Semantic Search: Is it important and how does it impact SEO?

  • What is semantic search, and is it essential for business?
  • The impact of semantic search on SEO
  • Voice search has changed how people search for products and services
  • The value of technical SEO for business

Over the past ten years, SEO has evolved to become less concerned with backlinks and keywords and more focused on understanding consumer behaviour and how users use search engines to find content, products and services.

The evolution of the search engine understanding and how web administrators optimise for organic search has changed dramatically in the last few years.

Identifying keywords and weaving them into text on the page is no longer sufficient to drive traffic in 2021. Now, it is crucial to understand the value of those keywords concerning the content on the page and provide rich information that will help contextualise those keywords in a way that adheres to the user’s intent.

In an age of semantic search, where natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning – a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that focuses on using data and algorithms to mimic human behaviour – is used to help search engines understand consumer intent – it’s crucial to implement this into your SEO strategy.

So, what is semantic search, how can you optimise your content for it, and why does it matter for SEO today?

What is semantic search?

Semantic search refers to the search engine’s attempt to generate the most accurate search engine result pages (SERPs) for users by enhancing its ability to understand the intent behind search queries and the context between words.

It enables search engines to produce results that are more accurate and more personalised to the user by focusing on how:

  • People construct sentences or phrases
  • Differences between language, tone and spelling
  • The context behind the relationship between words

Semantic search works to deliver results beyond questions or phrases searched for by users.

For example, when searching for the word “cleaner” or “restaurants near me”, – search engines will take location into account and deliver results relevant to your local area.

When typing in “Microsft”, Google recognises that the user made a typing error and returns SERPs on Microsoft regardless.

The same can be said for abbreviations, as searching for “corona” will still produce results on the coronavirus and related topics.

Essentially, semantic search aims to understand language in a way that is naturally occurring to humans. For example, if you asked your friend: “Where is Buckingham Palace?” and then followed that question up with “Who lives in it?” your friend would understand that “it” refers to Buckingham Palace.

Search engines are now being developed to understand the context of the second question, which they wouldn’t have struggled with pre-2013.

In the previous decade, Google sought to produce results that matched the phrase “Who lives in it?” rather than web pages related to the search context.

Today, Google will try to offer results relevant to the question’s context and the relationship between the words being searched.

Semantic search also allows search engines to differentiate between entities (person, product, places and organisations) and interpret user intent based on:

  • Search history
  • Location
  • Global search history
  • Language, tone and spelling

These factors help search engines deliver more relevant, personalised content, which creates a better experience for the users.

Why is semantic search important for SEO?

Semantic search is essential to any SEO strategy that aims to better appeal to search engines and improve their SERP visibility.

As users do not search for products or services using the same language and spelling, search queries have become more conversational. Therefore, for Google to deliver accurate results, the platform must evolve and adapt to new ways of searching for content.

Is voice search more important than keywords?

The rise in voice search has played a significant role in the evolution of semantic search. Mobile voice commands are fast replacing traditional search methods due to new technology such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

According to recent data, voice commands on devices are used frequently in 33% of high-income households.

Separate data from digital consultancy company Perficient revealed that more than 50% of mobile users use voice search to ask questions on their smartphones, behind typing into search engine apps (75%), using a browser (72%), and typing in the mobile search window (63%).

% of mobile users asking questions on their smart phones

Google reports that 27% of the online global population uses voice search on mobile, which is expected to increase significantly over the next five years.

However, optimising for voice search is different from traditional SEO as you must produce concise, quickly accessible information that matches conversational language and answers your audiences most frequently asked questions.

The information that appears in the first paragraph of your webpage should concisely answer a common query before delving into any further detail.

Also, consider taking advantage of structured data such as review, event and news schema markup, making it easier for search engines to understand the content on the page.

Keyword research needs to evolve to focus on topics

SEO professionals spend thousands each year tracking relevant keywords to improve their website ranking on search engines.

