Like many kids, when I was younger, I used to spend Christmas Eve eagerly awaiting the morning when I'd run downstairs and see a mountain of presents to unwrap.

I imagine search engine optimizers feel the same way when the news hits of a new Google algorithm update.

While Google makes updates every day — an average of almost 9 per day — most of these are minor updates. Occasionally, Google will roll out a major update like RankBrain or Hummingbird.

One feature that Google has been working on in its algorithm updates is the use of semantic search, which is how Google contextually understands a user's question.

As a marketer, understanding these updates is important in order to rank higher on search engines. New updates usually mean you'll need to come up with new strategies for your blog and messaging.

Below, we'll review what semantic search is, how it works, and how it impacts you as a digital marketer.

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For example, this is how search engines know if you're looking up Apple the company as opposed to Apple the fruit. It creates a better user experience and weeds out low-quality content using black hat SEO methods, like keyword stuffing.

So, how does it work?

Essentially, search engines analyze how datasets relate to one another. This process often involves matching keywords with common synonyms, identifying a common topic among them, and interpreting natural language to understand the context of a search to deliver personalized results.

For instance, in the example below, Google understands what the related searches are for "Gilmore Girls." It knows that if I'm searching for "Gilmore Girls," I might be interested in looking up the cast, the new Netflix series, or the theme song. This is semantic search in action.

Semantic search for Gilmore Girls TV show.

Search engines will analyze related topics including people, places, things, concepts, or ideas. In the example below, when I searched for "Emma Stone," it pulled up related news stories, her social media, a short biography, movies she's done, and previous castmates. Anything that could provide value or be of use to me is readily available on the first results page.

Semantic search for Emma Stone shows related interests.

This concept has often been confused with latent search indexing (LSI). So, what’s the difference between semantic search and LSI?

As mentioned above, with semantic search, search engines use NLP and context to improve the accuracy and relevancy of their results.

On the other hand, LSI is an underlying system from the 1980s that was used to identify potential relationships between terms and concepts. With this in mind, LSI can theoretically make it easier to identify search intent so that your content is reaching the right users.

However, LSI, in and of itself, doesn't directly improve search intent. It's also worth noting that there isn't evidence to support its existence in Google's current algorithm. Nevertheless, LSI is a well-known model for how search engines today have come to understand content when indexing it.

How Does Semantic Search Impact SEO?

Semantic search impacts anyone working in search engine optimization. For example, your SEO strategies will be molded by this algorithm.

To see if a piece is optimized for semantic search, you'll want to answer questions like:

  • Is your copy optimized for voice search?
  • Is it conversational?
  • Do you include synonyms of the topic?
  • Does your copy expand on related topics that might be of interest to the user?
  • Does your copy answer your audience's questions directly?

These become important questions because search engines are looking for these elements to decide where you rank on the results page.

So, how can you optimize your copy to rank higher on search engines?

1. Understand user intent.

When you do your keyword research, try to understand why a user is searching for something. What are they really asking? Before you write any content, you need to understand what your user really wants to know.

2. Provide value.

Ultimately, your content should provide value for your audience. You can forget about all the on-page and off-page SEO tactics, if your content isn't valuable. It won't mean anything if people don't want to read it. With new algorithms and updates, Google can tell if your content provides value.

3. Answer user questions directly.

Once you've brainstormed a topic to write about and done your keyword research, look up commonly asked questions that are associated with your topic. Then, answer those questions succinctly and directly. This will help you show up in those featured snippet boxes. Plus, answering your reader's questions is valuable to them and takes user intent into consideration.

4. Use colloquial language.

When you're writing a blog post, be sure to use natural language and include synonyms and related content. This helps users understand your content and makes it easy to read. Additionally, natural language is an excellent way to optimize for voice search. With the rise of voice search, people are asking long-form questions in a conversational manner. Plus, this will help avoid keyword stuffing.

5. Build credibility and authority.

Lastly, you always want to build your credibility and authority. The higher your authority, the higher you'll rank. To build credibility, work on creating a brand, writing blog posts, being active on social media, and providing value to your audience.

Overall, semantic search helps search engines provide personalized search results and a better user experience. Want to learn more about SEO? Click here for our ultimate guide.

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Originally published Dec 6, 2019 4:00:00 AM, updated December 19 2019

Topics:

Technical SEO