Dec 28, 2023

What Is Semantic SEO And Why Is It Important For Your Website

What Is Semantic SEO And Why Is It Important For Your Website
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Semantic SEO has been developing for over a decade, as Google’s major updates gradually refine search algorithms to comprehend queries like a human would.

The goal is to offer users those results that best serve their true search intent behind their literal question.

What Is Semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO optimizes your website to provide content semantically relevant to user intent. In other words, to the ‘hidden’ meaning behind query words.

Semantic SEO focuses on creating content optimized for various topics that relate to your main topic while incorporating keywords in a natural way.

On top of texts, you can further optimize content with images, videos, and audios to enhance its semantic value.

Let’s Give An Example Of Semantic SEO

Say you search for: high-tech photography.

Are you looking for a high-tech camera or royalty-free high-tech photos?

You may need information on state-of-the-art digital photography or a reliable high-tech photo studio.

The list can be endless.

How can Google guess?

In broad queries like this, Google provides results that people have most clicked on for similar searches in the past.

Here, the term ‘photography’ unavoidably triggers image search results. But also a list of web pages on various related topics.

Google search results for: high-tech photography

How can your website rank well for this query?

Well, you would need to incorporate different topics from the results above into one page: photo galleries, the latest digital photography trends, high-tech gear suggestions, etc.

Your page SEO efforts will be more effective if your website already has high topical authority on (high-tech) photography.

Looking at the evolution of SEO, it’s clear that Google uses more and more sophisticated ways to discover and rank semantically related content.

But What Does ‘Semantic’ Really Mean?

By definition, semantic (adj.) is something relating to the meaning in language - but it also applies to other fields.

The word is rooted in ancient Greece and evolved from “sign” (in Greek: sēma) to “signify” and “significant” until it got its present meaning. True, all these concepts are inherent in semantics.

As a discipline, semantics is the study of reference, meaning, or truth.

In linguistics, semantics studies the conceived meaning in language. It’s applied to single words, entire phrases, and whole texts.

For instance, “whisper” and “speak in a low voice” technically mean the same thing. But via semantics, you can distinguish some feelings and associated thoughts behind each word.

What Is The Role Of Semantics In Communication?

Semantics analyzes the subtle shades of meaning.

It also analyzes how sentences are understood by native speakers through the relation of linguistic forms to non-linguistic concepts and mental representations.

For example, when you exclaim: “What a cow!” it means that: a. You admire a beautiful cow, or, b. You got irritated by a rude woman.

No matter what, your fellows will understand who the cow is and what your feelings are.

What Is Semantics In AI?

Today, AI-based NLP uses semantics principles to understand human language.

According to semantics, when people communicate and are able to understand each other, 3 workings are equally at play:

  1. Their understanding of words and phrases
  2. Their general knowledge
  3. The use of real-world experience

These are the ‘magic’ constituents of human communication. NLP (Natural Language Processing) tries to replicate these processes.

“When you consider words in context, you can understand the meaning and the message. That’s semantics!”
- All About ELT

But how can you use semantics to optimize your SEO in 2024?

For a better understanding, let’s dig into the roots and history of semantic SEO.

AI & SEO: The Evolution Of Semantic Search

Over a decade ago, Google read every search word in its own right.

More advanced users used the “+” sign to get results that included two or more words.

Others wrote and rewrote the same combination of words in a different order, trying to make Google understand what they needed to find.

Back then, we often looked at page 2 of SERPs (!), and, even further back - in search of a good answer (scary but true!)

But in 2012, Google introduced its revolutionary Knowledge Graph.

2012: Google’s Knowledge Graph Landmarks The Beginning Of Semantic Searches

At the drawing of Gen Alpha, Google stopped handling queries as “strings” of words and started treating them as entities within context.

Since then, Google has been drawing contextual information for people, places and things from its (huge) dedicated database, and displaying them as a Knowledge Graph in search results.

