Years ago, SEO strategy was pretty simple. You could reach that coveted number one slot on the search engine results page (SERPs) by doing the following:
- Keyword research
- Write content
- Spam your keyword in the content more than your competitors did
Any SEO specialist will tell you that’s no longer the case. Search engine updates such as Hummingbird and RankBrain introduced a new SEO concept: semantic search.
While this is terrible news for black-hat SEO tactics, it’s good news for anyone creating quality content. For once, Google is on your side.
Let’s show you why semantic search matters, how it affects your SEO, and what it means for your business.
We’ll even show you examples of how to master semantic search, with or without tools!
What Is Semantic Search?
Semantic search is a search engine’s attempt to understand a user's search intent. Simply put, why did they Google something? Typically people search for one of three reasons:
- They want information (i.e. they want to learn)
- They’re searching for a website (i.e. they want to navigate somewhere)
- They want to buy something (i.e. they want to transact)
Search engines try to generate the best SERP by understanding the searcher’s intent, query, and the relationship between words.
How Does Semantic Search Impact SEO?
Semantic search impacts SEO by delivering relevant and valuable results to a user’s search intent.
Instead of focussing on keywords, search engines prioritise content satisfying a user’s need.
The best way to understand how semantic search impacts SEO is to look at it in action.
Semantic Search In Action
Here are 3 examples that show how semantic search relates to specific queries.
Semantic Search And Informational Queries
A great example of semantic search and how it handles informational queries is to search for "Elon Musk".
When searching for Elon Musk, Google delivers a complete knowledge graph, including general information, pictures, history, social media profiles, and the latest news about Elon.
Google delivers this content because it understands that we’re trying to learn more about Elon Musk. It creates a complete picture for us and provides all the information we could ever want.
Semantic Search And Product Queries
How does semantic search work if the user wants to buy a product?
If we search for a product like a hamburger, Google will return the following results.
Since Google knows we most likely want to buy a hamburger, the top results are from local hamburger shops. There’s no point in showing us hamburger restaurants on the other side of the country since we’re likely not to buy hamburgers from there.
But the term, Hamburger, is a little ambiguous as we might want to make a hamburger or learn more about its nutritional facts. As you can see Google deals with this ambiguity by giving us more information than just local restaurants.
Semantic Search And Website Links
When you search for a term like Facebook, Google will deliver the following results:
Since Google probably knows you want to log in or sign up to Facebook, it prioritises these results. Only by scrolling down do we see other results, such as news and information about Facebook and its parent company.
Semantic search is a search engine’s attempt to understand why a user is searching for something. It answers the user’s query by providing information that’s as relevant as possible.
How Can I Prepare For Semantic Search?
You can prepare for semantic search by creating original, authoritative content that covers your keyword in detail.
Here are a few strategies you can use to prepare for semantic search.
Instead Of Keywords, Focus On Topics
The era of the keyword is changing. Instead of writing content and carefully splicing in your keywords over and over, you now have to create content that’s relevant to your keyword.
Think about a keyword as a broad topic. Your job is to cover this topic in as much depth as possible.
Instead of creating a dozen pages, each dedicated to a single keyword, you should create a comprehensive, original resource that covers the main keyword and any semantically related keywords.
If you want to rank on top for a search term such as “how to buy bitcoin”, you’ll need to cover the following topics:
- How much does 1 bitcoin cost?
- Can I buy only 1 bitcoin?
- How do beginners buy bitcoin?
Ultimate guides and comprehensive resources like these will get extra attention from search engines. They will ensure that you rise through the SERPs.
Prioritise The Searcher’s Intent
Instead of prioritising a keyword, you must target the searcher’s intent. Ask yourself, why did this visitor search for this phrase?
By examining why people search specific terms, you’ll be able to create a list of valuable topics you can cover.
Once you understand a searcher’s intent, you can create content that addresses their needs instead of creating content around individual keywords.
Remember, the focus isn’t on keywords anymore.
Instead, what value does your content bring to the searcher? If a search engine finds that your content delivers the most value, it’ll show up higher in the SERPs.
Search terms such as “how much does bitcoin cost” or “how much is 1 bitcoin” clearly fall under the same umbrella.
The intent is most likely to see how much you have to pay when buying a bitcoin. Your task is to answer the reader’s question quickly.
On the other hand, terms like “what is bitcoin” and “how does bitcoin work” should help readers understand Bitcoin. The content should be informational since the initial user intent isn’t to buy cryptocurrency.
How Does Semantic Search Work
Now that you understand the importance of semantic search lets show you how you can start benefiting from it. You don’t need special tools to create content for semantic search, but it could help.
Some of the key tools we use for creating excellent content include:
- Ahrefs or SemRush
- Frase or Surfer (see our guide Frase versus Surfer SEO)
However, you can create an epic article by doing a few quick searches on Google.
