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Semantic Search Explained: A Powerful Optimization Trick

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Taking advantage of semantic search can provide your business with a powerful SEO advantage.

Semantic analysis is becoming increasingly important as search engines learn the meaning behind queries.

Knowing what associations a search engine has with words allows you to find keywords that will put your pages at the top of search results.

In this article, I will discuss what semantic search is, how semantic analysis works, and why it’s vital to the success of your business and content.

Additionally, I will show you the benefits of semantic search and describe how you can optimize your content accordingly.

What Is Semantic Search?

vector graphic illustrating a graphic representation of semantic search and how it works

Semantic search is a method of keyword analysis that takes into account the context of a query.

In other words, it’s not just looking for keywords but actively trying to understand their connotations.

It’s different from traditional keyword-based search.

Semantic research looks at individual words and their relationship to each other.

What Is NLP?

NLP stands for natural language processing.

It’s a branch of artificial intelligence that deals with understanding human language.

NLP is what enables semantic search, and is the backbone for some platforms like Surfer SEO.

How Does Semantic Analysis Work?

There are a few different methods that semantic analysis can use to understand the meaning of queries.

One is word sense disambiguation, which looks at the different meanings of words in a query.

Entity recognition is another.

It looks for proper names and other entities in a query.

Finally, there’s semantic role labeling, which assigns semantic roles to the different words in a query.

Why Is Semantic Search So Important?

Semantic search is important because it helps search engines provide users with more relevant results.

You want your content to be relevant and, by understanding and utilizing semantic analysis, you can make your content become more relevant to search engines.

Semantic search is more than knowing the definitions of words, it’s understanding the relationships between and contexts behind words.

Association and connotation are important to take into account when using keywords.

How Does Semantic Search Impact SEO?

One of the most important applications of semantic search is SEO.

To truly optimize your content, you need the search engines to recognize the intent of your content.

When search engines understand your content and its intent, your content will rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs).

The more relevant search engines say your content is, the more clicks and general attention your content gets.

Examples of Semantic Search

Let’s take a look at a few examples of semantic search in action.

Voice search is a solid example.

With the rise of digital assistants, more and more people use voice search.

Voice search relies on understanding the more casual, conversational meanings of words.

Another example is Google’s Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph is a semantic database that contains information about entities and the relationships between them.

Try searching for “Barack Obama.”

The Knowledge Graph will show you information about his family, career, and other relevant information.

Does Google Use Semantic Search?

Yes, Google uses semantic search.

Semantic search is part of what makes Google successful.

The concept is a key part of the Hummingbird algorithm, which the search engine first released in 2013.

For example, if someone types in “pizza near me,” Google will show them a list of pizza places in their area.

It will also provide information such as:

  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Hours of operation

What Are the Benefits of Using Semantic Search?

There are many benefits of semantic search, both for users and businesses.

Some of the benefits of semantic search include:

  • Improved search results: Semantic analysis uses the user’s intent.
    Doing so leads to improved search results.
  • Increased traffic: Your content has a better chance of ranking in Google when optimized for semantic search.
  • Improved ROI: With improved search results and increased traffic comes an improved ROI for businesses that use semantic search.

Why Does Semantic Search Matter for Your Users?

As a business, it’s important to understand why semantic search benefits your users.

vector graphic illustrating a graphic representation of semantic search and how it works

Help Them Find What They’re Looking For

The goal of semantic search is to provide users with only the most helpful results.

By understanding the user’s intent, semantic search can do a better job of ensuring that searchers land on pages that perfectly deliver the best content.

Personalize Their Experience

Semantic search improves personalization by taking into account a user’s location, search history, and other factors.

Search engines show different results to different people for the same query.

In the aforementioned pizza example, a search engine might show a Domino’s to one user and a Pizza Hut to another based on location or what the user clicked the last time they searched “pizza”.

Fosters Trust

When users see that you understand their needs, it builds trust.

When users trust your brand, they’re more likely to do business with you.

What Is a Semantic Search Example?

Let’s look at an example.

Say you’re looking for a new pair of shoes online.

You enter the query “shoes” into a search engine.

The results that come back are a mix of different types and styles of shoes, from sneakers to stilettos.

How does the search engine know to show you all these different types of shoes?

That’s where semantic search comes in.

The search engine looks at the meaning of your query and returns results based on that meaning.

In this case, it knows that when you’re searching for “shoes,” you’re looking for a type of clothing item and not a specific brand or style.

How Google Uses Semantic Search

Google semantic search uses something called latent semantic analysis (LSA).

LSA analyzes and extracts how a piece of text uses words and determines the context around those words to assign their meaning.

For example, Google knows that the word “cars” can have different meanings.

It could refer to vehicles or it could refer to the “Cars” movie franchise.

By seeing the context around “cars”, Google can determine which meaning is more relevant to your query.

Google looks at synonyms and related terms when semantically analyzing a piece of text.

If you search for “boots,” the search engine might also return results for “shoes” and “sandals.”

semantic seo

How To Use Semantic Search to Your Advantage

One way to use semantic search is by using semantic keywords.

These keywords relate closely to your main keyword.

For our “shoes” example, some semantic keywords could be “sneakers,” “flats,” or “wedges.”

Many search engines disfavor “keyword cramming”, so only use semantic keywords where relevant and spread them throughout your content.

How To Optimize Your Content for Semantic Search

Below are three ways to use semantic search in your content.

Use Semantic Markup

Semantic markup is a code that you can add to your web pages to give search engines more information about your content.

For example, you can use semantic markup to specify the type of content on your page, such as articles, videos, or reviews.

You can also use semantic markup to add structured data to your page.

Structured data is information that’s organized in a specific way.

One common type of structured data is schema.org markup.

Schema.org is a collaborative project between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Yandex to create a common vocabulary for semantic markup.

Break Keywords Into Multiple Tiers

When you’re thinking about the keywords you want to target, break them down into multiple tiers.

Start with broad, general keywords that describe your main topic.

Then, create a second tier of more specific keywords.

For our “shoes” example, some second-tier keywords could be “men’s shoes,” “women’s shoes,” or “children’s shoes.”

Finally, create a third tier of long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords are phrases that are very specific to what you’re offering.

They tend to have lower search volume but higher conversion rates.

When creating content around “shoes”, you might use long-tail keywords like “men’s running shoes,” “women’s black dress shoes,” or “children’s rain boots.”

Consider Your Audience

Your audience will influence the language you use in your content.

If you’re writing for a general audience, you might use simpler words and sentence structures.

If you’re writing for a more technical audience, you can use jargon and industry-specific terms.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer two commonly asked questions about semantic search.

Is semantic search AI?

Technically, yes, semantic search falls under “machine learning”, a subcategory of AI.

Machine learning revolves around recognizing patterns and is essentially the rudimentary beginnings of a more advanced AI.

It is less that semantic search itself is an AI and more that many AIs are made for or use semantic search.

What is semantic web SEO?

Semantic web SEO is the practice of optimizing your content for semantic search.

Using semantic keywords, markup, and structured data makes your content more relevant.

Wrapping Up

Semantic search is a powerful optimization tool that can help your website rank higher on search engine results pages.

Semantic analysis allows you to create content optimized for semantic search engines like Google and Bing.

The benefits of semantic search include improved relevancy rankings, increased click-through rates, and more engaged users.

If you’re not already using semantic search to optimize your website, now is the time to start.

Do you have questions about this exciting topic?

Ask in the comments and I’ll answer your questions.

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