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Semantic SEO: What It Is and Why Does It Matter

Semantic SEO: What It Is and Why Does It Matter

Deciphering language used in search is a complex task.

As humans, we have the benefit of understanding not just what people say, but the context that surrounds it. Often, we can say a word or phrase, but offer an implied meaning that’s never stated. Nevertheless, we automatically understand the intention.

It’s this type of intelligence that Google continuously tries to provide in its search algorithms. It’s no longer enough to just do a keyword match. It needs to understand the relevance of what’s being said so that it can accurately serve that content to the right audience.

All of this is why Semantic SEO is now a critical part of your organic marketing.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through:

What is Semantics?

There are two primary components to linguistics and communication: lexicon and semantics.

Lexicon is defined as the actual units used in communication, otherwise known as words.

Semantics is the aspect of language that focuses on using logic to infer the true meaning and intention behind the words. It’s how we as people can communicate something with words, but mean several different things based upon a variety of internal and external factors.

For example, the word “monitor” has at least three meanings. One, it can be a verb that means to watch or observe. It can also be a noun that refers to someone who supervises. Finally, it can refer to the display you use when using a computer device.

The way we determine which “monitor” is right is through semantics. That is, we can logically deduce the meaning based on semantic clues like surrounding words, previous statements, or physical observation.

It is the process of matching the correct meaning to the act of communicating.

What is Semantic Search?

Understanding the meaning of semantics is essential for determining how it applies to search.

As search engine algorithms continue to evolve, they improve their ability to better understand the meaning behind our queries.

Therefore, semantic search is the idea of helping search engine algorithms understand the intention behind a search and the relevancy of the possible results. Google no longer just wants to match the query to on-page keywords, it wants to find the true meaning through the same logic means that we do.

What is Semantic Search?

How Search Results Used to Be?

In the early days of the internet, search engines used a fast, lean way to help users find content.

Any time you entered a keyword, you would receive hundreds of results featuring pages that included the keywords in your query. It was a guarantee that every found result mentioned your words at multiple points throughout the page. Because the lexicon matches, those pages were determined to be the best results.

How Search Results Are Evolving?

Thanks to our established understanding of semantics, we already begin to see the flaws with old SEO practices.

When sites wanted to improve their rankings, they would write a quick page to publish on the internet. This might be a quick list of tips about a subject with the primary intention being to use a keyword with high search volume.

The problem with taking keyword usage at face value is that it ignores the semantic aspects of communication. When someone enters a search into Google, the algorithm would not be able to interpret one meaning versus another.

For example, a user searches for “cheap compact disks.” Google previously had no way of interpreting the actual meaning.

Do they want to learn about which compact disk build quality? Do they want to find a cheap CD dealer? Or is there another intention that’s being obscured due to poor communication? Everyday internet users expect search engines to automatically understand their intentions.

Introducing the Knowledge Graph

Google understands that users want information fast. They want to learn all that they can about a particular query in as few clicks as possible to have a positive experience.

The company recognized that it had the advantage of processing and indexing an incredible amount of content daily. In this content lies important facts and answers to everyday questions that their users had.

As a result, it set out to create a database that collected accurate information about a particular topic. It would then be able to provide all of this information to a search user anytime their search query included a reference to the topic.

The Knowledge Graph is now present on every Google SERP. If you want to know last night’s football scores, you’ll find the information immediately without ever clicking a URL. If you wish to know to learn more about Google, you’ll find critical details such as a company description, founding members, current SEO, and location.

The knowledge graph includes virtually every important idea, place, company, or figure. The graphic is also able to provide direct links to related topics that are also found within this web of information.

Google Knowledge Graph

It showed Google’s desire to provide users with answers to every possible question they might have regarding their query. They did this by utilizing previously established semantic connections based on content around the web. They would go on to take these new aspects of semantic search and apply them to the next big update.

The Hummingbird Update

Just a year later in 2013, Google launched the Hummingbird update. This allowed their search engine to better process different types of search queries based upon a variety of semantic factors.

Let’s revisit our prior example “cheap compact disks.” With Hummingbird, the search algorithm understands the true intention of the vague query. “Compact disks” is the primary keyword, but “cheap” provides the critical semantic context. It now knows that cheap refers to cost, implying that the user is looking to purchase low-cost CDs.

Because it can make this connection, it will no longer waste the user’s time by yielding guides or informational results. Instead, you now get results from sellers like Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, and Walmart linking to their music and audio sections.

It also had a tremendous impact on local SEO. When a user enters certain queries into Google, it can also derive semantic meaning from the person’s location. For example, if they search for “best Chinese food,” Google knows that the most relevant results are the ones physically closest to their location.

Hummingbird Algorithm Now Assesses Over Topic

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BERT and Voice Input

While the changes to the SEO made a huge impact on semantic search, there was still work to be done.

The way people search continues to grow alongside technology. In the time it took to see the previous update, users began utilizing their mobile phones more than ever to input searches. We also saw a rise in hands-free devices like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa among everyday consumers.

