There’s been a lot of talk lately about the new face of SEO, the new way to rank, yada yada yada.
We’ve been inundated with articles in our inbox about entity SEO, which is part of the new Google Hummingbird’s push to semantic web technology and will display more precise results at a faster rate based on user intent. Content marketers are pushing for conversational content, writing like you were talking to your reader, and targeting for topics over keywords.
These are all relevant points to keep in mind. Writing for topics helps ensure your blogs are well-rounded and traffic stays on your site longer, conversational content ensures your blogs are interesting, and writing for semantic search ensures that you’re targeting a user’s intended search and not just flooding your blogs with keywords. A topic we cover in detail here.
But is Google really abandoning straight keywords and should you do the same? What is semantic search anyway?
Semantic Search and You
Semantic search all started with Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013. We all know the shake up Hummingbird brought, ranking pages that matched user intent rather than specific keywords. In fact, with the launch of Hummingbird, pages that try to cram keywords into blogs where they don’t really fit are now considered bad pages and rank much lower than before.
Rank Brain was launched in 2015 and is now the dominant part of Hummingbird’s algorithm. Rank Brain consists of two parts: query and ranking. The query part’s purpose is to better understand queries that we input into Google, especially the off or unfamiliar queries and the long-tail queries. Rank Brain will take long-form queries that are not common and compare them to common ones that have similar features (like using similar language or terms).
The results? Pages are matched to queries based on meaning over phrase or keyword matches, and sometimes the results might not even contain the same words from the query.
Keywords vs Topics: What’s the Difference?
Let’s say you’re starting a new website, or you’re trying to develop a new section of your current website and you want it to rank well.
The first thing you’ll probably do is figure out what types of questions of queries your target audience is looking for and want’s answered. The next step where some people differ, and where old-school SEO and new-school SEO split, is how to create that content.
Old-school SEO would dictate that you take all of you keywords or search terms and write specific blogs and each one separately, regardless of the length or even the general entertainment level of the blog or page. The problem with that is that you are breaking a key rule of Google’s new algorithm: make your content interesting and relevant!
The foil of old-school SEO tactics was that you’d have websites with dozens of pages or blogs with no more than a few sentences about a very specific topic.
Now, with new-school SEO, that focuses on the topic of the content itself, without worrying about keywords at all, you would take all those search terms and write a big piece covering all of them. A keystone piece that could live forever; evergreen content, if you will.
The problem here is that we’re treading where Google hasn’t gone yet. The theory of new-school is that you don’t worry about keywords, only topics, context, and relevance and Google takes care of the rest. Google’s not quite there yet. We still need keywords.
The foil of new school is that you’ll end up ranking for the generic , broad term of your blog, when people don’t necessarily search like that. You’re trying to cover too many topics with one page.
Keywords vs Topics: Who Wins?
So who wins? Well, neither do, really. The answer lies in somewhere in the middle. You need a combination of both keyword targeting and semantic relevance.
Consider this: let’s say you’re creating a bakery website, some of the topics you might want to write about are trending topics like “the best sugar-free desserts”. You also might want to write about technical topics like “what is gluten?” Those are both very broad topics, but by using a combination of semantic and keyword SEO, you can ensure you’re covering all your bases properly.
“The best sugar-free desserts” can be broken down into specifics: the best sugar-free chocolate chip cookies, while “what is gluten?” can be given more topic relevance: why is gluten bad for you? Likely, more people are searching for those trending, specific topics, rather than exact keywords or broad, general queries.
So… in a Nutshell, Please?
The best way to target for SEO in 2017 is to think of the searcher’s intent, think about the user and the experience. Take you target audience’s questions and develop entertaining, engaging topics around those questions rather than trying to cram as many keywords onto a page that answers that exact question and nothing more.
But again, you still need those keywords to understand user intent. A little from column A, a little from column B.
Okay, so breathe for a minute now. We’ve gone through how topic relevance (new-school SEO) and keyword targeting (old-school SEO) differ, and why you need both, now how do you implement those methodologies into your content marketing strategy?
Oh! You thought we were done!? Nope. Not quite yet. There’s still more to mastering semantic search, but we promise once you’re done, you’ll be able to understand just want semantic search is and why your business should be using it!