Semantic SEO is the process of optimising content based on a topic, rather than focusing on ‘keywords’. Using the semantic SEO approach means you focus on the user experience and therefore aim to answer the questions they would typically have when researching a specific topic.
The semantic SEO optimisation process helps give your content vital context, and helps search engines better understand the relevancy for users. In this article, we will explore the history, future and benefits of optimising your content semantically.
Over the last twenty-plus years, search engines have continued to evolve to provide users with the right results whenever they make a search.
As Google has led the way in being able to provide the best results for searchers, here’s a closer look at how the search engine has developed over the last 10 years:.
The Google Knowledge Graph is a system that was introduced in 2012, and was designed to understand factual details about people, places, and things, to provide users with accurate, contextual search results. It has significantly impacted semantic SEO, as it encourages companies to optimise their content for meaning rather than specific keywords.
By understanding the searcher’s intent and the relational ties between concepts, the Knowledge Graph promotes a better user experience through content relevancy. It has pushed SEO professionals to think beyond keywords, focusing on topical authority and structured data. This ultimately leads to better visibility in Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), increased organic traffic, and potential appearances in rich SERP features, such as the Knowledge Panel or Featured Snippets.
Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update, launched in 2013, marked a significant shift in SEO, emphasising semantic search and understanding user intent beyond specific keywords. After Hummingbird was introduced, the algorithms were updated to perceive the context and meaning of the entire query rather than focusing on individual words. As a result, it triggered a strategic shift in SEO towards quality content creation to align more closely with user intent.
The Hummingbird update pushed marketers to prioritise informative, unique, and comprehensible content which is contextually relevant. This evolution encouraged a more natural language approach to content to improve the chances of ranking in Google’s SERPs, hence advancing the concept of semantic SEO.
Introduced in 2015, Google’s RankBrain is an AI algorithm update that significantly influenced semantic SEO. It’s designed to understand the context and intent behind search queries, particularly for unique or ambiguous phrases.
RankBrain enhanced Google’s capabilities to interpret the semantic meaning of content, encouraging SEO professionals to focus more on optimising content based on topic relevancy rather than keyword density. It underscored the importance of creating user-focused content that answers search queries effectively. This shift towards understanding and meeting user intent has led to an SEO environment that rewards high-quality, contextually rich content, pushing the evolution of semantic SEO forward.
Google’s BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) update rolled out in 2019, is a natural language processing AI model that better comprehends the nuances and context of words in search queries. It further shifted the focus of SEO from targeting precise keywords to understanding the complete context of content and the searcher’s intent.
BERT reinforced the importance of semantic SEO by promoting the creation of high-quality, relevant content that provides value for users, effectively answering their queries. This resulted in a more user-centred approach to content strategy and SEO practices.
Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) update, announced in 2021, is a significant leap in search technology. MUM can understand and generate language more effectively, and it’s also capable of acquiring knowledge across multiple tasks and languages, providing more comprehensive search results.
With MUM, SEO strategies should focus more on creating deeper, holistic content that covers a broad range of related topics to align with user intent, further emphasising the importance of topic expertise and authority.
Well-established semantic SEO best practices enable websites to rank for a broader range of search terms and long tail keywords. By focusing on topics and user intent, rather than specific keywords, websites can attract more organic traffic from diverse search queries.
Semantic SEO helps improve Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)- key factors for Google’s page quality ratings. High-quality, accurate, and contextually relevant content ticks all these boxes, therefore optimising for semantic SEO can inherently enhance E-A-T.
Semantic SEO allows content to be more relevant to user queries. By understanding the intent and context behind searches, Google can match users with the most relevant content, improving user satisfaction and interaction.
Semantic SEO helps give better context to search engines, leading to a better relevancy score. This context is given by metadata, structured data, and natural language processing, enabling search engines to understand the content more effectively.
Semantic SEO also improves internal linking opportunities. By covering a broader topic, you can link to more relevant pages within your site, enhancing the user experience and enabling search engines to crawl your site more effectively.
Semantic SEO practices revolve around understanding the intent, context, and semantic meaning behind search queries. Here are some effective strategies to follow:
While high-volume keywords can attract significant traffic, they may not always yield the best results. With semantic SEO, it’s essential to focus on the relevance and intent behind keywords, rather than solely on search volume.
By doing so, you can often end up finding opportunities to rank for search terms that have more traffic than those identified by SEO tools.
Long tail keywords, despite their lower search volume, can drive highly targeted traffic to your website. These keywords often align more closely with user intent, making them valuable for semantic SEO.