The promise of these devices meant that you no longer needed to enter your search with a keyboard. The on-the-go nature of new technology meant that users needed to be able to search for suggestions using their voices. This demonstrated continued issues with Google’s ability to understand more complex queries, especially those that were more conversational.

When typing, we tend to use as few words as possible, especially on a phone. We’ve also been trained in the old ways of SEO to focus on keywords and omit unnecessary fluff.

Those that use voice search revert to their traditional way of speaking. Instead of typing “semantic SEO,” someone may ask, “What is Semantic SEO and its purpose in content?” It’s easy for us to infer the meaning, but it can be tricky for the algorithm to understand the exact meaning of a longer query.

BERT, Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a technology that is designed to solve complex queries. It’s able to understand complex queries by looking not just at the keyword, but at all of the surrounding words as well as the sequence in which they appear.

BERT was also created to continuously learn from search users. The more that Google receives different types of searches, it takes steps closer to understanding the various ways humans communicate. It’s automatically gathering data and improving how it evaluates our efforts to learn new information.

BERT - Google Algorithm Update

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It may even be able to predict the next word in your query based on the words already entered. You can try entering a query into Google yourself and observe how quickly it generates an auto-filled response that matches your needs or comes close.

Google's SMITH Algorithm

Though it's still experimental, Google is currently testing its new SMITH technology, which stands for Siamese Multi-Depth Transformer-Based Hierarchical Encoder.

However, SEO experts know that this search advancement exists and promises to outperform BERT. While BERT is capable of predicting a few words based on user input, SMITH may be able to predict entire passages of text within a longer piece of content.

The full published study is available on Google's Research website. It explores Google's latest testing results, which seem to indicate that SMITH has its shortcomings. Currently, it seems that SMITH is not meant to replace BERT. Instead, both may be able to supplement the other's shortcomings.

While BERT focuses on short-form content, SMITH may be able to rapidly process entire documents. Together, they may be able to rapidly process the semantical meaning of the content of any web URL, regardless of length or size.

Now that you understand the purpose and history of semantic search, let's take a look at how it's impacting your SEO strategies.

What is Semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO is the process of optimizing your content to provide depth and meaning around a certain topic. Keywords still play a critical role, but the focus is on providing authoritative, complete responses to a user's search query.

Based on our previous discoveries in this article, we understand how this applies to our content creation efforts moving forward. Writing 500 words and including the keyword in your title and headlines does not lead to meaningful content.

Instead, Google's algorithm heavily favors pages that go into greater detail. High-ranking pages also make use of opportunities to link to relevant content both on and off-site for additional context. It's not just looking at keywords, but it's also reviewing the supporting text and links to derive the semantic meaning behind it.

Semantic SEO Now Understands Similar Topics

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A. Search Intent and Relevance

You can optimize your website for semantic SEO by first considering the user's search intent behind a query.

Site owners can do this by considering the implied intention behind a keyword before selecting it. If the goal of your content is to provide information, you'll want to avoid transactional keywords and focus on informational ones. You can also help Google understand the intention and relevance of your content by utilizing semantic keywords.

B. What Are Semantic Keywords?

Semantic keywords are keywords that are closely related to primary keywords but have a slightly different, deeper meaning.

Let’s use “search engine optimization” as our keyword. Examples of semantic keywords are:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Search engine optimization techniques
  • Search engine optimization example
  • Search engine optimization specialist
  • Search engine optimization course

All of these keywords are directly related to the primary keyword. However, the additional words provide context to derive a slightly different meaning.

These semantic keywords serve to strengthen our primary keyword when used effectively.

If a user was to search “how to do search engine optimization,” our result will be more likely to rank high if:

  • We utilize semantic keywords appropriately
  • We fully answer the user’s query (including techniques and examples as seen in the LSI keywords)
  • We link to other SEO-related content available on the site where applicable
  • We avoid overusing primary or semantic keywords to boost visibility

Next, we’ll explain the best strategies for using semantic SEO when developing content for your website.

How to Use Semantic SEO Throughout Your Website?

Implementing effective semantic SEO tactics begins as early as designing your website.

Some of the best strategies involve structuring your content in a way that naturally groups semantically-relevant content alongside one another. This reverberates throughout your entire content creation strategy and futureproofs your site when making additions or changes.

1. Plan Content Using Keyword Clustering

Keyword clustering lends itself beautifully to everything we've discussed in this article.

Previously, SEOs would generate a list of keywords with high search volume. Then, they’d plan pages or articles around making generous use of that keyword.

Today, SEOs take their list of keywords and cluster them into groups by their shared relevance. You can do this by sorting your keywords by common words and the frequency in which they appear.

Let’s revert to a previous example. A digital marketing agency is using “search engine optimization” as a target keyword. Other relevant keywords that we can use are terms like “search engine optimization techniques” and “search engine optimization specialist.” We cluster these terms into one group due to their relevancy.

