SEO is changing. Identifying keywords and gaining links is still important but how we, a search engine optimisation company optimise for these keywords has changed drastically. Just identifying keywords is no longer enough; now we need to have a deeper understanding of what these keywords really mean, what information we can provide that will really put these words into context, and also what exactly is the user’s intent when they search for these keywords. Welcome to the age of semantic search.
In this post, we will take a closer look at what semantic search means, what impact it is having on SEO and what we can do to optimise your content to take semantic search into account.
What is Semantic Search?
We have talked a little about semantic search in previous blogs, where we have mentioned Google’s recent algorithm updates and how they have been focused on user intent. The name given to this new focus is semantic search, and what it means is that the search engines are now trying to understand the relationship between words in the way that a human would.
For example, if you were having a conversation with a friend and asked them ‘what is the tallest building in the world?’ and then when they replied, you asked them, ‘Well how tall is it?’, they would know that the word ‘it’ is referring to the answer to the previous question, ‘Burj Khalifa.’ In previous years, search engines would not necessarily have known this though and would offer users results pages that related to the phrase ‘how tall is it?’, rather than ‘how tall is the Burj Khalifa’.
Therefore, semantic search means that search engines are now able to differentiate between people, places and things and can use search histories, user locations, global search history and spelling variations to determine a user’s search intent.
But how did semantic search develop?
History of Semantic Search
Back in 2012, Google started talking about the Knowledge Graph, which is essentially a vast database of public domain information and property entities. The Knowledge Graph is the basis for all the large-scale algorithm changes that have happened in the past few years. Take the Hummingbird Update, which rolled out in 2013; this was focussed on ensuring that pages which matched the meaning of what the searcher was looking for ranked better than pages that matched the keywords but not in the context of what the searcher was looking for.
In 2015, Google then went on to launch RankBrain, a system based on machine learning which offered smart query analysis AI and was also a ranking factor as well. It worked in a similar way to Hummingbird but also included the machine-learning component which hadn’t been used before. What the machine learning element does it to look for similarities between pages that searchers are finding useful, and continuously analyse them. Because it is always learning, Rank Brain may class a page on your site to be an excellent response for a searcher, even if your page does not contain the exact words that the searcher is looking for.
What does Semantic Search mean for SEO?
Semantic search has had a significant impact on SEO in recent months, with the main reason being the rise in the popularity of voice search. More and more people are using voice search on their mobile phones, as well as in their home, using Google Home and Amazon Smart Speakers. Creating content for voice search is very different from traditional content creation, as you need to make sure that it gets to the point immediately and is more conversational as well.
How to Optimise Content for Semantic Search
- The first paragraph of any content you create should clearly and concisely answer a common query. You can then go into specifics in the rest of the post.
- Use Schema structured data to help search engines understand your content and the context you are using your keywords in.
- Instead of focussing on keywords, think more about broad topics in your niche that you can cover in depth and create original, high-quality comprehensive resources for your readers.
- Technical SEO is as important as content when it comes to semantic search
- Even with this move towards semantic search, Google’s search engine is still not smart enough yet to fully grasp meanings on its own, and so optimising your site in a way that will help it to understand your content is key to the success of your content:
- Keywords still matter and so you should include them in your title tags, header tags, meta tags, URL and body text as long as this is done in a natural way
- Authoritative link building is still important so make sure you are using proper internal linking structures and prioritise content that you think will naturally attract links to it
- Eliminate redirects as much as you possibly can, and aim to get it down to at the most one per page.
- Site speed has become more important recently, and so you should make sure your website speed is as fast as possible
To summarise, Google is getting better at understanding the context of content, the relationship between concepts, and user intent – so the content that you post on your website needs to be built with both people and search engines in mind. This can be a hard balance to strike, and so if you need help with that you know where to come! Call us on 01625 238 770 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.