TL;DR: Watch our complete video walkthrough on how we write web content for semantic search.
Semantic Search Example
In the following example, we’ll look at creating an in-depth article about Mount Kilimanjaro’s weather.
Here’s our 3-step formula for creating content ready for semantic search.
Step 1: Research
Like most things, you start by doing proper research. Let's do a quick Google search for our primary keyword, “Kilimanjaro weather”.
Since the top result is the current weather forecast, we can ignore it. Instead, we’ll focus on People Also Ask, Related Searches, and competitors.
People Also Ask
In this section, we can see contextually related questions that people often ask.
Some good questions include:
- What is the best month to go to Mt Kilimanjaro?
- What is the weather on top of Mount Kilimanjaro?
- What is the coldest temperature on Mount Kilimanjaro?
- What is the climate of Kilimanjaro?
All four questions relate to our keyword, “Kilimanjaro weather”.
When we create our article, we should aim to include these questions and answers. By doing that, we’ll make a comprehensive guide that addresses questions that are popular.
Next, we should pay attention to the related search terms. They will give us an excellent overview of other topics to cover.
A quick glance reveals the following candidates:
- Kilimanjaro weather by month
- Uhuru peak weather
Including these topics in our Kilimanjaro weather guide will be wise.
The next step is to look at the top-performing articles for our keyword.
What do they all have in common? Are they lacking something relevant that we could include to make our content stand out?
It is essential to see what the top performers in your niche are doing.
We can learn why they have that coveted number one spot and see what we need to do to create unique content.
Step 2: Enhance With Keyword Tools
Even with semantic search, keywords still matter. For an epic article, use some clever keyword tools. With these tools, you can improve your keyword research and cover the necessary NLP phrases.
Semantic Search And Ahrefs
Use a keyword explorer tool like Ahrefs to learn more about your keyword. With Ahrefs, you can:
- Find related keywords
- Learn which keywords your competitors are using
- Improve your final shortlist of keywords to rank for
For example, if we search "Kilimanjaro weather" in Ahrefs and then click "Matching terms", you'll find semantically related keywords to our seed keyword.
Use the matching terms to identify all the different ways people are searching for information related to your primary keyword.
Semantic SEO And KeyClusters
To lever your keyword research process up, you could use a keyword grouping tool like KeyClusters.
Start by inserting a broad seed keyword, for example "Kilimanjaro", into Ahrefs. Export the matching terms list and head over to KeyClusters to group your keywords into relevant, related silos.
In our case, KeyClusters grouped the following keywords. Each row shows a unique article idea with Column B showing the primary keyword and Column D showing all keyword variations.
As you can see there are lots of great keyword variations for the primary keyword "Mount Kilimanjaro weather" that you could use to create an article outline and include naturally in your article.
Semantic SEO And Surfer
For even better semantic search results, use Surfer or Frase to ensure that your article includes all the relevant terms that search engines would expect to see on the page.
Surfer SEO will provide many relevant terms that you need to include in your content. As you write your content and include these terms, Surfer will turn them green, letting you know that you’ve hit the sweet spot.
Here’s an example for our “Kilimanjaro weather” guide:
Step 3: Optimise Your Content
Doing fantastic keyword research and writing epic content is only one part of ensuring that you’re ready for the world of semantic search.
To succeed with semantic SEO, you need to optimise your content. Here are some of our top tips for optimising your content.
Use Simple Language
Your content should use natural language. Simply put, if your content doesn’t make sense, a search engine may disregard it.
When writing content, concentrate on simple subject-focussed sentences.
These sentences provide search engines with more information and could dramatically improve your ranking. Active sentences will always trump passive sentences in semantic search.
An example of an active sentence is, “John ate the pizza.”
“John” is the subject. The verb is “ate” and the object is “the pizza”.
Active sentences, also known as Subject Predicate Object (SPO), will make your content easier for users to understand. Search engines will also be able to parse the information better.
Your sentences should sound natural, have a purpose, and directly answer a question.
Create Structured Data
Schema markup can help search engines understand your content. Google has an excellent guide on structured data.
Keep It Logical
Make sure your web content flows in a logically way.
Put the most important information upfront and make sure your web content that is above the fold is good. If you're writing an article, make sure your blog introductions are compelling.
Internal Link Intelligently
Join up your web content with intelligent internal links that are placed on relevant anchor texts.
We use the KeyClusters report to create our internal links. All you need to do is use the keyword variations for an article as the anchor texts that you internally link on.
How To Use Google’s Semantic Search To Your Advantage
Sub-par content and outdated SEO tricks won’t work anymore.
Search engines are improving at understanding context, the relationship between topics, and user intent.
To succeed, prepare for semantic search by creating relevant, high-quality content that addresses the searcher’s intent.
When you manage that, your content will be future-proof and excel in the new world of SEO.