So, for example, when you search for information about the Mona Lisa painting, you can also quickly see its creation date, artistic period, dimensions, other paintings of the era, and more.

Knowledge graph in Google search results for the term: Mona Lisa

2013: Hummingbird Uses NLP To Comprehend Conversational Speech

A year later, and after launching voice search, Google started seeing each search query as a trigger for a whole topic - just like real people do when they talk to each other.

Using NLP (Natural Language Processing), Google tried to match results to the inherent query topic within a page.

So, it moved from merely searching for keywords within a piece of content to understanding a page’s overall topic.

For example, compare the search results for 2 very similar queries:

- mona lisa mystery
- mona lisa mysteries

Comparing Google search results for two similar queries

In fact, there are various mysteries around the Mona Lisa. But, for many, the biggest mystery is the real identity of this ‘mystery’ woman.

Clearly, Google knows the semantic meaning of this query.

Semantic SEO Copywriting Tip #1

To please Hummingbird, and also your users, match your writing tone and word selection with your audience and topic.

Appropriate terminology and industry jargon show Google that your content is valuable and knowledgeable. They help make an SEO-rich text that’s particularly inviting for your target audience.

2015: RankBrain Analyzes User Intent Based On Best-Performing Search Results

Because humans express themselves in many different ways, as of 2015, RankBrain update uses machine learning to decipher what users mean for queries it doesn’t know.

RankBrain continually analyzes and learns user intent based on best-performing results in a never-ending cycle.

In the same year, “People Also Asked” snippets (PAA) came into play.

PAA helps users find answers closely related to their query intent and quickly provides additional information. Each time you click on a PAA question and link, you send verification signals to Google.

Check out what comes up in searches from Mexico when googling: davinci

Google search results for the search term: davinci

Apparently, far more users ask about DaVinci software rather than misspelling the name “Da Vinci” in the search bar.

Thanks to PAA snippets, users can quickly find some information about the famous painter above the fold.

Semantic SEO Copywriting Tip #2

In your text, incorporate People Also Asked Questions as section titles (with H2 tags), or just include the answers clearly in your text.

Answering popular questions tends to cover your topic in more depth and gives your page a chance to appear in PAA snippets.

2019: BERT Puts Every Query Word In Context

With BERT technology (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), Google understands conversational speech even better.

As of 2019, some “less important” words, like conjunctions, take back the status they deserve.

“Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
- Google’s Pandu Nayak, upon release of BERT

Even though not always perfect, Google tries to understand questions like a real person and provide human-like answers.

So, write your content naturally, responding to conversational questions.

For instance, observe the difference in Google results between these 2 searches:

- how can i get to the louvre
- visit louvre

Google search results comparison for two similar queries

Even though the intent in both queries shows that you want to visit The Louvre Museum, top-ranking results are clustered into two distinct topics:

a. Practical information on public transport and entrance locations
b. Museum admissions and rules

As expected, the official museum website contains all this information and ranks at the top.

2021: MUM Understands AV Sources Related To Queries

Within the NLP framework, Google has recently launched MUM (Multitask Unified Model) to understand image, video, and audio files and relate them with search queries - as in The Louvre example above.

MUM serves relevant audiovisual content, crossing language borders. Plus, it enriches search results with news, articles, and social posts to provide users with multi-level information in one go.

Video, audio, and images can boost your semantic SEO by providing context and relevance to your topic.

2023: AI-Driven SGE Leads SEO To Destinations Yet To Be Discovered

In May 2023, Google launched the experimental Search Generative Experience (SGE), which serves fully AI-driven results as zero click searches.

Here’s an example of its new AI snapshot (or SGE box):

Google SGE Box example, AI-driven
© SEranking

At the moment, unless you run Wikipedia or similar (!), your website’s current rankings don’t seem to grant you a spot in this SGE box, which occupies position zero - above the featured snippet.

At its current experimental state, SGE chooses sites that present the exact angle it needs to answer user queries in a -rather- semantic way.

According to Google, search history does not affect SGE results, but follow-up queries do.

