What is Semantic SEO- and Why Should You Care?

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SEO has changed, and webmasters and affiliate marketers should take notice. In the past, keyword-based SEO was the end all and be all of website optimization for search engines. Well, not anymore.

Thanks to Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update, among other changes, semantic SEO is quickly emerging as the defined method by which websites are going to be ranked on the search engine results pages (SERPs). What is semantic SEO?

As the name suggests, semantic SEO has to do with the meaning of words and how they relate to one another. For example, the terms “Dallas” and “Cowboys” versus “Dallas Cowboys” have two very different meanings but the same keywords. If you didn’t input these terms into an exact match search, a strictly keywords-focused search engine wouldn’t be able to distinguish them and would return information on the city of Dallas, cowboys, and football. A semantic search engine, however, would analyze your past searches as well as the information available and would return a more focused set of information.

What’s old is now Googlified

Semantic SEO is not new. Hakia, a search engine company founded in 2004, utilized its SemanticRank algorithm to index search results, and then displayed those search results on a rich media SERP that it called ‘the Gallery.’

Powerset, founded in 2005, was developing a natural language-based search engine before its acquisition by Microsoft in 2008. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft launched Bing.

Cognition Technologies, a company that fueled the development of a search engine aptly called Cognition Search, is also focused on linguistic and not keyword-based online indexing. By 2008, this company had announced the release of what it termed “the largest commercially available Semantic Map of the English language.”

All of these semantic search engines had something that Google, at least at the time, didn’t: the ability to discern user intent from just a string of zeros and ones. Compared against each other, the smaller semantics-based search engines easily beat Google on returning useful content. Meanwhile, Google itself was being bogged down by black-hat SEO tactics like keyword-stuffing.

Then Google got smart and went after semantic SEO too.

Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update was in large part an answer to its issue with returning irrelevant search results based solely on keywords. Coupled with the creation of the Knowledge Graph, Google now had a tighter hold on user intent-focused indexing. Nowadays, inputting a query like ‘diet plans’ returns the following results, some of which are- and aren’t- matching my input keywords:

diet plans

Notice the ‘richer media’ that show up just after the first three posted search results. Also, notice that the first search result doesn’t exactly match my query- but what it does do is provide me with a major authority site on the topic of healthy eating.

In light of the changes that Google has made as well as the overall push into semantic SEO, how can you better optimize your website for semantics and linguistics versus simple keywords?

1. Reframe your content

In the past, it was enough to intersperse your content with two or three repeating keyword phrases like “best diet plans” and call it a day. However, search engine users are typically trying to answer a question when submitting a query. To grab their (and Google’s) attention, you should consider rephrasing and inputting your content as follows:

  • What is a diet plan?
  • Different types of diet plans
  • How to choose the best diet plan for you
  • Which diet plan works best with your body type?
  • Diet plan recipes

Notice how the above content is fairly light on the desired keyword phrase “best diet plans” and focuses more on what a user might actually be pondering while searching online. It’s these questions that you’ll need to focus on while generating your content.

Also, create links within your content that take the viewer from answering one question to answering a related question, and then answering a question related to that last one. In essence, create your own mini ‘Knowledge Graph.’ Doing so increases your domain authority, which attracts the attention of Google and Bing.

2. Use Structured Data Markup

Within your Google Webmaster Tools section, there is an ‘Other Resources’ link. Click on this link and you’ll be taken to an area that offers you two important tools: the Structured Data Markup Helper and the Structured Data Testing Tool.

Using the Structured Data Markup Helper, you can highlight various sections of your website and its content and tag that content for recognition by Google as either an image, URL, article, etc. Here is an example web page using data markup:

google markup tool

 

Using The Structured Data Testing Tool, you can then ‘see’ what Google identifies when it scans your site markups.

structured data testing

 

By, in essence, pointing out to Google the important facets of your content and its meaning, you help ensure your website’s inclusion in semantic-based search results.

Incidentally, Schema.org is another useful tool for performing data markup, especially if you have a local business you’d like to showcase.

3. Involve social media

What better way to understand and incorporate semantic SEO than via the most linguistic area of the Internet- social media? Social search results are being increasingly incorporated into the SERPs. How can you take advantage of this trend?

By aligning your social media and SEO campaigns into one united front. To begin with, go into your Webmaster Tools area and analyze what search terms are being used by your current audience to finding your content.

search queries

Then, go into Google Analytics and find out where the majority of your social traffic originates from. You can do this by clicking on ‘Acquisition,’ then ‘All Traffic.’ Within this area, you can also look at all your social traffic and break it down by percentage in specific outlets:

social analytics

Is there an overarching theme to your audience or can it be categorized by specific interests? Could you even create an interest graph from your audience and its needs, goals, frustrations, etc.?

Based on these data, you can craft your content to address the search terms and questions being asked by your social audience. Add that content directly to social media outlets and encourage comments and/or reviews. Reward user engagement with prize drawings or follow-up/Q&A blog posts and other content.

Have you addressed semantic SEO on your website or blog? If so, how? Please let us know in the comments below.

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