Google search’s ability to find content directly connected to the words we put in, as well as matching our intent, never fails to amaze. This intelligent and predictive search capability is known as a semantic search.
Keywords certainly aren’t the only important factor with it comes SEO and it’s becoming increasingly important to also incorporate SEO strategies that will harness the power of semantic searches on your website. At its simplest, this involves anticipating the user’s intent and determine the context of what they’re searching for.
However, to implement such strategies, you’ll need a basic understanding of the system around semantic search.
Simply put, a semantic search is a more intelligent search that takes a look at a user's history and general context of words searched for to give relevant results.
The “intent” of your search is for what you are searching for, while the “context” is for what you mean to search. To give an example, if you search for the “Beatles”, how does Google know to show your results for the band instead of assuming you made a mistake and misspelled a search about insects?
Google uses the vast amount of data it’s collected about you as a user, as well as trends for similar searches and results, to determine the context and, therefore, what you actually want to find when you search “Beatles”.
Semantic searches are what allows Google to interpret conversational questions, autocorrect your spelling in searches, and provide images and graphics that also match your queries.
In 2013, Google launched the Hummingbird algorithm which was the biggest overhaul to its search engine since 2009. Because people communicate through conversation, not keywords, Google felt it necessary to make serious changes. According to Google's Senior Vice President Amit Singhal, the new algorithm was designed to better understand questions and quickly answer them.
Hummingbird understands that words have multiple meanings, so it uses search history, user location, spelling, intent, and context to better understand what you are actually looking for when you type in search words. Because of this, Google is able to quickly analyze full questions. From there, it’s able to identify and rank answers to those questions from previously indexed content.
Google is able to deliver all this information through the use of a search engine component that used to be called the Knowledge Graph, which is now known as the Knowledge Vault. Google isn’t the only search engine with a vault of user knowledge. Bing, Yahoo, and others also utilize the same sort of system in an attempt to dredge up the most relevant search results for users.
Using semantic tactics for SEO is important for the same reason that stuffing keywords into content was essential ten or fifteen years ago: good SEO puts your website at the top of search results.
Of course, the real reason semantic tactics are essential is that older SEO strategies are simply not as effective. At this point, some popular SEO strategies that were popular even a year ago have become obsolete, such as the concept that more links mean higher rankings and that single keyword-rich content is essential.
When developing content to do well in a semantic search, create it with the user in mind. This means you need to develop high-quality content that is worthwhile and substantial.
Ask yourself, “If I were searching for my product, what information would I want to know?” Then, create content that supplies that information—not just information about the product but the type of content that your target market will want to read.
Making essential information easy to locate on your website is another way to improve your semantic score. In fact, you’ll notice that Google sometimes answers a search question by providing, at the top of the search results, an excerpt from a webpage that concisely responds to the question (also known as featured snippets).
With links, like content, more isn’t necessarily better—it’s all about quality. Linking to relevant sites with stronger semantic scores will bolster your score more than linking to many irrelevant, low-ranking sites.
Though jamming keywords and alternative spellings of keywords into content is an obsolete SEO strategy, keywords, especially long-tailed keywords, are still important. Part of creating targeted content is to effectively use tools like Google Keyword Planner or keyword.io.
The subsequent content should not only utilize the keywords you’re trying to rank for, but also using associated keywords that will help develop the context for search engines. For example, when writing about running, you might also include information about shoes, trails, tracks, fitness, diet, and other information that will be relevant to your target market.
Recall that Google, Bing, and Yahoo had their own versions of the Knowledge Vault. It turns out that they all got together to determine keywords and tags for the best user experience. Take advantage of this by marking up content with tags defined by Schema.org.
How social media sites impact your semantic search score is a bit more complicated than you might expect. Yes, social media is the second best digital marketing channel after a website, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will improve your ability to rise to the top of a semantic search.
Google’s Matt Cutts explained in 2014, that there was an absence of social signals from the Google Search algorithm. Nonetheless, Google does crawl social sites for data, just as they would any other site. This means that it’s likely that links published on social media pages will be marked as credible backlinks and thus influence a page’s rank.
That aside, your social media sites do influence the content showing up in user’s search results, which makes them exceptionally important to develop as part of any digital marketing campaign.
There are a variety of tools (and SEO plugins) that can help you develop and test the semantic searchability of your content.
Answer the Public is a visual search tool that fetches and maps keyword suggestions when you search on Google and Bing. It attempts to provide insights into the motivations and emotions of the people behind specific search queries.
Take advantage of the Google Suggest Feature, which is the autocomplete function you’ll notice when searching. The suggestions presented based on a keyword or phrase typed in can give you insights into relevant and frequent searches.
One of the best keyword tools for semantic search specifically is the Semantic Link Search Tool. This tool will help you determine which related keywords you should be including in your posts. Keywordtool.io is also a great tool, as it collects keywords from Google, Apple’s App Store, and Bing autosuggestions based on language, country, or religion.
In addition to these, there are other useful tools available to improve your semantic search score, such as Google’s Data Testing Tool, Yandex Checker, Text Razor, and Semaphore.
Harnessing the power of semantic searches is straightforward: create quality content. By focusing on intent and context, you’ll naturally be producing posts that will do well and include related single keywords and long-tailed keywords.
Of course, in addition to creating relevant posts to your target market, there are still plenty of ways to tweak content in order to improve your semantic search score.
What are your best tips for excelling with semantic search? Tweet your thoughts at @envato and we’ll share the best insights!