5 Ways to Optimise Your Content for Semantic Search

Semantic Search

It’s true; SEO copywriting is gone.

Good riddance!

But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t optimise your copy in any way to achieve higher rankings.

Quite the opposite, in fact. With semantic search, creating and optimising content with the user intent in mind has never been more vital.

Here, let me show you how.

What’s this semantic thing anyway?

According to Wikipedia, semantic search “seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable dataspace, whether on the Web or within a closed system, to generate more relevant results.

Two important terms in this definition are intent and context.

Intent is basically what the searcher is looking for. Context on the other hand is everything that gives the search phrase a meaning.

Let me illustrate with a quick example.

Imagine a user typing in “apple” into a search box. What are they searching for – information about the fruit, makers of iPads or The Beatles’ own record label (I bet you didn’t know about this meaning)?

Google needs more data to ensure they serve the best results. And they get it by taking various factors into account:

  • The user’s search history
  • Their location. Many queries can be discerned by where the user currently is.
  • Global search history.
  • Query characteristics like spelling and other variations.
  • Domains linked from documents on the same topic.
  • Co-occurrence of terms and distance between them and many others.

All these and more help a search engine discern what the user might really be looking for, i.e. my search for apple returns Apple Inc. results. No surprises, given my equipment preferences and search history.

What does it mean for content optimisation?

With the Hummingbird update Google has changed the way it analyses search queries. Instead of looking at them as string of individual words, the search engine tries to discern the meaning behind the phrase.

And then, deliver the most accurate results based on what it thinks the user’s looking for.

This means that the role of your content optimisation is not only to provide a relevancy factor (keywords) but also to help Google to better understand what your page is about.

So, how do you make your copy work in semantic search?

1. Create a Context

Context is what helps a search engine to better understand copy on a page. It’s everything that affects the search phrase and gives it meaning. It can be your past search history but also, clues on the page itself.

Here are few ways you can further define context in a copy:

  • Identify the most common companion words and include them in your copy. A keyphrase might no longer be sufficient in defining the context (see the apple example above). But there are other terms that would describe your topic and contextualise it’s meaning. For instance, when speaking of Apple (the electronics company), it’s natural to mention its products or use terms like “laptops”, “computers” etc.
    Figure out what would be the most popular companion words and include them in your copy.
  • Use synonyms and variations of your main phrase to
    • Expand the context of your copy. These synonyms and variations might prove useful in directing users searching for similar topics to your site.
    • Avoid keyword-stuffing and make your copy more readable.

2. Focus on a Semantic Keyword Research

Even though it might not seem so at a first glance, keywords still play a crucial role in semantic search.

But the keyword research process is different from what you might have been used to all along.

Semantic keyword research involves coming up with variations of the search phrase, related search phrases and then progressing to find more thematically-related keywords that will help you generate final stem keywords that help answer the searchers questions.

Sujan Patel wrote a fantastic guide to semantic keyword research, you could read it here.

3. Link Out to Relevant Resources

Outbound links have always been an important ranking factor. But with Google using relationships between domains to define a page’s content, linking out to relevant sources has never been more important.

4. Write Using Your Audience’s Natural Language

Using natural language lies at the core of semantic search.

Your audience uses specific phrases for instance when searching for information. And your content should match their language.

For one, it will make it easier for them to understand. But it will also match it with their search queries.

To achieve this however, you need to understand your audience, how they find information, phrases they use and so on.

5. Use Schema.org

Semantic mark-up, even though not technically part of your page’s content helps to tell search engines a lot about your copy.

For instance, with schema.org you can let search engines know the author of a blog post.. Or reveal details of your product or service, its price, best way to reach you and many more.

It helps to index your content faster. It also helps search engines process and understand your copy.

Social media examiner posted a good tutorial on using semantic mark-up in content here.


Creative commons image by Chris Jobling / Flickr

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