Even though the future of Google searches with SGE boxes is still unknown, and there’s currently no update for its release outside the U.S., search engine optimization professionals detect that semantic SEO is vital for increased visibility in “the box.”

However, e-commerce websites rank on their own accord in the SGE box.

Product results are better presented, and they are easier to feature. Apparently, Google wants to revolutionize search results without losing profit from e-commerce SEO ads.

Semantic SEO Copywriting Tip #3

The SGE box offers limited text space for link previews of web pages used as sources. So, include your main keyword/topic within the first 35 characters of your page title.

Why Is Semantic SEO Important?

As things show, semantic SEO is here to stay.

With every update, Google tries to make more accurate semantic connections between search intent and page content.

As a result, a page that covers an entire topic in-depth can capture Google’s (and users’) attention for many different queries that are topically relevant.

On top of it, semantic SEO future-proofs your website for the next era of rankings.

Here are the reasons why semantic SEO is important for your website:

  • Provides a comprehensive answer to user queries
  • Gets higher rankings
  • Increases chances for featured snippet positioning
  • Provides quality content for the user and the web
  • Gains more references and backlinks
  • Ranks for more keywords
  • Optimizes content for voice search
  • Enhances user trust
  • Gives signs of quality to Google
  • Follows Google’s current trends
  • Future-proofs your website’s SEO

To optimize your pages for semantic SEO, you basically need to break down your main topic into clusters of related subtopics.

Then, you can elaborate using semantic keywords and supportive media.

Semantic SEO: Best Practices

To optimize your SEO for semantic searches, you can start by strengthening some of your existing SEO elements.

How You Can Easily Boost Your Semantic SEO Strategy

1. Optimize For Rich Snippets

Enhance your SEO in any way that promotes your content for a zero-click snippet. See some examples below.

2. Schema Markup

Schema Markup provides Google with extra signs of relevancy. It also helps bots understand your content easier - and eventually highlight it in a featured snippet. So, in your structured data, try to include as much information as possible.

3. Structured/Clearly Labeled Content

Use semantic HTML markup like <quote> <h2> <span> <nav> <article> <aside>. These markups signal the type of each element within your content and make it easier for bots to decipher it.

4. Internal Linking & Backlinks

Apply an internal linking strategy with semantic links. Include meaningful in-page links that showcase relevance.

Also, backlinks from relevant websites add extra authority and quality to your page.

5. E-E-A-T

As always, quality and engaging content tailored to individual user needs is crucial for top rankings. Make sure you incorporate semantic keywords and apply semantic writing techniques.

Don’t forget that E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

On top of the above, to take your semantic SEO strategy a step ahead, you can also apply some more specialized techniques. Here’s an overview:

10+1 Tips To Rank Higher With Semantic SEO

Optimizing your website for semantic searches needs extensive topical research, continuous monitoring, analysis, and improvement.

To rank higher for semantic SEO searches, you can try the following:

1. Use Quality, Standardized Images

Use inviting, high-quality images in optimal ratios for your pages, e-commerce products, and video thumbnails.

Apply image optimization techniques and tie visuals to your content.

Images appear in featured snippets and article previews of the SGE box.

2. Write Snippet-Friendly Content

Write articles that include relevant lists. Place your lists right after your “H” questions, including a phrase-long introduction if you need to.

AI snapshots favor lists for some types of queries. Just don’t overdo it!

3. Optimize Title Word Order For CTR

In popular searches, some of the most competitive keywords include “Best,” “Ultimate Guide,” “X Tips To,” “Best Practices,” etc. As a result, SEOs use such phrases extensively to optimize page titles.

But today, featured panels and AI snapshots try to fit a lot of content in a single box. Preview space gets smaller, and titles are cut off.

Make sure your actual topic + an enticing word appear at the very beginning of your titles.

4. Concentrate On Content Angles and Depth

The more content angles you provide on your topic, the more chances you have to match individual user intent.

