SEO and Semantic Search
Do you find yourself wondering why some of your content isn’t ranking in search engines? You’ve done your keyword research and made sure the correct keywords are used in the title, headlines and body of the post, yet it’s not performing as well as you expected? Make sure that you have taken into consideration semantic search and the role it plays with search engines.
Google Hummingbird Effect
Beginning in 2013 with Google Hummingbird. Focuses on results matching the searcher intent rather than just the searcher language. The objective of this is to understand “real-world entities and their relationships to one another.” It has brought about conversational search queries and increased the presence of knowledge panels.
Prior to this, keywords were the main ranking factor for websites in search engines. A page that repeated a target search term the most would be able to get a higher placement on a search engine results page. Enter keyword stuffing issues.
The system was too easy to manipulate and in turn, caused low-quality content that was written for search crawler bots rather than the users.
Why Search Intent Is Important
Google’s primary goal is to satisfy the users query. If you haven’t already, check out their article How Intent is Redefining the Marketing Funnel. The traditional ranking factors still matter, but are trumped by satisfying a user’s search intent. If a search engine doesn’t find what the user is looking for, they are going to look elsewhere to who can best answer their question which is in part, why it’s so important to Google to find the best quality, relevant information.
Semantic search also allows for Google to distinguish between different entities- people, places and things to interpret the user intent based on different factors such as user search history, user location, global search history, and spelling variations.
Principles of Semantic Search
Search Intent– The search intent of the user is the reason that they are performing the query on a search engine. What is it they want to accomplish? Are they wanting to learn something, find something or maybe buy something? When you understand the intent behind the user’s search it allows for their question to be better answered by the search engine providing more relevant results.
The semantic meaning of search terms– Semantics is the study of meaning and relationship between words. In an online search it relates to the relationship between the query, the words and phrases related to it and content on webpages. It allows search engines to display results that are related to the context of the search query.
Shifting the Focus from Keywords to Topics
The changes of semantic searches bring about a shift from focusing on keywords to focusing on topics. Search Engine Journal recommends thinking about broad topics in your niche area that you can then cover in-depth.
Make a list of keywords and then separate them by the user intent. Create content that directly addresses the intent of the user.
The SEO authority site Backlinko has an article that gives additional examples of how you can uncover search intent.
This is another factor that impacts a semantic search. As people use virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa, search engines are learning to recognize the semantic, conversational nature of searches.
When you use especially a voice search do you just say a keyword that you are looking for or do you ask a question? For example, “Siri, where’s the best place to eat?” The search engine then looks at your location and gives you suggestions based on that. This is why it’s important to think about the intent when creating content and one of the easiest ways to help you do that is by understanding your user and their journey.
Content should be written in a natural way that makes sense. Moz recommends focusing your sentence structure on Subject Predicate Objective (SPO). This makes the content easier for the user to understand and it also makes it easier for search engines to parse the information.
The New Normal For Search
Semantic Search is not going away and will only become more precise as time goes on. This is why it is so important to optimize for user intent so that your site can be found in search engines.