Because of the multiple variations people use when typing long tail keywords, it can often add up to larger volumes as you end up ranking for numerous keywords, assuming your content is optimised semantically (including using variations of keywords).
Often, there are valuable questions that don’t register a significant search volume. By identifying and answering these questions in your content, you can provide valuable information to users and improve your site’s relevancy.
Effective semantic SEO also relies heavily on structuring content properly. This includes breaking down information into readable sections, using headers effectively, and ensuring the content format aligns with the user’s search intent.
Schema markup is a powerful tool for improving semantic SEO. It provides additional context to search engines about the content and structure of your page, helping them understand your content better and improving your relevancy score.
While semantic SEO offers numerous benefits, certain pitfalls can hinder your efforts. Here are some to be wary of:
While taking inspiration from competitors is helpful, duplicating their strategies too closely can be detrimental. Search engines value unique, valuable content. Make sure you maintain your unique voice as this can help you stand out and rank better.
Old, irrelevant content can harm your rankings. We recommend you regularly update your content to ensure it remains relevant, accurate, and valuable to users.
Lack of demonstrated expertise can impact your E-A-T score negatively. Ensure your content exhibits a high level of expertise in your field to build trust and authority.
Focusing only on high-volume keywords can lead to missed opportunities. Long tail keywords often align more closely with user intent and can bring highly targeted traffic.
With increasing mobile usage, failing to optimise for mobile can hurt your visibility. Ensure your site is mobile-friendly to improve user experience and boost your chances of ranking well in mobile search results.
Using SEO tools to aid in the process of creating content that is optimised semantically is essential in the ever-increasingly competitive SEO space.
Below is a list of tools and how they can help support you to optimise your content semantically.
Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) provide valuable insights for semantic SEO. By analysing top-ranking content, you can understand the format and context that resonate with users. The “People Also Ask” and “Related Searches” sections help identify additional relevant topics and questions to include in your content.
Google Search Console provides data on your website’s performance, including queries that lead to your site, pages with the most clicks, and issues affecting your site’s SEO. These insights can guide your semantic SEO efforts, helping you optimise your content based on actual user behaviour and preferences.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO tool that provides keyword research, competitor analysis, and backlink checks. Its ‘Keyword Explorer’ tool helps identify relevant keywords, phrases, and questions related to your topic, which can be used to create semantically rich content.
Semrush offers keyword and topic research capabilities, provides insights into competitors’ SEO strategies, and monitors your website’s SEO performance. It helps you understand the semantic context of your content, allowing you to optimise accordingly.
SE Rankings offers keyword suggestion tools, website auditing, and competitor SEO analysis. These features can help you create semantically-optimised content by revealing relevant keyword opportunities and providing insights into best SEO practices.
SEOmonitor provides keyword research, competitor analysis, and visibility score tools. It can help track semantic changes in your niche, identify popular topics, and understand the context in which your keywords are being used.
AlsoAsked.com is a tool that provides commonly asked questions related to your search term. Using this tool, you can cover a broader range of related topics in your content, enhancing its semantic richness.
This Google feature gives you a glimpse of related questions that people ask on a particular topic. Leveraging these questions in your content can help tailor it to users’ needs, enhancing its semantic relevance.
The Semetrical SERP Grouper clusters similar keywords together based on their search engine result pages. This can help you understand the semantic relationships between keywords and better optimise your content.
The future of semantic SEO will likely be shaped by the continuous advancements in AI, machine learning, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies. Search engines are becoming increasingly adept at understanding the context, intent, and semantic meaning of content. As a result, the focus will continue to shift from keyword-centric SEO to user-focused, intent-based optimization.
Additionally, the role of structured data and schema markup for providing context and relevance to search engines is set to increase. The rise of voice search and conversational AI, like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, will further drive the need for contextually rich, natural language content.
Also, the advent of multilingual search capabilities, as illustrated by Google’s MUM update, suggests a future where semantic SEO plays a pivotal role in breaking down language barriers and improving the global search experience.
Google’s Search Generative Experience will also continue to take shape over the next few months and with Google already reporting that the younger market (ages 18 – 24) are reporting high satisfaction with the results produced by the GenAI results, it’s clear that a more conversational and personalised approach is the future of search is headed.
Looking at the history of Google and the direction it has taken, semantic SEO has significantly developed in the last decade alone.
Understanding how to optimise your content semantically is no longer a ‘nice to have’. Making it part of the process you use to create content is essential, and at Semetrical we aim to support all clients in ensuring they are up to date with this journey.
If you’d like a free consultation to discuss how you can improve your semantic SEO strategy, simply fill out your details below and we’ll be in touch to arrange a call!