Adding in-depth information for every different view of a topic, with examples and citations, gives you the perfect semantic SEO content.

5. Answer To Conversational Questions

Simple answers can grasp semantic qualities and optimize your page for voice searches.

FAQs may also work well here. Remember that voice search results look for direct, short, but complete answers that come right after the question.

6. Use Keyword Variations And Longtails Naturally

Choose your keywords and topics based on semantic clusters and a logical sequence of user questions.

By now, Google is smart enough to detect and combine keywords from all parts of your page. You don’t need to make exact matches of long-tail phrases.

Focus on topical relevance while including semantically related keywords naturally.

7. Develop Semantic Writing

In marketing, semantic writing focuses on answering questions future customers have about your business.

Your sales team can be a hub of ideas and provide interesting topics for your pages.

Moreover, you can apply LSI techniques (Latent Semantic Indexing techniques) to enhance the search value of your content and add semantic keywords that are contextually related to your topic.

8. Add Topic Outlines

Topic outlines (i.e., an index of your subheadings at the top of a page) are a strong signal that your content covers a wide variety of topical perspectives.

Plus, it adds in-page links.

9. Write Long-Form Content

To cover a topic in full, you need at least a couple of thousand words.

Yes, there are exceptions when a page defines a glossary term, for example. Or when you don’t have any more valuable information to add.

But, elaborating on a few topic clusters usually needs extended writing. So, don’t limit yourself to words; just ensure you provide a comprehensive approach.

10. Include Synonyms And Related Terms

In linguistics, semantics also deals with synonyms and related words.

Why not include a variety of similar terms and offer a bouquet of search alternatives?

Doing school-like word gradients can be very helpful (and amusing at the same time!)

Word gradients example for semantic SEO
© Reading Rockets

Remember, in marketing, semantics is used to convey a positive message and evoke certain emotions.

By enriching your writing language, you also enhance your semantic SEO and your TOFU prospecting at the same time.

11. Don’t Forget Your Keywords

Semantic writing works well on many levels. Still, don’t forget to support your target keywords. Add them into your text in a versatile, conversational way.

How To Find Semantic Keywords And Topics To Improve Your SEO

Here are some practical ways to find semantic keywords and get semantic topic clustering ideas.

Draw A Semantic Map

After finishing your keyword research, draw a semantic map. Surround your main keyword with all related topics that come up.

Example of semantic map
© Keys To Literacy

Filter out what you don’t need. Then, check your remaining words for volumes and difficulty.

Cluster Your Words Into Topics

Group your selected words into topic clusters, and draw an outline of what your page will include. This gives you a roadmap that helps you take each topic cluster into more depth.

Clustering words in topics for SEO

Talk To People

Ask (real) people to elaborate on your topic. You’ll be surprised by how many new ideas you can get that fit on your page.

Check Google’s Search Suggestions

Google’s search suggestions often indicate follow-up questions. They also show popular queries and related topics that people look for.

Take Ideas From People Also Ask

By wording your target search in different ways, you can see various questions in the People Also Ask section.

Queries that appear again and again are a definite Yes! So, make sure you include them on your page.

Scroll Down To Related Searches

Google’s related searches at the bottom of each SERP are a fountain of related topic suggestions. You can also get ideas about new articles to write in the future.

Remember Essay Writing

Thesis-like writing is based on research, references, and topic elaboration - just what you are after in semantic SEO!

Just use a simpler writing tone and play around with titles and sections to make your articles pleasant to read on a screen.

There are many different ways to tailor your content for semantic SEO.

Follow search trends, experiment with new techniques, and monitor your results to reach and maintain your top positions.

The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better-enabling computers and people to work in cooperation.
- Tim Berners Lee

Looking For Ways To Rank Your Website At The Top?

At Atropos Digital, we turn your business website into an effective marketing tool.

We optimize your content to match your audience and make your pages a hub of information within your industry.

Excellent SEO means authority and trust for your brand. And this translates into new leads and customers.

Book your strategy call today.

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