However, in 2021 it’s time to stop writing countless articles around a host of keywords and produce in-depth content that covers broad topics in your niche.

By reducing the focus on keywords and building content around topics, we can avoid encapsulating content around a set of keywords that may only crop in a few searches and reach a wider audience.

It is better to create “ultimate” guides that function as comprehensive resources. These will be more valuable to users than a dozen pages that focus on smaller topics as primary and semantically related content are all in one place.

Search intent optimisation

Rather than targeting keywords, marketers should target search intent. By identifying the type of content your audience is searching for, you’ll be able to produce content that satisfies searcher intent which should boost traffic to your site.

Examining the queries that lead people to your website will also allow you to devise content around more ideal and interesting topics.

You could determine what topics you want to write about by making a list of keywords you want to rank for and separating them by user intent. For example, queries about “football tickets” and “football hospitality” would fall under the transactional umbrella, whereas searches for “football fixtures” or “Premier League” results show that users are searching for informational pieces.

Once you’ve grasped searcher intent, begin planning and creating content that addresses their search purposes rather than creating content for the sake of keywords.

Successfully implement technical SEO

SEO also relies heavily on technical components to drive visibility and rankability.

Having solid foundations in SEO fundamentals is still a must in 2021, and experts suggest that technical marketers understand how to recognise and fix crawlability, indexing, and site performance issues.

John McAlpin, SEO Director, Cardinal Digital Marketing, said SEO pros should “seek to elevate their first-party user research and unlock hidden opportunities with services and content ideas that go beyond the capabilities of keyword research.”

That’s not to say that keyword research isn’t necessary; it’s about how they are incorporated into your content and SEO elements. If your keywords appear in your title tags, URL and metadata, as well as the body of the content, make sure they adhere to NLP.

Importance of link building

While link building can be challenging, it is a vital off-site SEO tactic, and authoritative backlinks remain among the most important ranking factors in 2021.

Simply put, link building is the process of getting other websites to set up hyperlinks to your site. However, you shouldn’t take a scattergun approach to this, as a proper link building structure focuses on developing the relationship between your site and other authorities by placing links on pages valuable and relevant to users.

Implementing structured data

Structured data or schema markup can help users find your business as search engines can better interpret the type of content showing on that webpage and present it more accurately in SERPs.

Search engines use the data to provide a rich result in SERPs, which increases the customer’s awareness of the type of site you offer, which offers you leverage over competitors.

There are several types of schema markup, the most frequently used being:

  • Organisation Schema Markup
  • Review Schema Markup
  • Event Schema Markup
  • Article Schema Markup
  • Person Schema Markup
  • Local Business Markup

Eliminating errors

What issues are flagging up on your site? For example, do you have too many redirections for missing pages? Are title tags being used correctly? Have you assigned the correct canonical tags to your web pages?

While semantic search will boost your website SEO, too many errors will only drag your site further down SERPs. Therefore, it’s important to monitor website performance and tackle errors hurting your rankings.

Optimising site structure

Ensure your website has a logical structure that can be easily followed by crawl bots, as this will help search engines understand the connection between your content and the overall site.

Logical site structures also improve user experience (UX) as people who land on the website can follow a logical journey and better understand the types of products or services the business offers.

User experience should guide SEO efforts

UX is now at the core of every successful digital product, whether you’re a small business, a medium-sized enterprise or a large corporation.

User experience and intent should be guiding our SEO strategies, especially now that search engines are heavily focused on fine-tuning their algorithms to understand better and satisfy searchers.

Prioritise semantic search when creating content, as mediocre keyword specific content no longer holds any real value amid the uptick in voice-over search.

Content should be relevant, intent-focused and constructed in a way that is natural to human language. SEO professionals should then technically optimise the content for indexing and rankings, including improving page loading speed.

Professionals should also use structured data and ensure that metadata and URLs are correctly optimised and that internal links are featured appropriately.

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