We can use these cluster keywords to support the content on our core “search engine optimization” page. You could speak about the SEO service, what a specialist does, and some techniques site owners can use. From there, you should build out pillar pages that dive into your cluster keywords in greater depth.

When you create and organize content this way, you help Google understand the relationships. As Google’s understanding improves, it becomes more confident in the type of content you’re providing, so that it can better match a user’s search intentions.

The Benefits of Keyword Clustering

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2. Address Longer User Queries

Long-tail keywords are a mixed bag for many SEOs.

On one hand, they often get skipped due to their lower search volume. When a brand is eager to boost traffic, it doesn't seem worthwhile to create pages around these keywords.

On the flip side, longtail keywords tend to exhibit high levels of engagement. When fewer results are taking the time to answer a question, users are more likely to engage with content that matches their needs.

You don't necessarily need to create an entire article focusing on a longtail keyword. Instead, you can address them within the body of pillar content established during keyword clustering. While your pillar page will cover a host of material, you can capitalize on longer queries by answering important questions throughout your article.

A great place to find longtail keywords is by checking out Google's People Also Ask section on SERPs. These questions are actual search queries and feature the best available response from available content.

Answering these questions in your core content is an excellent way to pull in additional traffic without diminishing your results. You'll pull in clicks for those lower search volume keywords, while simultaneously strengthening the quality of your core content. You get more eyes on your website and Google rewards you for helping out its users.

3. Always Utilize HTML Markup

Every content creator and SEO should already be doing this.

When you organize and upload content, you must tag sections of your content correctly. This HTML markup language explicitly tells Google's crawler what is on your page. Everything on the page should feature a tag including the type of text, buttons, videos, images, or forms.

Regarding the text, there are rules for tagging each section.

  • Titles are indicated by H1
  • H2 are commonly used as sub-headers to flag important topics/keywords
  • H3-H6 flag topics or questions that belong underneath other headers
  • Paragraph text is marked with <p>
Using HTML Markup

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A modern CMS will automatically update the HTML accordingly so that you don't have to code your website. However, you need to know how to markup your text correctly to ensure that Google can index your content correctly.

If you're interested in the various HTML markup tags you can use, check out a full library along with tutorials here.

4. Make Use of Internal Linking

The benefit of designing your content around keyword clustering is how it lends itself to internal linking.

As we've learned, Google processes all of the content on a page to determine the meaning as it applies to search intent. However, it also crawls the entire site when performing the indexing process. That means that it will follow links from page to page to understand the navigation and how each page relates to one another.

When you cluster your keywords, your content in each group shares a relationship. When content is closely related, there are more sensible opportunities to add internal links to other pages. Just like with semantic keywords, Google will follow these links and use the content to define a shared meaning.

Be sure to only link to content whenever relevant. Anything that's out of context will likely be seen as unreliable or spammy, hurting your SEO efforts in the long run.

5. Utilize Structured Data

Structured data, also known as schema markup, is a language used to help search engines understand your website content.

While other semantic SEO techniques reinforce relationships, this markup language tags and define sections of the webpage. It not only allows for better indexing and ranking but grants the possibility of using that information on the SERP.

Sites that utilize structured data enhance their search result by building a rich snippet. Search results with rich snippets get increased visibility by showing you important details such as:

  • Product availability
  • Pricing
  • Ratings
  • Authors/directors/creators
  • Release dates
  • Company

Those examples simply scratch the surface. There are over one thousand schema properties you can use whenever appropriate.

The recommended format for implementing structured data is JSON-LD, a JavaScript notation. You can either implement the code directly via JavaScript or by using built-in features found within your CMS.

There are also tools available online that can help you generate structured data based on the type of page you want to create.Ā  Check out's schema builder with a browser plugin option available. You can also test your new structured data before publishing it for indexing.

Semantic SEO is the Key to Higher Rankings

Search engine optimization has changed substantially in the last ten years.

Site owners can no longer ad fluff to their website that simply mentions keywords. Thanks to several Google updates, search algorithms can now understand the content, but can discern the significance and relevance of the material within.

Content creators must invest time in creating pages with depth. You may need two to five thousand words to effectively answer every reader's needs. The more authoritative your content, the more likely Google is to trust it.

But, you may also proactively aid search engines. Make sure to utilize semantic keywords, apply the proper HTML markup, and make use of structured data. Instead of counting on the algorithm to get it right, give it a push in the right direction to get better rankings.

If understanding SEO practices seem complex, you're not alone. That's why DashClicks offers a free platform to help you get started. You can select which keywords you want to track and monitor your progress over a given period. Set your goals and see how you stack up against the top competitors. Give us a try today!

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Active Community

Mobile App

Live Support

100+ Tutorials

Unlimited Sub-Accounts

Unlimited Users

All Apps

All Features


Active Community

Mobile App

Live Support

100+ Tutorials