Users tend to want more from search results today than ever before. What we really want is for the search engines to know exactly what we mean by the query we entered. It can be frustrating trying to sort through irrelevant search results trying to find what we were looking for in the first place. Search engines are smart, aren’t they? Shouldn’t they know what you want? This is the premise behind the latest changes in search engines and how they produce results. Both Google and Bing are starting to look for ways to give users the precise information they are looking for in a much faster way. The latest changes in the way searches are conducted are attempts to make the results more relevant by figuring out what the user meant by the query. This in a nutshell is semantic search.
What is semantic search?
The term “semantics” refers to the study of word’s meaning and how the words used are related. When this term is applied to search, it means that the search engine presents results to queries based on what it thinks the searcher is trying to find. It sounds a little complex, but it’s not really. Semantic search looks at content that is related to the search query instead of the specific keywords. In other words, optimizing a website to the max for keywords may mean that it does not come up in SERPs at all, if the content does not answer the question behind the search query. Semantic search is geared more for meaning and intent. Google knows what a site does and what users are looking for when they type in a search. Semantic search functions by using an intricate web of interconnected relationships so that it understands what a website does.
The Content Connection
There are certainly several things that can be done to optimize a site but the key now relies totally on content. Content for the semantic web should do these things:
- Be original, timely and high in informational quality
- Reflect the uniqueness of the company or brand
- Reflect the value proposition of specific products or services
- Be constructed in such a way which invites user engagement
Without content there will be no creation of a buzz, no engagement or sharing. These are the three social signals that Google will be looking at when it tries to understand what a business or website is all about.
What does semantic search mean for SEO?
Keywords have been relatively easily manipulated, intent is not as easy. For those who desire to rank well in semantic search, it’s not as simple as putting keywords in the right location. The content has to be shaped around the meaning and keywords. This actually puts more emphasis on keyword search. When a user enters a search query, they are looking to find an answer to a question. Keyword research has been data driven based on the popularity of the term and the question. For semantic search purposes, the SEO specialist will have to focus on what the person actually means by searching for a particular keyword.
For instance, when someone enters a search for “yoga” what could they mean? They may be looking for the definition, various types of yoga, different yoga positions, DVDs of yoga exercises or the different styles of yoga pants. There are endless possibilities. For SEO purposes the content will need to be formed around answering specific questions that users may ask as it relates to the keyword. While content is being formed, the writer must continue to ask how it is answering the user’s question. Even if the users continue to focus on keywords, you will need to focus on using natural language.
How has traditional search changed?
SEO has been around as long as search has. The goal of course has been to design websites so that they are easily found and indexed by the search engines. The emphasis has been on creating content which used keywords in a way that gained the search engine attention. Semantic search is changing how SEO and rankings work. Web designers will find that packing sites with keywords in order to obtain a higher ranking is not going to work. There is now more emphasis on the content around the keywords than the keywords alone. Obtaining a higher ranking in the SERPs based on semantic content will be a little more difficult and it will require more work.