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Google’s Shift to Semantic Search & Its Impact on SEO

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From the fledging beginnings of SEO, it has almost always been all about keywords. Back in the VHS days… we pushed keyword density over content quality because that’s what it took to rank. It was a world of quantity over quality, and it didn’t matter if the keywords we inserted sounded natural or not. We knew it worked, and a lot of us went with it.

Today, not so much. Just like VHS has gone completely by the wayside (I still remember when my little corner VHS store went out of business), so has the entire strict keyword focus. It’s no longer just about stuffing keywords. The slim, blu-ray DVD has replaced yesteryear’s VHS; and today, natural use of keywords in content has replaced the stuffing keyword focus.

We live in a reinvented SEO world, a world in which semantic search is making a huge impact. Let’s explore more.

The Basics of Semantic Search

You’ve definitely heard the term “semantic search” by now. In fact, you’ve likely heard at least a bit about two specific types of Google search: Semantics and semiotics. What’s all the fuss about?

According to SemRush.com, semantic search is all about a better means of searching for content on the Web. It’s about meaning and context versus black and white keywords. The article points out that Google’s most recent update to the Hummingbird algorithm has shown the search engine’s full commitment to semantic searching. Therefore, it’s vital to know just what semantic search is because it’s time to optimize our web content for the future!

Definition: According to Search Engine Land, semantic search is a unique search system that considers factors such as search context, location, and intent. Semantics can also search based on word variations, synonyms, specialized and generalized queries, concept matching, and natural language queries.

Goal: The goal of semantics is to produce the most relevant results to a search query based on actual content versus a website with predetermined keywords that merely claim to be relevant to a search query.

In a sense, semantic search is turning a search engine into an artificial intelligence capable of identifying query matches and either displaying or eliminating results based on context. It’s some of the best news the content industry has seen in years!

Optimizing Your Web Content

If you’ve been an advocate of high quality content that is always relevant, informative, and top notch, then you’re already on the right path for semantic optimization. The focus is no longer on rigid keyword insertion but on natural keyword incorporation. As a result, the manner in which you select your keywords is about to change. SemRush.com recommends a three-tiered approach to researching semantic keywords:

  1. Core Keywords: Instead of a single core or focus keyword, you’ll have a list that includes synonymous variations. These variations will allow your content to be considered when related keywords are searched.
  2. Thematic Keywords: This secondary list of keywords will house conceptually related keywords. For example, if one of your primary keywords is “Texas Copywriting Agency,” then a thematic term could be “copywriting services in Austin Texas.”
  3. Stem Keywords: This tertiary list will be composed of keywords that anticipate information people might ask or demand of a search engine. For example, “find affordable copywriting agency in Texas.”

Once your keywords have been tweaked, it’s time to take a look at your content. Incorporating semantic keywords is much easier and more natural when compared to previous search methods.

High Quality Content

The trick to optimizing your web content for semantic search is literally as easy as producing high quality content. All of the major facets of this type of content are the qualities Google will be seeking:

  • Relevancy: Since semantic search will be smart enough to consider context, it is of the upmost importance that your content be relevant. Relevancy takes on numerous forms, and you will need to master them all. Your content must be relevant to your brand or business. It must also be relevant to the keywords you’ve chosen for your website. And it must absolutely be relevant to what the user is searching for.
  • Shareworthy Content: Shareable content will play a huge role in semantic search. Google is watching to see if your content goes viral, and if it does, you can bet your bottom dollar you’re going to score high in the rankings – especially if your content is consistently shareworthy. Therefore, the best move you can make is learning how to make your content shareworthy.
  • Social Media Integration: SemRush.com says that social search is critical to semantic results. Social media itself is a noteworthy component of Google’ Hummingbird algorithm, so it makes sense that you’ll need to share your content through your own social profiles.

Keep Up the Quality

At the end of the day, semantic search isn’t going to take much optimization effort. Unless, of course, you’re still pushing out quantity over quality and clinging to outdated SEO tactics.

The key is incredibly simple: Naturally incorporate well-placed keywords that are organically integrated while giving the reader compelling, engaging, relevant material. Do this, and you’ll rock the future of search!

About the author


Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.


