Semantic Search 101: The What and The Why

We know, we know. Not another What You Need to Know about SEO article, right? Right.

Penguin algorithm, old content to new content, Mom’s pie, etc. You name it and we’ve covered it. We already know that as a professional, you know a LOT. Unfortunately, we’re about to burst your “Please, no more, I already know too much” bubble.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re certainly not discounting the massive amounts of knowledge that brain of yours already contains, just serving the at times frustrating-yet-rewarding reminder that in the world of SEO, the only constant is that there’s no constant. New is always brewing.

For now, here is what we DO know:

  1. In order to have a website with high traffic, you need to rank well
  2. In order to rank well, you need high-quality content (and)
  3. In order to rank well, you need to have the best SEO for your website
  4. In order to do all of that, you need to always understand SEO and stay on top of all the changes Google, Bing, and even Yahoo make

We could go on and on about some more of the standard and expected practices for SEO, but we’re going to spare you that and just go over what we think is crucial to any SEO campaign. It’s something that we don’t think too many SEO experts are putting much thought into… yet. If you’re on top of your game and already know about semantic search, by all means carry on with your day. We’ll see you around!

If you don’t know much, we would suggest kicking back and soaking this information up like a sponge.

semantic-search-sponge

Exhibit A: You, soaking up semantic search.

Don’t be overwhelmed. You’ve made it this far with SEO topics and this topic is particularly fascinating and helpful in our field. And the topic won’t cause your brain to explode.

Hopefully.

What is Semantic Search?

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Semantic search is another algorithm. According to Techopedia, semantic search is:

“a data searching technique in which a search query aims not only to find keywords but to determine the intent and contextual meaning of the words a person is using for search. Semantic search provides more meaningful search results by evaluating and understanding the search phrase and finding the most relevant results on a website, database, or any other data repository.”

Don’t go crossed eyed just yet. It took us a few different go-arounds before we grasped semantic search, but then we recognized there was an inherent, helpful analogy within our grasp:

Essentially, semantic search is your best friend. Of course we don’t mean literally, but figuratively

Prime example: you know when you’re hanging out with your best friend and you’re trying to explain something to someone else who just doesn’t “get you”?  You know, no matter how many times you explain yourself or how many times you rephrase an experience, you and this other person just are not at all “connecting”? 

Well, as we all know, any best friend will not only know exactly what you’re trying to say, but they will just take the initiative and explain for you so everyone can get on the same page.  

Has that ever happened to you? Because it’s happened to us a lot and it’s genuinely the best thing ever. It’s like your best friend can read your mind. 

Semantic search is your best friend in algorithm form, found on the search engine results page of your recent search. You know, where you enter in one word, but an entire phrase appears and it’s honestly as if they read your mind.

That’s semantic search. Actually super helpful, right?

How We Got to Semantic Search

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One thing that had a huge impact on semantic search gaining traction is The Hummingbird update, followed by Rankbrain. This update reflected major changes in algorithms Google used, which ultimately made it harder to rank your site if the site was just jam-packed with keywords.

With this update, not only are keywords important, but user experience became the primary factor in getting your site to rank high on search engines. This is another reason why content is so necessary for effective SEO.

Basically, search engines want to make sure that you are provided relevant content that is useful to its readers, not just random information stuffed with keywords. (PS: There’s something we don’t miss about the 90’s and early ’00s: keyword stuffing and terrible search returns. Ugh.)

Another important factor that has helped semantic search gain ground is voice commandsWith the introduction of Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, search engines now have an easier time comprehending natural language queries and, just like that best friend, they have an easier time knowing what you really mean.

What a time to be alive, eh?  

Why is Semantic Search Important?

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Semantic search is necessary because it will remain part of the ever-changing future of SEO that will likely be, at some point, driven by artificial intelligence. Semantic search pushes the concept of artificial intelligence a little further as it allows researchers to enter in seemingly vague phrases or keywords while the results still give searchers exactly what they wanted (even when they didn’t know that’s what they wanted).  

This means, as an SEO expert, you’re going to need to know how to appeal to semantic searching.

Semantic search produces a more conversational-based search result than we’ve ever had access to before. As we all know, humans can comprehend the difference between the concept or intent of a question asked just by tone. Search engines are trying to do the same through semantic search.

To do this, semantic search is based on a few different criteria:

  1. It takes into account the entire search query where previously it would only consider keywords.
  2. It also looks at the person carrying out the search and their past search history to be able to dispense more personalized results.
  3. It does all this while also taking in factors such as the time of day and location that the search is done and how the particular search itself is done.

We’re not sure if we should be impressed or creeped out. For now, we’re just going to roll with it and master it so we can give our clients the best results possible.

Benefits of Semantic Search

There are two main benefits of using semantic search:

  1. User-oriented searching, which means using wording that is irresistible to the majority of readers. Using emotionally triggered words makes an article more readable. Even better, it increases its chances of being shared. This means not only are you following what search engines want you to follow in order to rank on their sites, you are inevitably increasing your chances of having more and more visitors to your site. Thanks for that, semantic search!
  2. Algorithm-oriented phrasing is (in the simplest terms we can come up with) when there are millions of search results for that exact same phrase you are searching for. This is how Google, or any other search engine, decides which article or website would be the most relevant.

Search engines do this by TF-IDF. The concept of this acronym is a totally different blog post and topic, but it’s just as relevant, so read up here.

For now, here is our explanation: TF-IDF is the influence of individual words within a text that also considers their predicted frequency. Google no longer looks for a single word or even a single phrase, but they look at the article as a whole to find its relevance to what the person was searching for.

How to best use this to your benefit is when writing content for your site or article, make sure to use synonyms and words related to the phrase or keyword that your target audience will be using.   

Ways to Implement Semantic Search

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  1. Create Quality Content

Use synonyms to integrate semantic search phrases. Ensure that you are still using keywords, but try stringing them together to create longer keyword phrases. Together, longer keyword phrases will produce a more clear-cut target.

  1. Consider User Experience

It is essential when it comes to the algorithms implemented today that you take a look at your website from a prospect’s point of view. Looking at your site from a different perspective will help you spot areas that you can enhance to make your site even more reader-friendly.

  1. Data

We’re data junkies, okay? Okay. Don’t forget to trust the data.That means you actually have to use the data and understand it. We’ve found that data doesn’t lie, and as long as you are pretty pragmatic about it, it can be  beneficial to you and what you can improve.

SEO and Semantic Search

As you can see, understanding semantic search can improve you or your clients rankings and provides ample reason to create quality content. This, in our opinion, is never a bad thing.

But don’t forget to ask us our opinion, or questions, on anything SEO. When it comes to SEO, as always, we’re here to help you dominate. Until next time!

 

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