Most businesses seem to know that SEO is integral to their online efforts, even if they don’t fully understand how it works, or how it’s changing.
SEO has been around for decades, but only since the early 2000s has the search engine giant, Google, taken measures to make SEO more about the web user’s experience than following specific formulas to make one’s website rank high in search results.
To that end, Google has focused on providing quick responsiveness to online search queries, so it will yield accurate results, even with misspelled words, incomplete phrases, or poorly worded phrases.
As a passive web user, you may not fully see the deep-down impact on SEO practices – you’re just glad to have a better search experience.
SEO of the past was based on a rigid framework of keywords.
As a result, webmasters and SEOers conducted extensive keyword research and did all they possibly could to cram their targeted keywords into every corner of their websites. Writing for SEO often used and implemented keywords or phrases in odd and unnatural places, making the content hard to read.
Sometimes the content didn’t have anything to do with the keywords.
As a result, SEOers wrote only for Google, and the users were often frustrated with the irrelevant search results of their queries.
Things were about to change, though, and we’ve changed from the literal to the semantic (so to speak).
Google’s Algorithm Updates
Starting in 2002, Google began implementing the first in a series of algorithm updates and requirements to sort and rank websites. Webmasters now couldn’t do excessive link baiting and keyword stuffing. Instead, they had to create relevant content useful to the user if they wanted their websites to rank higher in search results.
The emphasis toward user-friendly content continued in 2013, when Google came out with their Hummingbird algorithm update.
The Hummingbird algorithm changed how Google interpreted web user search queries. Instead of looking for identical words and verbatim phrases, Google began to put emphasis on the intent behind the search query.
No longer did the words or phrases have to match exactly, but Google now searched websites for the same idea as the search query. Words didn’t even have to be spelled the same and the word order and structure of query phrases didn’t have to match exactly.
This Hummingbird update was the result of the realization that in today’s fast-paced society, where web users don’t want to type long, properly worded search queries, still expect instant, relevant results.
A major component of Google’s Hummingbird update is called RankBrain. RankBrain is the artificial intelligence (AI) that allows Google’s search algorithm machines to better interpret complex searches and the users’ intent behind their searches.
And it’s this notion of intent that is the foundation for what we call “semantic search.”
A number of technological innovations have helped spur this trend on. The most notable is the sophistication of smartphones and their speech-to-text search functionality.
With speech-to-text, the web user can speak a keyword or search phrase into the Google search bar on their smartphone and the mobile Google platform will translate the spoken words of the user into typed text.
As a result, more and more web users are searching in a more complex and sophisticated way. In fact, they are now using terminology and phrases they use in verbal conversation.
People tend to talk differently than how they type and Google has recognized this.
The Hummingbird algorithm update has shifted the web user’s experience from a rigid, mechanical process to something more semantic.
Positive Benefits of Semantic SEO Searches
What positive impacts have come from this shift in how people search and how search results are ranked?
1. An Easier, More Intuitive Search
With all the changes that have been happening in the background, web users have become accustomed to a fast, intuitive search experience which produces relevant results.
In the past, users had to try several different search variations if their initial results didn’t quite deliver what they had hoped for. At the same time, SEOs had to determine exactly what phrases customers might use and write website content that included those phrases (no matter how strangely they fit in).
A disconnect was created between the web users’ search intent and the search results that appeared.
Semantic search changed this by focusing less on the specific words or phrasing and more on the user’s intent behind the search. And SEOs have to change their strategies to account for these types of search results.
2. Better Content
The goal of every algorithm update is to improve the web user’s search experience. With the Hummingbird update, search results came up that were deemed the most relevant based on the untyped intent of the user.
People now enter search queries similar to how they talk. Google has utilized AI (artificial intelligence) to search websites based on this new search query syntax.
With less emphasis on specific keywords and formal phrase structure, the content on websites – now more than ever – have to be high quality. Oddly placed keywords or awkward keyword phrases or keyword stuffing in the content of a website will no longer appease Google or web users.
In order to produce the now-expected, high-quality content, content writers must conduct more thorough research on topics and write in a way that the content is easily readable, attention-grabbing and offers value.
3. Quality Results
With semantic SEO, search results pages are (or at least should be) filled with high-quality content that accurately answers the original query.
A big part of making this happen is the use of “rich answers.” These search query answers are gathered by Google and are displayed on search results pages (SERPs) in a way that the web user doesn’t have to click on a website URL to see the content. The user is presented with short snippets of the relevant content of a website.
While snippets are the most commonly displayed form of “rich answers,” charts, tables, sliders, maps and forms displaying appropriate, relevant information can also appear on SERPs.
When web users get the answers they are looking for and they get them nearly instantaneously, the better search experience they will have. (This, in turn, will convince them to continue to use Google for their web searches.)
4. Better User Value Optimization
With semantic SEO, the goal is to create the most value for web users and address their real concerns. SEOers now must spend more time optimizing their website content so that it is valuable to web users.
This is something people have been talking about for years, of course, but now you have to think more about how those users are asking their questions – not just the keywords they might be using.
As keywords are not as highly stressed, it is more difficult for SEOs to determine the intent behind a user’s search. This is something that is fairly unpredictable, though, so SEOs are safe, and better off producing great content that adds value to a larger, broader audience.
5. Less Emphasis on Keywords
As you now know, semantic SEO places less emphasis on keywords. Keyword research is still important to gauge the popularity of certain keywords. However, the keywords you choose to target are no longer the end-all of your SEO strategy.
Gone are the days where websites need exact-match keywords and each page of the website needs to have a certain ratio of keywords. Now, those keywords help guide our focus to certain topics and discussions, but our content has to focus on what the user actually wants.
6. More Flexibility
The move away from exact-match keyword phrases offers SEOs a lot more flexibility in their content. With alternative wordings and word synonyms coming up as search results of a query, website content can be more creative, unique, genuine, and, ultimately, useful.
Content writers are now no longer bound to constructing content merely to push certain keywords.
The new semantic approach to SEO benefits both web users and the SEOs who optimized and write content for websites. The two are brought to a closer understanding of each other which has bettered the overall internet browsing experience.
Is your website optimized for semantic search? If not, chances are your website hasn’t or soon won’t be appearing towards the top of search results for your targets keywords or phrases.
Google in putting more emphasis on the experience of the web user and if you’re still doing “old school” SEO, your website isn’t getting much attention by Google or web users.
Optimizing a website and staying up to date on the many Google algorithms takes time, patience and effort. It also requires top-notch SEO knowledge to pull all your content together into a cohesive marketing strategy.
You’ve got your content and SEO ready to go. Is your social media campaign contributing to the effort? Download this free checklist to find out.