Until relatively recently, Search Engine behaviour was quite chaotic and unpredictable. Today they tend to understand us humans much better. In this blog, we’ll look at some of the major changes in SEO in the last 5 years, and specifically how SEO semantics have played a significant role in making sure search engines supply what their human users are looking for.
Up until as late as 2010, SEO was a strictly technical practice. The more backlinks you had, the better you performed and keyword stuffing was not only commonplace but also crucial to any content strategy.
Important concepts such as niches, content quality, and internal link structure were not considered at all.
Google and other search engines could barely understand what a website or even what a piece of content was about. Their behaviour was easily exploited.
Fortunately, thanks to several recent updates including Panda and Penguin, User Experience (UX) has become a much more important ranking factor. Google now understands the actual meaning of any search query far more accurately. You can easily test this just by asking Google a question. The search engine now recognises not only the words you write, but also what you mean, and what you expect to get from the search. Users have become central.
“Google now thinks more like a human!”
No longer limited to searching for exactly what is typed in, Google also now recognises the nuances in meaning behind a particular word or a sentence and consequently has become more “human”.
Google understands synonyms…
In the beginning, there was the “H1 Meta Tag”
In an earlier attempt to help Search Engines understand us better, in 2008, the H1 Metatag was set up to give website owners the ability to split contents up into different paragraphs.
This structure means we can organise and order pages by importance and, communicate clearly to the Search Engines what the most and the least important parts of each document are.
H1 – Title
H2 – First Paragraph
H3 – Second Paragraph
H1 – Main Topic
H2 – Second Topic
H3 – Third Topic
Now we also have the Semantic Field
The Semantic Field is a group of words and meanings, related to a specific keyword, that Google considers relevant. Basically, other words that often occur around the words you are searching for that might carry similar meaning or be related in some way. We can investigate the keywords Google expects to make up the Semantic Field for any keywords a number of ways…
Google Keyword Planner: Most of the suggested keywords that Google Keyword Planner pulls up, can be considered part of your keyword’s Semantic Field.
Google Search Bar: When you write something in the Google Search Bar, Google will come up with some related searches. These help create an understanding of what other things people are interested in when they search for a particular keyword.
Related searches: This is what appears at the bottom of every Google page.
These tools provide us with important advice and suggestions regarding which topics to address in our content. There are of course different techniques and approaches, but your ability to understand the topic you are working on and, to observe what else people search for, is what makes the difference.
For example, our client Jermyn Street Design (www.jsd.co.uk) specialise in providing high-end, corporate workwear. Our blogs for them not only talk about “corporate workwear” but also use other terminology within that semantic field including: uniform, corporate wear, staff clothing, company uniform, uniform design and made-to-measure uniforms.
Understanding and using the topics that fall within a set of keywords’ Semantic Field, will help your content rank for those search terms.
What this can mean eventually, is that the search results, on the face of it at least, bear little or no resemblance to the words that were searched for, yet still provide the user with the information they were looking for, for example, a user searches for “fix my broken arm” and received results on “treating a fractured humerus”.
“Semantic search is a search or a question or an action that produces meaningful results, even when the retrieved items contain none of the query terms, or the search involves no query text at all.” Tamas Doszkocs
How we can we help Google apply Semantic Search correctly to our websites? Entities, topics and keywords.
Google and other Search Engines are now not just looking for keywords, but to the entities related to those keywords and the topics that surround them. Just as when we search, we are often not only looking for the exact thing we type in but investigating a broader field, looking for wider information related to that keyword, the general topic surrounding it and other entities connected to it.
Entity: a group of meanings (news, information etc.) that surrounds the main keyword. In e-commerce, the entity would normally be the product item.
So, whilst keywords are still important in every optimisation process, using keywords alongside other content that clearly fits into the same topic, co-occurs frequently on the wider internet and makes sense in context will all help SEO and Semantic Search.
Semantic Search and E Commerce Listings can be challenging!
Making the most of Semantic Search can be tricky when the item we are really trying to push up the search list is a product item on an e-commerce site. We don’t normally want to fill a product description with lots of other related content. A product page with masses of content on it would not look good or be particularly engaging. At this stage of purchase, users just want to know the important information and complete the purchase or leave.
One way to achieve this is through making sure product pages are hooked up with blogs and other content pages through a solid internal link structure. By creating a substructure which combines both the product page (keyword focused) and the blog post (topic focused) in one group, the product details are linked to the wider context (topics, entities and other items in the same semantic field) without having to overload the product page.
Product: Hiking Shoes
Blog Posts: “How to choose the best hiking shoes”, “Hiking shoes vs. Hiking boots”, “10 features your hiking shoes must have”
In doing this we practically apply SEO Semantics by focusing on all its aspects: Entity, Topic, and Keyword.
Keyword (Hiking Shoes) → Topic (shoes features, adventures, mountains, how to buy Shoes) → Entity (Your Product)
SEO Semantics is not a science and results will never be entirely predictable. Google will never function in exactly the same way as the human brain, but the cleverer Google becomes the more useful Semantic SEO becomes… the future is bright!