This blog is the second half of a two part series on semantic search and SEO in 2017, so if you haven’t read part one yet, you’ll definitely want to check it out!
If you have, then fantastic! Keep reading.
Understanding how and why you need both topic relevance and keyword targeting in your content strategy is great, the trick is figuring out how to implement both to work for your business.
In this article, we will try to tackle some of those bigger questions for you and give you an idea of how mastering semantic search can help you get your business out to the best possible people, on the best channels and at the best time.
Keywords Now vs Keywords Then
Keyword targeting has definitely gotten less straightforward in current SEO strategies, but somewhere along the way, that came to mean less important. It’s still very important in mastering semantic search as well, just a little more complicated.
Let us explain:
About 70% of all web traffic comes from Google searches, so you really can’t avoid conforming your content strategies to Google’s guidelines. Now, most marketers have a love/hate relationship Google in that they hate the regulations and restrictions and yet love it for the analysis those same restrictions provide. It’s a paradox, really.
Now, Google has it’s algorithm called Hummingbird that includes systems called Panda and RankBrain. Panda was launched in 2011, that is part of its core page-ranking algorithm that ranks sites on everything from relevancy to amount of content on the page. A big part of Panda is weeding out the spam sites from the sites that offer relevant content.
RankBrain is an artificial intelligence system that groups search terms into meaning, basically trying to help Google process terms in a manner similar to human speech. Does your head hurt yet? More on this later! We promise!
Don’t forget about PPC! In all the new updates and algorithms changes, more and more businesses are turning to paid. Organic SEO or PPC: where should you spend your money?
How Google Got Smarter
Here’s where the split happened: back in the day (and we mean like 2008), sites could rank higher by cramming keywords into their content, even if it didn’t make sense or if the page really had very little to do with that actual term. You probably remember some of them; you’d type in “things to do in New York” and get back a website about car insurance. Spam.
Google Panda works to rectify that, and Google loves relevant content so much that it will downgrade your page (meaning you’ll end up on the 13th page of a search term) if you:
- Use a doorway page – a page that redirects you to a page other than what you were searching for by using a fast meta refresh. They’re a form of spam and used by some sleazy marketers to “trick” search engines. They’re easy to spot.
- Use affiliate pages with no substance. You’ve seen the pages, they’re covered in other company’s ads…and sometimes not much else. Google sees them too.
- Scraped content. This refers to literally taking content from other sites and posting it as your own without adding any other relevant information.
- And finally, create content overstuffed with keywords. Keywords are important. Inserting keywords as much as possible when it doesn’t flow with the text is a big no.
Panda will hate you if you overstuff keywords; it favours high-quality content written at an expert level. What happened is that marketers started shying away from them in favour of “organically” writing content on broad topics with grandiose writing. The problem? Sometimes you end up with 40 articles written about the dangers of sugar all trying to “out-word” one another.
For more on utilizing an effective content marketing strategy, check out our blog on the 5 Tips for Writing Effective Blog Content
Why We Still Need Keywords
Somewhere along the way we took topic relevance too far. Mastering semantic search in 2017 takes writing for users and writing for engines.
Consider this: we discussed in our last blog about the difference between writing blogs or pages about each exact keyword and writing one big blog on all those keywords together. If you don’t remember, here it is:
“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 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.”
The problem with both is that neither really covers how people search; neither considers user intent all that well.
Let’s say you’re a landscaping company and you’re trying to rank your site for everything to do with landscaping.
Let’s look at some potential keywords:
- Rock landscaping
- Ideas for Landscaping
- Home garden landscaping
- Landscaping design
- Landscaping supplies
- Landscaping companies
- Landscaping plants
- Landscaping materials
You’re not going to create content for each one, that would be a waste of time and wouldn’t garner you the right results. BUT, you’re also not going to create one big article on the how-to-guide to landscaping, because no one uses Google that way.
You still need to incorporate keywords into your content. When Google receives a query, the first thing it does is go through its index to find the best match, usually the TF-IDF algorithm: which reflects how important a word is to a piece of content based on the number of times it appears. The more it appears, the more Google think that that word is relevant to a page.
Of course it’s not that simple; there are a number of stages and refinements and other algorithms that Google goes through to retrieve a page, but using keywords in your content helps tell search engines that your page is related to that topic. More on that HERE!
Consider these search results for the term “rock landscaping” and “rock garden landscaping”. Both are similar topics but return two very different results.
One returns business results:
The other returns blog results:
Sounds like a lot, right? It is, but when paired with a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy, SEO makes a lot more sense. Want to learn more? ➡️What the Heck is Inbound Marketing?
If you’re ready get started but not sure how, it might be time to talk to an agency. Give us a call!
How Semantic Search Affect Keywords
So how does semantic search fit into all of this and how do you master semantic search? The word semantic literally means “relating to meaning”; semantic search is creating content around meaning or groups of meaning.
We said we’d come back to RankBrain, so here it is! Google has always tried to push search results into the realm of conversation, creating results that are based off a user’s intent and how we might ask one other questions. The introduction of RankBrain into the Hummingbird algorithm is that latest step in that.
RankBrain uses AI to essentially teach Google to respond and act based on user intention through contextual groupings, synonyms, and natural language, Google can “learn” to combine structured and unstructured data into responses. This is the basis of semantic search.
Semantic search gives contextual meaning to search-term results by grouping related entities, words, results, topics into those results and through repetition and positive reinforcement (via traffic), RankBrain learns to group those results together every time.
The effects of this are obvious when you type an exact question into Google like “who’s that guy in the movie with the boombox?”
Pretty obscure question, but Google knows exactly what you’re talking about and will serve you results related to Say Anything and John Cusack, even though those pages might not contain the search term. That’s intention.
How Do You Master Semantic Search?
Let’s go back to the landscaping company now and revisit those keywords. Instead of writing content on each of those keywords, semantic search dictates that you should group those terms into meaning and context and write content for that.
|“Landscaping dos and don’ts” OR “Choosing a landscaping look that’s right for your home”|
|“What you need to get started with landscaping your home” OR “starters tips for landscaping”|
By grouping your keywords you’re writing for meaning of the user based on what they’re searching for and you’re telling Google and other search engines that this single piece of content relates to these contextually-linked keywords.
Driving traffic to your site is not a one-fits-all answer. For more great tips check out our 5 Must-Do Steps to Driving Traffic to Your Site.
The difference between semantic search strategies and writing based solely off of topic relevance is that “landscaping supplies” and “ideas for landscaping” aren’t really related that much. One, you’re targeting users who have the intention of searching out ideas for how’d they like to landscape their home, and the other, you’re targeting users who already have a good idea of what they want and are ready to get started.
See the difference? With semantic search and RankBrain leading the way, writing content that is too broad could get you left out of the conversation altogether. RankBrain’s job is to ensure that a page covers the topic thoroughly. Going too broad puts you in danger of falling short of that, and cramming in keywords will get you red flagged by Panda.
The takeaway: keyword grouping and writing for contextual linking and user intention will help you master semantic search and SEO in 2017.