Ranking in Google isn’t just about links and keywords. As Google’s algorithms improve, they get better at analyzing language. Understanding semantic SEO and how Google’s algorithms process language is vital for keeping up with current SEO trends.
In this article, we’ll dive a bit more into what semantic SEO is, why it’s important, and how your business can use it to improve your Google Search rankings.
In a nutshell, semantic SEO is approaching your SEO efforts from a topic-first, not a keyword-first, perspective. It’s about adding context, meaning, and value to your content. Google algorithms are always improving, and use natural language processing to understand words in relation to one another in ways that a human might. Semantic SEO is an approach to content that puts the user first, organizing your topics, content, and keywords in a way that makes sense to people looking for information. Doing this can improve your SEO as well as the general effectiveness of your site.
‘The earliest days of SEO were a lot different than they are now. Google’s ranking algorithms were less advanced and prone to manipulation by black hat SEO tactics. Keywords are a great start, but a short string of words alone can’t convey all the contextual information needed to understand the human language. To avoid providing results that offer keywords but not value, Google strives to take a more human and semantic approach to the process. After all, their goal is to provide the most relevant search results to every query that passes through their system. This can’t be achieved by focusing on keywords alone, out of context.
To that end, there were three major turning points in Google’s attempts to better understand and contextualize the human language for organic search rankings. The first was the Google Knowledge Graph, a vast and sophisticated knowledge base that helps Google algorithms understand the relationships between entities and concepts. The second was 2013’s Hummingbird algorithm update, meant to help Google better understand the meaning and context behind search queries. It improved the way Google handles longtail keywords with conversational search, and focused on human search to improve how Google responds to synonyms and the intent behind inaccurate queries. Then, 2015 saw the introduction of Google RankBrain, a machine-learning algorithm meant to help Google even better understand search intent.
Today, Google has years of improvements behind how it looks at a piece of web content and understands it. The algorithms can parse not only the topic at hand, but also all the related subtopics, terms, and entities, along with how those concepts were related. In other words, Google can look at a piece of content and say, “I know what this is, and I know why this content result needs to show up for this search.”
Searchers aren’t always looking for just one thing, or they might not know exactly what they’re looking for when they hop onto Google. Often, they’re trying to gain a bit more depth and understanding about a given topic, and they may not know how to exactly phrase the question that they’re asking. For example, think about someone who isn’t very tech-savvy and accidentally downloads some malware that displays unwanted ads. They don’t know what’s happening or why, but they can describe the symptoms. So they search something like “why are there ads on my computer?”
Based on the context of the question and the content written about it, it’s highly likely that Google will start displaying results discussing adware, malware, and viruses. That’s part of the power of semantic search. If you sell adware removal software, you can capture searches from people who don’t know to use the word “adware.” But you need semantically relevant content to do it, explaining the symptoms of the problems adware causes and how to fix those issues. Google makes the connection between your explainer content and the intent behind the search.
Users like this might have a while list of supplementary questions, and so content that serves them well will answer a variety of questions about the topic of unwanted ads and adware, describe a variety of different symptoms and solutions, and provide next steps. This is called “topical relevance” and relies on answering many questions about a single topic rather than one question at a time.
There’s no doubt that semantic SEO strategies take more time and effort to implement, but the strategy is well worth it. Crafting in-depth content relevant to your target users allows for more keyword rankings in organic search, and the improvements to your content send quality signals. Likewise, this improved content signifies to Google and Google users that you’re an expert in your field, building brand authority for your efforts.
If that weren’t enough, semantic SEO optimization opens the door for other features like “People Also Ask” if you do it well. It provides opportunities for internal linking, and the chance to keep users on your website for longer.
One of the best things about semantic SEO optimization is how easy it is to implement, especially if you are already doing everything you can to optimize your website and content with standard SEO practices. Combined, the tips below should help to improve the topical depth of your content and help convey its meaning better to Google and search users.
Google isn’t purely reliant on one keyword per page. In the early days of SEO, one keyword for one page was fairly common practice. In contemporary SEO, it’s better to ensure that your page serves a variety of keywords by focusing on who the topic serves, what their intent is, and what they might be searching.
If your fashion brand wants to promote cotton dresses, then there are some obvious keywords you want to rank for: cotton dresses, cotton summer dresses, cotton dresses for dancing, etc. You can use a whole group of similar keywords in a single page. If you see a lot of queries such as “cotton dresses for X” then you know people want to know about what types of clothing and materials are best for certain activities. Create a group of keywords and write content answering all of those questions.
What if you have other cotton clothing lines? Why cotton, specifically? If your brand focuses on cotton, why not create content demonstrating your expertise on cotton, and talking about all of your cotton clothing? Maybe you’re proud of your organic cotton materials. People likely want to know about that, so draft some content about your organic cotton clothing lines based on questions you see in keyword explorers.
Pair keywords that make sense together and create a topic that aligns with all of them.
