What is the value of semantic SEO?

What is Semantic SEO?

The commonly cited concise definition of semantic SEO is a bit cryptic.

“Semantic search is a search or a question or an action that produces meaningful results, even when the retrieved items contain none of the query terms, or the search involves no query text at all.”

Tamas Doszkocs

But I prefer a longer and less cryptic definition.

“Semantic Search is defined as search for information based on the intent of the searcher and contextual meaning of the search terms, instead of depending on the dictionary meaning of the individual words in the search query.”

Tony John

Semantic SEO (or semantic search) are the initial steps Google has taken (and is taking) to get us to a world similar to how people query computers on Star Trek.

Which is to say by asking questions that way you would of another person, without having to focus on using “the right words”.

One day with semantic search, we will be able to ask a series of questions with the computer realizing the questions are related, and taking the context in which the questions are asked into account when generating an answer.

This is the power of semantic search.

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An Example of Semantic Search

If you first ask: “How many MetroPCS stores are there near me?”

And get a list.

You can then ask: “Which ones have a service center?”

And get a shorter list.

In order to answer the first question, the search engine had to take into account where you are. In order to answer the second, it had to know that “which ones” referred to “which MetroPCS stores”.

For the search engine to provide meaningful results to those queries, the context of the query must be taken into account.

The Importance of Context

The context of a search may include any (or all) of the following:

  • Current trends (i.e.: major news stories)
  • Where you are (as in the example above)
  • The intention of the search
  • Variations in words used
  • Synonyms
  • Concept matching
  • Change in meaning based on groupings of words
  • Previous searches

Context allows the search engine to determine what you meant, independent of what you said.

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Examples of the Importance of Context

In addition to the example above where “near me” was meaningful to the search engine, anytime a vague term is used the search engine needs to “figure out” what you mean.

“What did Trump do now?” Implies that President Donald Trump did something noteworthy very recently.

“Ancient Indian artifacts” must distinguish between Native Americans and people from India, and have some sense of what “artifacts’ are.

“Where can I find good shopping?” To answer this question it’s necessary to understand what kind of stuff you shop for and what you consider to be good.

It’s Built on the Google Knowledge Graph

Semantic search (and semantic SEO) is built upon what is called the Knowledge Graph.

If anyone knows why it’s called a graph, please let me know. To me, it would be more accurate to call it a Knowledge Base.

The image below sometimes appears on a Search Engine Result Page (SERP), and I’ve seen people refer to it as “The Knowledge Graph”.

It is NOT The Knowledge Graph. It is The Answer Box.

The answer box is BUILT FROM the knowledge graph. The knowledge graph is the database of relationships between bits of knowledge that make the answer box possible.

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What is The Knowledge Graph

The knowledge graph is actually a database of relationships between different pieces of information.

According to the knowledge graph Wikipedia entry, at the end of 2016, the knowledge graph contained 70 billion facts and their relationships to other facts.

Are We There Yet?

It’s hard to say where the line between “old SEO” and “semantic SEO” is. As recently as 6 months ago, two slightly different searches produced quite different search results. In researching this article I looked for an example of two similar but different searches that produced vastly different search results and was unable to do so.

Based on this it appears to me that progress is being made, but sequential queries (such as the MetroPCS example above) don’t work yet.

So while we may not be “there” completely, it appears we are farther along than we were even six months ago.

What Does This Mean for You?

Since the flip side of Semantic Search is Semantic SEO, the question we’re really asking “How do YOU do Semantic SEO”?

Why Create Content for Semantic Search?

Because Google is taking you there, whether you’re ready or not.

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How to Create Content for Semantic Search?

Semantic search is based on the context of the search query AND the knowledge graph. These topics are addressed individually below.

Query Context

We have little control over this. The context of a query varies from person to person, and query to query. As strange as the following advice may sound, I suggest you don’t worry about this. I know this flies in the face of all the people who say you must create context-specific content, but how exactly does someone do that? Create several variations of the same piece of content, one for each imaginable context in which the question could be asked?

As the goal of semantic search is to line people up with the best answers to their question, I think your focus needs to be on providing the best answers.

Knowledge Graph

The key takeaway here is the importance of FACTS! Don’t be afraid to use them, but ensure you verify them. If your content makes false statements, it will likely NEVER be featured in an answer box.

Is Schema.org Related to Semantic Search?

Come on Google! Fess up! Inquiring minds want to know!!!!

But the most accurate answer to the question is “We don’t know”. Google is silent on the matter and SEO experts disagree on this one.

Based on that I’m thinking that if it makes sense for other reasons to implement schema.org for your website, do so. If it doesn’t, don’t do it JUST for semantic SEO benefits.

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Are Keywords Obsolete?

They’re not obsolete yet, but they’re more obsolete now than they were this time last year. Over time, they’re being obsoleted.

Based on what we know of semantic search, it seems to make sense that when you target keyword phrases, you need to find various ways to say something, then (assuming these various ways sound natural) find a way to use all of them in your blog posts.

In Closing

In many ways, Semantic Search (and Semantic SEO) are freeing and liberating. No longer do we need to write for both people AND search engines.

Now we can write exclusively for people, and by being to the point, factual, providing useable actionable answers, and writing stuff others actually want to link to, we can grow our SEO rankings much more naturally than in the days of keywords.

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Kevin Carney
Kevin Carney

Kevin "fell into" SEO by accident, like many others. The SaaS platform to help writers boost their topical authority came years later after various SEOs said it was something they would like to see. https://organicgrowth.biz.

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