How the Rise of Semantic Search Affects SEO
In order to optimise your content to meet the evolving requirements associated with semantic search, it’s important to understand the ways in which user activity is changing.
You should produce content with the goal of concisely answering a common query right at the top of the page. You can then go on to discuss more specific details in the body of your content.
Keywords vs. Topics
The age of creating content solely focused on the insertion of keywords is over. Now, you should instead write content that covers broad topics in-depth, ensuring your website becomes a comprehensive, high-quality and original resource of useful information.
This isn’t to suggest that keyword research is a thing of the past. It just means that your keyword research should revolve around finding the topics your target readers want to learn more about.
You need to consider what your target readers want to achieve when searching for a particular query. For example, “where to buy…” and “best deals on…” queries clearly indicate an intent to purchase. When you know exactly what your readers want, you can build content around it.
Just because generating quality, useful content needs to be a top priority doesn’t mean the technical stuff should be ignored. It’s still vital to help the search engines understand your content, which involves:
Keywords: It’s still wise to include keywords that relate to your content in title tags, header tags, the body of your content, the URL, and meta tags, but only include them if they fit naturally.
Link building: Authoritative backlinks remain a very important ranking factor.
Structured data: Learn more about Schema markup to find out why structured data is so important.
Errors: Naturally, your website should contain as few errors and redirects as possible.
You also need to optimise your website’s loading speed as well as ensure its structure allows it to be easily indexed by the search engines.
The Bottom Line
Poorly constructed content and old SEO tricks could do more harm than good for your search rankings, which means you simply must create content with the user experience in mind. If you want to rank for a keyword, make sure your content provides plenty of related information while satisfying your reader’s query. Also, don’t forget that the technical side of SEO still plays an important role.
At Smart Traffic, we’re a leading Sydney-based SEO agency that always remains on top of the latest online marketing developments. If you don’t have time to intimately get to know an industry that’s rapidly evolving, give us a call on 02 8205 3133 to find out how we can help you.
About the author
A specialist in Google Ads, and with a wide range of SEO skills and experience, Michael has a particular interest in Local SEO strategies for small to medium sized businesses. When Michael is not working hard increasing conversions for clients Paid Advertising campaigns he enjoys traveling, dining out and watching Formula 1 and football.