How to Optimize Your Content for Semantic SEO
Google’s progress over the past 20 years is mind-boggling when you think about it. It wasn’t that long ago that users were unbiased towards Yahoo, Bing, or even Ask Jeeves. Those names have since faded into the periphery as Google improved to deliver relevant answers in record time – even as we entered inconsistent sentences littered with typos. Basically Google understands us. And it keeps getting better.
Much of the evolving game of SEO depends on how smart Google’s algorithm is, and it has changed a lot over the years. The latest development? Semantic SEO. But what is it? And how do you optimize your content to satisfy Google’s robots? Let’s take a closer look.
Where does semantic SEO come from?
To understand how to optimize for Google, it helps to understand a bit of its history.
Initially, SEO relied on singular, keyword-driven algorithms. Then came some nice catalytic leaps, notably with “Knowledge Graph”, “Hummingbird”, “RankBrain” and “BERT” between 2012 and 2021.
Knowledge Graph was revolutionary in creating a mind map allowing Google to see the connections between words. And Hummingbird allowed Google to understand the full meaning of a search query rather than just as a string of individual keywords. He was also able to interpret the overall topic of a web page, rather than just researching certain words – a big reason the infamous black-hat SEO technique’s keyword stuffing fell out of favor.
With a priority to better understand users’ search intent, the context of these search terms is also assessed against existing search histories, taking into account their relevance within local and global settings. Or in other words, it added context.
Suppose, for example, that you typed “corona” in your search bar. Currently, Google will predict that you are more likely to be interested in the COVID-19 situation affecting your city, rather than beer. So the first results you will see will be related to this. Semantic SEO is a step forward in the world of Google contextualization.
What is semantic SEO?
To familiarize yourself with semantic referencing, it helps to decompress the word semantic.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, semantics is “the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. The two main areas are logical semantics, concerned with issues such as meaning and reference and presupposition and implication, and lexical semantics, concerned with the analysis of the meanings of words and the relationships between them.
Semantic referencing is based on lexical semantics – hence on how words relate to each other.
1. How to optimize your content for semantic SEO
Google aims to answer user questions with articles containing the most valuable information and to predict tracking questions. He knows humans are curious creatures, after all. We will therefore teach you how to optimize your content for quality AND to be favorably picked up by Google’s radar.
First of all, you need to understand the intent of your article. Or in other words, what reader’s needs are you meeting? Intent falls into 3 categories – and knowing which article your article belongs to is crucial if you want to keep readers happy. Users browse the Internet for either –
- To learn something;
- Buy something; or
- Find something specific (for example, a store their friend just mentioned).
The distribution of this intention falls roughly into 80%, 10% and 10%, respectively. Most people are on the Internet with specific questions they want answered. So it’s important to understand the questions your article is trying to answer – otherwise your website won’t convert, your bounce rate will be sky-high, and Google will penalize you for not being what your readers want.
2. Create quality content (not chunks of keyword stuff)
Most people don’t jump to Google to open a digital encyclopedia and sift through information. Remember this. They want the details, and the worst thing you can do is provide a brief overview of the topic. Google and Wikipedia knowledge panels already exist for this very reason.
Knowledge panels are snippets of “background information” pinned to the top of search results. So really, your general information article is coming into the ring with Google, and you can guess who we’ll be placing our bets on.
Once you have the question your article is trying to answer, really unwrap the value of it. Make sure your part is complete. You can even go so far as to answer other questions related to this route of curiosity.
The best advice: According to recent website design statistics, the content you wrote years ago can still help increase your SEO and organic traffic on Google. Google bots actively crawl every page on your website to find relevant matches with users’ search queries. Keeping an active blog increases your chances of multiple pages being selected and displayed on Google’s first page.
At the end of the day, your article should be filled with long-tail keywords related to the topic you’re interested in. Google will detect the quantity and quality of semantically connected phrases that dot your article and increase your article’s relevance score.
A quick example …
Say you are writing an analytical article on Harry Potter. Your semantically connected sentences might include “The Seventh Book of Harry Potter”, “The Boy Who Lived Next Door”, “Harry Potter”, “Neville Longbottom” and “Understanding the Prophecy”.
Google would explore this article and understand that it is suitable for readers who want to understand the relationship between Potter and Longbottom. In contrast, semantically connected phrases for an entertainment piece on the cast might include “child actors”, “the Harry Potter cast” and “cinematic journey”.
Ten years ago, the SEO strategy for both articles would have been to insert the keyword “Harry Potter” as many times as possible. Fortunately, Google’s comprehension skills have improved, so we can focus more on writing richer content, without repeating ourselves unnecessarily.
3. Long content is better than short
It is difficult to cover a subject well in less than 300 words. So don’t waste this precious chance with a tongue-in-cheek cat case when people arrive at your show.
Google doesn’t want its users to have to go through different pages to get the answers – that would be a bit like calling a customer service helpline that keeps redirecting you to another service member for every question you have ( oh wait… been there). Frustrating!
Nobody limits your time on stage, so go long. Instead, write 2,000 to 2,500 word pieces that cover more ground and provide a larger safety net by answering a multitude of questions.
These longer articles can really help increase your lead conversion and drive organic traffic to your site. They also give you more opportunities to add semantically related phrases – and when it comes to optimizing your site for semantic SEO, that’s definitely a good thing.
4. Increase the relevance of your article by adjusting it backwards on Google
Look at what appears in Google’s drop-down search bar. This will give you ideas for semantically related phrases that you can link to your article. It will also allow you to better understand the interests of your users.
Google’s drop-down list will help you understand the interests of your users.
Additionally, you can scroll to the end of the search results page and save the small list of “Related Keywords” displayed here.
Collectively, these can guide what you cover in your article, give you a mind map of LSI keywords (i.e. long tail keywords) and medium keyword types. drags that you can use. It is best to incorporate more of these two elements. This means that you will be casting a wider net for your article, as Google will automatically include you for the longer tail keywords.
5. Rank well on information queries to earn a ‘featured snippet’
Everyone coveted the spot at position 1 on a Google search results page. But now people are aiming for position 0. Why? Because you are not only the first, but Google also displays an open part of your content. It’s really like stepping in the door of attention, increasing traffic to your page from users who want to know more.
You can aim to be chosen for these “featured snippets” by structuring your content with question titles, followed by bulleted responses or scannable content. Incorporating various headlines with popular questions and relevant answers will improve your chances of ranking higher for the overall topic. Instead of just attracting people based on a keyword, you can catch people who have asked different types of questions related to your topic.
If you don’t get the spot in position 0, don’t worry: aim for another well-placed spot instead. You will recognize that Google displays an accordion-style FAQ with follow-up questions under the “Featured Snippet”. When you click on it, a snippet of the answer opens, so it’s a very respectable second prize.
6. Use structured markup and semantic tags in your code
Not seen by users, this advanced backend SEO technique helps Google machines understand how your article is organized. Using semantic HTML elements improves the accessibility and searchability of your article. It also improves your chances of reaching the coveted Google 0 position.
Using semantic tags tells the browser a bit more about the meaning and hierarchy of content. Instead of seeing
and for different content blocks – use semantic tags like