July 31 2018

The New SEO: Optimizing For Semantic Search

SEO semantic searchPreviously, SEO was all about creating meta tags and finding places for keywords within content and repeating the same target keyword(s) over and over again. For example, a page about vacuum cleaners would benefit from the term ‘vacuum cleaners’ woven throughout the content multiple times. This once resulted in higher rankings, but also led to black-hat SEO practices, such as hiding keywords in the same color as the background. Google quickly came to realize that pages which were ranking highly in result of these “strategies” were not necessarily the most accurate, helpful and well-rounded pages respective to a search.

Because Google strives to provide the best results for searchers, they changed their algorithms in response. In the past years, Google’s algorithms have changed and developed to be more user-centric by understanding search intent and ranking the most helpful, relevant content higher in search results. Though this has been the mission for some time, RankBrain has finally perfected it.

AI Isn’t Just in Sci-Fi

RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence (AI) system, used as part of Google’s overall search algorithm, to process every single search query and help sort through search results. Google rolled this system out in 2015 and it is designed to help better interpret queries, so it can find the best web pages relative to each search. RankBrain does this by understanding the relationship between words. It can interpret searches and populate pages with content that might not necessarily contain the exact words that were searched for. For example, a search for ‘vacuum cleaners’ might bring up pages that also match ‘vacuum nozzles’, ‘suction’ and ‘cordless”. This is because RankBrain can see patterns between searches and words to understand how they are similar to each other, which allows Google to place pages that searchers will benefit from the most higher in results. In other words, RankBrain uses semantic search.

Understanding Semantic Search

Google states that semantic search “seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms….to generate more relevant results.” With the rise of semantic search, search engine optimizers should now be focused on writing digestible, user-friendly content around related concepts instead of one keyword.

  • Holistic Content: Creating pages and content focused on one target keyword phrase is no longer effective. The keyword itself isn’t the determining factor in ranking for a specific search query. Using supporting keywords that are also relevant to your topic will show Google that your site is a valuable source for a particular topic. For example, including proof keywords like ‘vacuum nozzles’, ‘suction’ and ‘cordless” in addition to your target keyword “vacuum cleaners” will demonstrate usefulness and contribute to higher rankings. However, these keywords cannot just be dropped into the page. The keywords need to be strategically incorporated and centered around helpful content that addresses the user’s needs.

  • Content Relevance: To rank higher in search results, identify which type of user intent you would like to target on your page and cater your content accordingly. The types of user intent are:

    • Informative: Looking for an answer, e.g. pasta recipes

    • Transactional: Wanting to purchase, e.g. pasta on sale

    • Navigational: Searching something specific , e.g. Barilla pasta

Content types and styles make a difference, too. For instance, if you want to reach people who are looking for lipstick, including images on your page may be best. But, if you’re trying to attract people searching for how to put together a shelf or make a chicken dish, videos and bullet points might make more sense. 

  • Write Conversationally: Create content that reads naturally so that both human users and bots can easily understand what a page is about. Also focus on writing content that answers questions in a conversational, digestible form, such as numbered lists or bullets. This approach makes it easy for Google to read and for the user to interpret. 

  • Technical SEO still matters: Internal linking supports user experience because it provides an easy way to navigate the site. It also connects related themes and allows search engine bots to more easily crawl the internal pages of your site. Additionally, incorporating structured data, like schema markup, signifies to search engines what information is most important, yielding more relevant results. 

Value Over Keywords

Search engine optimizers should be focused on optimizing content for value, rather than exclusively focusing on target keywords. At the end of the day, your content is for humans, so focus on delivering great user experience and meeting your visitors’ needs. The change in search engine rankings will likely follow.

If you think you need to update your content, redesign your website or just want to talk more about SEO best practices, let’s chat! Our skilled SEO strategists would be happy to help you.

  • SEO

posted by
Alexandra Giarratano
Alexandra Giarratano

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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