Technology is perhaps the most rapidly changing area on earth; look away for even a minute and chances are that you’ve missed something. Two of the most popular fields in recent years have been Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. And as these fields continue to evolve, so too does Search Engine Marketing. One of the latest buzzword that informed marketers should be aware of is semantic search.
Lucky for you, I’ve put together this “Semantic Search 101” blog post. In it, I’ll give you the low down on semantic search and explain how you can ensure that your online marketing efforts are taking this important development into account.
What is Semantic Search?
Semantic search is a concept through which search engines utilize Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to better understand what motivates searches and what is expected of them, and consequently improve the quality of search results.
In order to better understand this concept, it’s important to consider two additional terms: intent and context. Intent is connected to the searcher and refers to what the user is looking for. Context on the other hand, refers to everything surrounding the search. This can include things such as the user’s device, location and search history.
Search engines utilize these two elements to determine what results are most relevant and display them to the user. In other words, instead of displaying a list of links that may or may not be relevant, search engines work to actually provide an answer to the searcher’s query.
Why should I care about Semantic Search?
In the past, search engines focused mainly on technical Search Engine Optimization (SEO) factors – based integration of keywords or key search phrases into H tags, title tags, body text, link tags, image tags, etc. However, with the advent of semantic search, this is no longer enough. SEO now relies more than ever on ensuring that search engines understand your content. If they can’t understand your content, they can not and will not use it to answer a searcher’s query.
How do I cater to Semantic Search?
So SEO is now about making sure that search engines can understand my content? But how do I do that, you ask? Not to worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. There are a number of ways to do so.
Schema and Rich Snippets for Search Marketing
A great place to start is to utilize semantic markup. Schema.org is the brainchild of Google, Yahoo and Yandex and provides a shared vocabulary through which developers and marketers can semantically markup a website and its pages. In doing so, it provides more direction to search engines on the information contained on a webpage, helping them to understand it in the way that a human does.
Moreover, when creating content it’s incredibly important to ensure that it answers your customers’ questions, not only that, but the answers accurately and completely address intent and context. In doing so, you’ll build your credibility with Google as a source for accurate and reliable information, to become a go-to resource for relevant search queries.
User-Friendly, Digestible SEO Content
It’s also important to consider writing style. While verbose and sesquipedalian blog posts with complex sentence structures may be your favorite way to show off, it isn’t ideal for ensuring that Google understands your intent and context for the reader. Instead, focus on the end goal of answering the specific questions customers are asking in the language they use.
Linking and Link Building Remains Critical to SEO
Another great trick is to utilize both internal and external linking to highligh authority and credibility. Linking helps search engines understand the topic of your content and will improve user experience to access other like resources. However, it’s important not to go crazy, or get irrelevant with links as this can have a negative impact. Ensure that you are linking to high-quality content. As a relevancy test ask yourself, will this link really be of interest and value to the user? Remember folks, link in moderation. A good rule of thumb is 1 link per 100 words.
Intelligent Keywords for Intelligent SEO
Last, be smart about keywords. While semantic search has definitely changed the importance of keywords in SEO, it hasn’t removed it all together. Solid semantic keyword research can actually improve your Search Engine Optimization efforts. Start with identifying companion keywords and variations and include these in your content. Then, focus on long-tail keywords (i.e. search terms that are longer than 2 words in length); these are great for providing context to search engines.
What does this mean for my existing content and SEO efforts?
Applying the above suggestions retro-actively can be challenging. Especially if you have a large volume of content on your website. My suggestion would be to first look at your main first level navigation pages and key product/service pages. Ask yourself, what question am I trying to answer here? How well am I answering it? Am I providing any value to my customers in doing so?
Then, look at your blog posts and how they are appearing in search rankings. Those appearing in top positions will likely need only a light touch of optimization. Those appearing dropping off the first organic search results page for your targeted keyword are great candidates to run through the principals of Semantic Search and SEO identified in this blog post. With a first page ranking in reach the time spent optimizing these pages is well spent.
How do I keep up with all the changes in search engine algorithms?
Semantic search was introduced in its earliest form in Google’s 2013 Hummingbird update. Since then, there have been a number of additional updates; Penguin, Pirate and Panda to name a few. Because algorithm updates can significantly impact your rankings, and consequently traffic to your site, it’s important to try and stay ahead of them. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t make this easy and keeps pretty quiet about the evolution of its algorithm until after each release and their consequential impacts.
Here are a few quick resources for keeping up to date with the latest:
- Google Webmaster’s Blog
- Bing Webmaster’s Blog
- Search Engine Journal Algorithm History
- Technical SEO Moz Blog
- Search Engine Land Google Library
However, all is not lost. Marketers can minimize the impact of these updates by remembering that their aim is two-fold. First, to improve the quality and relevance of search results and second – to penalize sites using blackhat or unethical SEO practices.
In other words, by providing high-quality content that is relevant and helpful to your audience and using white-hat SEO practices such as organically building domain/page authority and a diverse link profile, marketers have a better chance at staying on the right side of algorithm updates. More on this in a later blog post…
Where should I start with Semantic Search?
I can’t predict the future, but I can pretty much guarantee that semantic search will remain an important concept for those looking to establish and grow their online presence and achieve their business goals. Especially as Data Science and Machine Learning continue to evolve. Consequently, it is imperative that today’s digital marketers ensure that their digital and content strategies cater to this concept by creating high quality and relevant content and ensuring a great user experience.
Sound a bit daunting? No worries – this is where we can help! If you would like to learn more about semantic search and how you can ensure that your company is putting its best foot forward, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A graduate of the Management of Technology MBA program from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and a former Board of Director for the SFU Alumni board, Erica finds balance through academic challenges as well.
As a self-diagnosed digital marketing junky, she spends most of her days studying search engine algorithm updates, A/B testing her own confirmation biases and building digital marketing strategies for various B2B clients.
When unplugged from the Digital World, Erica spends her time brewing beer, ultramarathon running and exploring the vast north of the 49th parallel with her husband, kids and vizsla.
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