The Difference Between Semantic Search and Semantic Web

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Small businesses have been hearing a lot lately about the semantic web, and how that of course comes with semantic search, which then has to come with semantic SEO. So to make a long story short, if you don’t understand what the term “semantic” means in these contexts, you’ve got some work to do.

Fortunately, understanding semantics in relation to the web is actually quite simple, and for many these is already a part of your daily routine. It isn’t a new concept, just one that has recently gained some traction.

How the Terms Semantic Web and Semantic Search Differ and Why It Matters

Being able to understand how these terms differ is important because it can help you better understand how search works and how you can make sure your information is getting in front of a relevant audience. Below explains the differences between these two terms that are often mistakenly meshed into one:

Semantic Web

The whole idea here is to teach searchers about understanding the whole content of a SERP as opposed to just the structure of search engines like Google. Below is the definition according to Cambridge Semantics:

  • The Semantic Web is a set of technologies for representing, storing, and querying information. Although these technologies can be used to store textual data, they typically are used to store smaller bits of data.

Essentially, the semantic web will include things like numbers and dates in order to be able to answer a very complex question. Semantic search focuses on the text, but the semantic web focuses on pulling data from multiple sources and multiple formats.

Another way to look at it: The semantic web is not going to store one page as just one page. Instead, it works to take each tiny detail on the page and pull those tiny details off every page to find one cohesive answer.

Semantic Search

The idea with this terminology is to offer more relevant results without limiting searches to just keywords (traditional Google search would be called “keyword search” as opposed to a semantic search). The below definition puts it into simple terms:

  • Semantic search is the process of typing something into a search engine and getting more results than just those that feature the exact keyword you typed into the search box. Semantic search will take into account the context and meaning of your search terms. It’s about understanding the assumptions that the searcher is making when typing in that search query.

For example, if you type in the word “Blackhawks” into your search bar you don’t just want to get listings that have the word “Blackhawks” in them. A semantic search will return listings about the Native American tribe as well as the Chicago hockey. You will also get supporting terms like “hockey lessons” and “Stanley Cup,” even if they never mention anything about the Blackhawks exactly.

So what is Semantic SEO? Of course, businesses can’t forget about semantic SEO. This is simply a way of explaining the strategies you would use to optimize your website for semantic search. In short, it works the same way keyword-based SEO works, except you should be researching more than just keywords. You want to look for supporting terms, modifiers, and synonyms for the terms you have in mind, and then use those in your context, h1 and/or h2 tags, and your title.

Do you feel that the concept of semantic search and the semantic web are only going to grow in popularity? Have you done anything to change your strategies because of these ideas? Let us know your story and your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit:

Amanda DiSilvestro

Amanda DiSilvestro

Online Content Editor/Writer at HigherVisibility
Amanda DiSilvestro gives small business and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density to recovering from Panda and Penguin updates. She writes for HigherVisibility, a... Read Full Bio
Amanda DiSilvestro
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  • Alen Dawson

    Yes semantic search and the semantic web are two most important concepts in SEO. Really good post! Your post has given very valuable information.

  • Arun Singh

    Thanks for this post. Semantic data must be included to provide extra info, i.e. contextual data, to support the keywords and to relieve them from their ambiguity.

  • Prem Kumar

    This is really awesome post. The concept of semantic search and the semantic web will help to improve the SEO strategies.

  • Darko

    Great article! Right now i’m working on that, to get better understanding of how (key)words are connected between, and for any given keyword, to get all related words. I’ve seen better results when used related words, and synonyms in content and even ranked for keywords that actually are missing on the page. Just give Google what he want to see and won’t have problem at all with rankings!

  • Amanda DiSilvestro

    Glad you all liked the article! I think it always helps to have an understanding of how things that are very similar actually differ. It helps to give me a good view of what I need to do and how I need to do it. Thanks for reading!

  • Alan (@AlanMorrison)

    You’ve made a useful distinction, Amanda. The search versus web paths are divergent right now, but they’ll converge eventually. The same structure used in semantic web does help in semantic search, and that structure is agnostic–it treats all content types equally.

