One of the things that attract people to the SEO world (and keeps them hooked) is the rapid pace of change within the industry. Google’s algorithms are a constantly evolving, ever improving entity, and SEOs need to be prepared to “adapt or die”.
Semantic search is the latest alteration, in a long line of search alterations that both new and experienced SEOs need to make themselves aware of. Today we are going to take a look at semantic search, see what it is, why you need it, and most importantly – how you can use it to your advantage.
Let’s get started.
What Is Semantic Search?
The concept of semantic search is mind blowing when you really think about what is taking place behind the scenes. It’s all based on what is known as “the semantic web”. Essentially what this means is that Google (and a few other companies) are tying together various sources of information to try and actually understand it.
This is different to “simple” string matching from the days of SEO past. Google is trying to actually understand the words in a search term. Let’s take the query “common family household chores” for example.
It will attempt to understand that “common” means the most regular, a “household” is a place, that a “family” live in a household, and that “chores” are an action a family does.
Google will then go through its vast number of databases and data sources to process the search intent (using Rank Brain) and produce a result. If it thinks it can accurately provide you with some semantic data for your query, it will do so directly in the search results.
When you take a moment to remember it does this in a fraction of the time it took you to read this sentence, it’s quite mind blowing.
Let’s pretend Google understood our “Family household chores” query and found some semantic data. This can be displayed to the user in one of three ways. Rich snippets, featured snippets, and the knowledge graph.
We won’t go into detail about these here because you will undoubtedly already have seen them. But just in case you are wondering:
- Featured snippets are the boxes of information you see at the top of search results sometimes. They show you a “snippet” of text taken from a website in the results.
- Rich Snippets are additional semantic data that has been found and is displayed within a normal search result (things like review stars, ratings, and prices).
- The knowledge graph is the large sidebar that is occasionally shown on the right of search results with huge amounts of information.
Having rich snippets, or being featured in featured snippets (or even the knowledge graph) can dramatically increase traffic to a website.
How Can I Optimize For The Semantic Web?
At the moment we are kind of in an SEO limbo. The semantic web is already here, and semantic search is already a thing, but it’s still in its infancy.
Some things you can do are:
- Start worrying less about keywords and density. Write naturally and make your content highly contextual. Talk about topics in great detail, and touch on commonly associated topics within an article to give Google something to semantically “grab on to”.
- Focus on answering queries people commonly have. So instead of targeting “best blue widgets”, focus on “Why are square blue widgets the best”.
- Use Schema.org markup on your site.
- Try and get your website in the knowledge graph. This is difficult but you can try and help your chances by maintaining an active G+ profile and getting a Wikipedia page for your site. We highly recommend you do more research on this if you are planning on trying to get in the knowledge graph, as it’s a big topic.
However, Google seems to be throwing all its weight behind semantic search. So while you can get a small advantage by adapting now, in the long run it’s going to pay off if you get ahead of the competition.