Semantic search. You’ve heard of it, you’ve researched it and you’re probably wondering what to do about it. Black hat, white hat, and everything in between could soon be a thing of the past, as semantic search forces the industry to revert back to the question: What does the user want?
It’s a simple concept, but one that has been lost in a whirlwind of advice, speculation, and see-what-sticks techniques. Semantic search gives the industry a chance to go back to basics and provide information rather than force it.
Let’s take a look at how to embrace semantics.
Think Like a User
Simply put, if you’re going to optimize for the user, you need to think like the user. In the world of semantics, keywords just don’t cut it. You need to be thinking beyond long tail.
Take the above example. You can see that semantics for a generic term already highlights a wealth of information that a search engine has matched to the keyword. Imagine you are building up your semantic relevance for your delivery service. Optimization on your website should be geared towards information surrounding that service, not only to gain a ranking within relevant SERPs, but to provide answers relevant to your expertise.
This could mean you’re providing information about your delivery service, the logistics of your business, and what’s happening in the industry. If the site only focuses on keywords, opportunities will be missed. More importantly, if your website can’t answer a question about your service, you’re failing your customers.
Understand the Graph
Knowledge Graphs are developing at lightning fast speed and will play an integral role in the future.
Google’s Knowledge Graph (combined with the wider Hummingbird algorithm) and Facebook’s Graph Search are the best-known forms of graph technology, though new developments in search engine graphs seem to be revealed every month.
As usual, Google stepped out in front by displaying these features within SERPs, with developments including carousels that presents in-depth articles and links to information such as travel details, Google Maps integration, and Wikipedia articles. Google has actively encouraged optimization for these features and provided clear steps on how sites can integrate. It won’t be long before other search engines develop new graph features.
Establishing your site as an expert in a particular field will be essential soon, so start on the right foot by developing your site content to answer those questions related to your industry. Learn how the graph works and work with the technology to get your site featured where relevant. Keep your ears open for updates and align your site, where needed, with future features.
Make Use of Local
Google Local is really an online business standard, it’s easy to set up and link to your business Google+, and has clear benefits.
With semantic search, it’s important to develop your brand visibility and be an expert that users go to. Google Local allows you to develop a presence within SERPs when users try to discover your brand. As search engines advance, you can expect to see further developments through localized search that allow you to develop your branding in relation to localized searches.
Combining this with good optimization will give you the ability to put your brand in front of users who are searching for information about your services in a particular area, standing you in a good place now and in the future.
Don’t Forget Social Media
What better way to answer users’ questions than directly? Social signals already play a part in search engine algorithms and they’re being set up for an even greater role. If you haven’t already, make sure that you’re consistently interacting by offering information and answers.
Establishing your social media authority clears a path towards success. Should social media become a more prominent feature in semantic search (and a clearer ranking marker in search engine graph algorithms), your site will see the benefits.
Mind Your Markup
Structured data markup is relied on by search engines to provide richer search results. Multiple webmaster guidelines (including Google’s) provide details on how to optimize your content effectively.
They’re important rules to follow, as schemas can help to develop how users see your results within search engines. Items such as reviews of your products, events, profile details, and organization details can all be marked up with schema.
It therefore makes sense to follow schema markup and develop your site to correlate with the guidelines.
Any SEO professional will tell you that the industry is constantly in a state of flux, and search engines are making it clear that semantic search is the future. Don’t ignore it.
Work out how your site can answer questions and provide users with information that doesn’t just read like terms and conditions. Pick the topics, services and niches that apply to your site and start to optimize your site and your content in a way that will benefit users. Users will never stop searching using specific questions, but search engines are actively encouraging them to ask a question or solve a problem so get your services out there by meeting user needs.
Respect Your Elders
Don’t stop optimizing your site! Optimizing your site for semantic searches is crucial, but it can’t detract from your current SEO efforts. Don’t start using titles like ‘where can I find a screwdriver in London?’ The golden rules of SEO still exist and will continue to do so.
Webmaster guidelines should still be your rule book, semantic search is simply a way in which search engines can give users further benefits, so it will pay if you’re actively optimizing for it on your site.
Don’t Just Look at Google
Even if Google makes up 99.99% of your organic referrals, Bing and Yahoo still hold a market share and you can bet that they’re working just as hard to produce further semantic innovations. Other emerging engines such as Duck Duck Go are also leaping forward with technology that provides users with a different way of searching.
Having a holistic approach to optimizing for semantic is an essential weapon for preparing your site for further developments.
Think About Synonyms
Synonyms can be a great way of introducing further meaning to your site content.
Take for example, a generic word such as ‘Christmas’. Direct synonyms of this word can be simple, such as ‘Xmas’ or ‘Yuletide’, but deeper meanings can be established. Users searching for Christmas might be using terms such as ‘holiday season’ or ‘advent’.
Considering these synonyms and underlying user intentions really sums up what semantic search is about. Think about your services and how you are optimizing for your site at the moment, is your on-page content getting to the root of what you provide? Is your title tag geared towards keywords only? Ask questions like these and you will immediately cast a wider net for your audience.
Keep up with semantic technology
The technology behind semantic search is as much a mystery as the infamous search engine algorithms that decide rankings. Semantic technology however, presents an opportunity to work just as closely with search engines. Schema and Google Local are clear indicators of just how advanced semantic search could be in the future.
Working with current semantic technology is already proving beneficial. Make sure that your attention is focused on working with official developments rather than hesitating.
Think For Yourself
If your site is just matching your competitors’ like-for-like keywords and optimization techniques, rankings just become a game of chance. With semantic search, there’s an opportunity to distance yourself. This doesn’t mean giving up on your keywords, but seizing opportunities to carve a unique position within search engine results.
Keep in mind your USPs and the individual qualities of your business or service, and work out how to promote this on your site and answer those user questions. The translation of this could be in new SERP positions, a new niche to target or even the positioning of your site as an expert in a particular topic.
Don’t Try Shortcuts
Any ethical SEO will tell you this. Semantic search presents an exciting opportunity, but it also puts more work ahead of us. Search engines are getting back to the root of thinking like a user, and it’s a concept that you need to fully embrace to develop your site for semantic search.
Developments indicate that user queries are increasingly less keyword focused and search engines are now evolving to follow suit. The SEO industry must respond to this by putting the user back at the top of the mountain and not just banking on rankings for current keywords as an indicator of success.
It’s crucial to start answering those user questions, what better time than now?
Featured image created by author.