    Dynamic semantic publishing takes the web as database concept bit further and makes the SEO aspect of semantic web more evident. Take the BBC World Cup and 2012 Olympics websites. According to John O’Donovan, who led the DSP effort and is now at the UK Press Association leading a comparable effort , with DSP the BBC is “not publishing pages, but publishing content as assets which are then organized by the metadata dynamically into pages, but could be re-organized into any format we want much more easily than we could before.” (See That same metadata provides useful contextual clues both internally when assembling pages and externally when made available to search engines.

    This method isn’t just about numbers, but about any kind of digital bits that make up parts of what–with the help of semantic structure–could be a purely contextual web, the end game. Right now, there may be 50 major enterprises who’ve done at least a bit of structuring along these lines, and the search engine companies, media organizations such as the BBC, Viacom, and Hearst, retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and manufacturers such as Volkswagen are among the 50.

    • Amanda DiSilvestro

      Awesome examples! Thanks for helping take my article to the next level. I like that you say it’s all about the numbers. I think of it as being all about the words, but I guess you’re right! Great for people who have a numbes kind of mind. Thanks for reading!

  • George

    Thanks Amanda,

    Semantic Search and Web are two functions that need to be uppermost in your mind.

    Great info!


  • Charles Crawford

    Hi Amanda,

    This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing this. Concept of semantic search and semantic web will really help us to improve the SEO strategies. I have learned something new today.


  • Aaron Bradley

    Hi Amanda,

    I appreciate your efforts here, but I think the definitions you’ve provided are problematic.

    “Essentially, the semantic web will include things like numbers and dates in order to be able to answer a very complex question. Semantic search focuses on the text, but the semantic web focuses on pulling data from multiple sources and multiple formats.”

    As you’ve already indicated with your definition form Cambridge Semantics, the semantic web is not a container, but a set of technologies and protocols having to do with storage and retrieval of information, so it doesn’t really “include things” so much as provide a information framework.

    Insofar as the semantic web does “include things,” these things are in no way limited – or even skewed toward – “numbers and dates.” Indeed, the backbone of semantic web technology – RDF (the Resource Description Framework) is powerful precisely because any property of anything can be stated in a useful and structured fashion, and is in no way related specifically to values. In fact, the semantic web provides a very useful way of saying things like “John Denver is a singer” and “Erma Deutschendorf is John Denver’s mother”: no numbers or dates in evidence.

    Because, of course, semantic search is predicated on semantic web technologies, it no more “focuses on the text” then the semantic web is somehow number- or date-centric.” In fact, the great power of semantic search is that it chiefly relies upon entities rather than than text to produce the results it does: in Google Knowledge Graph parlance, “things not strings.”

    Consider this definition from semantic web technologist Tamas Doszkocs:
    “Semantic search is a search or a question or an action that produces meaningful results, even when the retrieved items contain none of the query terms, or the search involves no query text at all.”

    Or this definition from David Amerland, author of “Google Semantic Search”:
    “It is the presentation of answers in search in a way that understands the search query and the intent behind it.”

    At a broader level, it’s odd even to talk about the “difference” between semantic search and the semantic web, as the former is obviously enabled by the latter. Semantic web technologies – especially formal structured data mechanisms and entity recognition and disambiguation – facilitate semantic search. The difference between the semantic web and semantic search is like the difference between flour and bread, which is to say former is a prerequisite for the latter.

    Accordingly, semantic SEO does not work “the same way keyword-based SEO works, except you should be researching more than just keywords.” Just as semantic search is a product of semantic web technologies, semantic SEO uses those those same technologies in order to facilitate the capabilities of semantic search. And so the corner stone of semantic SEO is making structured data available to the search engines, so that any particular web resource can be understood by Google in a way that transcends keywords.

  • Yassin Madwin

    Semantic Search is mostly developed for Google Glass. when people will make searches Google won’t give multiple results. instead the SE will try to collect the answer analyzing the question’s meaning and delivering 500 characters max to serve the query.

    in a sad way semantic search is about stealing your content. just like Google and Bing images today.

    Google gets the whole traffic. Google makes the whole share of money.

  • Dan Carter

    This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing this. Concept of semantic search and semantic web will really help us to improve the SEO strategies. I have learned something new today.