One of the simplest semantic SEO strategies is to increase the value of your content by providing a more comprehensive exploration of your topic. While content length isn’t an official ranking factor, a longer piece that is well written can display stronger semantic signals. Likewise, content studies have shown a strong correlation between long-form content and higher SERP positions, with the ability to add more quality backlinks being a primary factor.
That being said, you’ll want to be careful to avoid keyword stuffing or repetition in your efforts to improve content length, as these are always going to prove ineffective. Instead, focus on being more specific, nuanced, and in-depth with the information you’re trying to convey to users, as these will add a more natural and user-friendly length to your content.
To echo the above, Google’s improved algorithms and NLP (Natural Language Processing) models make keyword stuffing completely redundant. Thanks to the power of semantic analysis, Google’s smart enough to understand synonyms and related terms. While these related terms aren’t a ranking factor, adding to the content via meta descriptions, page titles, H-tags, and image alt text are never a bad thing, as they only serve to improve your content’s depth and semantic signals.
Adding synonyms and related words makes your content more searchable. It helps Google present your content to a wider variety of searchers as it interprets your synonym usage.
Most importantly of all, this makes your content more readable, user-friendly, and nuanced.
Another great way to improve the semantic depth of your content is to provide answers to common questions users might ask in relation to your primary keyword. In fact, a recent study of 2.5 million search queries concluded that Google’s “People Also Ask” feature shows up for 48.4% of all search queries, often above position 1.
In other words, answering these questions in your web content does two major things for your content strategy. It improves your content’s semantic signals, and it gives your page the chance to rank at the top of SERPs. Best of all, web pages can show up for “People Also Ask” questions even if their blue link result appears lower in search results.
While it’s not often thought of in relation to semantic SEO strategy, structured data is an important part of directly conveying the meaning of your content to search engine algorithms. After all, structured data helps make the function, object, and description of your content as clear as possible.
This works for all sorts of content types, from recipes to Shopify pages. You can tag the elements of your page. For recipes this might ingredients, preparation time, etc. For eCommerce pages this might include product prices, reviews, and materials. This applies to events and dates, contact information, and all sorts of data. This speaks directly to Google and tells it what your content is and what it’s about, and also increases the chances you’ll appear in rich snippets.
Popular content and SEO optimizer tools, like Google Analytics and Google Search Console are life-savers to SEOs everywhere, especially when it comes to keyword research and all the analytics that go with it. They take a lot of the guesswork out of finding the right keywords for your digital marketing campaigns, helping to identify all the semantically-related terms for you. In other words, they function a lot like a “cheat code” for topical depth.
Like keyword clusters mentioned above, topic clusters are another great way to optimize your content for semantic SEO. Unlike keyword clusters, however, topic clusters are focused on more than just one piece of content. They explore a broader subject with more detail, with groups of content centered around a central topic.
To highlight the difference, let’s take the link building services our marketing agency offers and create some content topic clusters for them. While the primary keyword cluster for something like this might be “link building,” a topic cluster for these services would encompass several keyword clusters as well. These might include “high-quality link building,” “paid links,” “ecommerce link building,” etc.
Likewise, the various articles associated with the topic cluster would each target their own keyword cluster. At the same time, they’d all link back to a primary pillar page focused on the larger topic of link building. Thus, a diagram might look something like this:
Content Title 1: “What You Need to Know About High-quality Link Building”
Keyword Cluster: High-quality link building
Keyword (bold = primary): quality link building services, professional link building services, high quality link building services, link building for small businesses
Content Title 2: “The Truth About Paid Links and Google Rankings”
Keyword Cluster: Paid links
Keyword (bold = primary): paid links, paid links google rankings, white-hat SEO, black-hat SEO
Content Title 3: “How Important Is Link Building for eCommerce?”
Keyword Cluster: eCommerce link building
Keyword (bold = primary): link building for ecommerce, link building for ecommerce website, link building strategies for ecommerce, ecommerce link building strategies
Though these are just a few examples of topic clusters, the goal is threefold. For starters, they help to improve semantic SEO signals and meaning. Likewise, they help to improve the total number of keywords rankings. Lastly, they help to establish our agency and our agency’s website as an authority on link building.
At the end of the day, semantic SEO encompasses a wide variety of strategies and concepts that all boil down to optimizing your content for meaning, language, and search intent. By leveraging these semantic SEO strategies, you can do your part to help Google associate your website with not only a few keywords, but a broad range of relevant topics and search queries as well.
Should you need assistance optimizing your SEO and content marketing strategies for higher Google Search rankings, the digital marketing experts at VELOX Media can help. As a Google Premier Partner with over 10 years of experience in SEO, paid advertising, link-building, and UX, our content and search marketing teams have the tools needed to improve your SEO efforts at every juncture, with proven experience in a variety of competitive industries.
Whether you’re a smaller business or a larger enterprise looking to bolster your advertising efforts, reach out to VELOX Media to learn how our marketing experts can help optimize your web content for higher organic search rankings today.