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  • Google has been doing this for awhile already but as usual they do it wrong. Why? Most relevancy is getting watered down and distorted. After they combine it with “authority” another source of irrelevancy because it opens the door for subjects which have nothing to do with the core. Last not least the heavy dependence on links which are useless today because of buying etc. All in all what is the outcome for a good search result? > Bing and Yahoo, they don’t talk bla-bla the whole time to be in the media, but they deliver RELEVANT search results. Most Google stuff is irrelevant or extremely watered down. Hummingbird etc. maybe Penguin or Rat the next time is a toy from people who have obviously nothing serious to do so they play. I would suggest they should use a game-console and stay away from the computer.

  • Thanks Julia for sharing such valuable information on content optimization. I need to ask you one thing. Can you please let me know how I can rank my site in local search if I am offering my services in different locations.

  • Nice articles, I also suggest not to over-optimize your website with a single keywords, user synonyms as well as related queries.

  • I like your stuff Julia. The endless war for positions on search engines changes constantly.

    I believe that google does under the table deals with certain outfits under the table to give them high ranking.

    Look at “lawyer referral service” in Canada and you will see that the law societies are all listed at the top of the returns, but they are the worst sites of all.

    • Hey Kirby, I’m don’t think Google is doing underhand deals (although you NEVER know!) – I think it’s a matter of their algorithm hasn’t caught up with all the spammy top results that are still using old practices. That day won’t be here for long, though, if you’re practicing the right content strategies (consistent schedule, original, well researched, long content) you’ll soon see it in rankings!

  • Thanks for information. Google is changing things frequently.I am finding certain keywords which never helped me.

  • Unfortunately, all of this is irrelevant for small businesses while Google insists on placing the biggest corporations at the top of search results, regardless of the value of the content.

    I can crate a page packed with every minute detail of a product, with reviews, videos, opinions, customer questions, social buttons, tables, graphs, technical info… things that no other site offers their customers, in tabs they can select so that it’s not “in their face”, and every single time a crappy page from Amazon or a corporate competitor with less than 200 words will get position one.

    How does this happen?
    There are only a few explanations. Either Google is choosing to favor poor content over good content for these corporations, or there is direct and deliberate collusion (corruption) between these companies.

    It is NOT about the content as Google likes to claim, that much is absolutely clear.

    Unfortunately, as a small business, I cant hire an ex-Google employee to run things for me, nor can I afford to wine and dine a Google exec and give them a use of a holiday home in exchange for giving me inside information on how to destroy all competition.

    I’ll keep creating perfect content, and get on page one, but I know that unless someone starts investigating Google and its relationship with the biggest corporations nothing is going to get me the top position for any product, when those corporations are constantly given remarkable preferential treatment.

    Time for Google to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities. It’s a mafia and it needs to be stopped.

  • What doesn’t thrill me about Google’s recent changes in search engine algorithms is making listings in things such as Yelp, Manta, Yext and other directories more relevant than listings for legitimate businesses. Legitimate business sites should always have priority as long as they are optimized properly. I’ve had people gripe at me about this crying that it’s unfair. But as long as Google insists on changing the rules of the game constantly, what exactly are you going to tell your clients who want to be found for more than their current location? Extra pages for each location, driving up the cost of designing a web site further and requiring so much more time that the client cannot afford to even have a web site that does what the client wishes it to do? Even if one did that, there is no guarantee that they would even get a good placement on Google due to local competition in the areas that the client’s site wants to be found in. And the price of Google AdWords is a rip off.

    • I do think Adwords is a bit out of control – it’s the entire reason Authorship went under, the pictures in SERPS were messing with Adword clicks! However, content does require investment, and putting out around 8 blogs/week (our blog + guest blogging) is time and money on my part, but it is worth it. Building out extra pages that will host well written content for specific locations is a great way to optimize locally – and don’t stop, keep blogging and updating your content continually!

  • Surely this semantic searches need to be known and understood correctly.

    Because the purpose of the semantic is to produce results that are most relevant to the search query based on the actual content versus website with keywords that have determined that only claims to be as relevant to the search query

  • The problem I have is that google can’t be honest about anything and search results rarely ever end up reflecting the company’s own advice. Whenever a change comes out it seems to be a move to penalize the little guy, especially if that site generates revenue without a good portion of it going into google’s own pockets. They are a company and it’s fine for them to do as they wish but they should at least be honest about it. Secondly, how do they determine what is “quality content?” Do they have an expert in every niche and subject that manually handle this? Of course not.

    The semantic search thing, sounds good but I guess we will see. For the last year I have been refining things on a site and for the past year I have been benefiting from each new change…that was until last week when I saw a large drop off which is leaving me baffled, and has me in a 2 steps forward one step back, which just piles up more work that has me playing the SEO game and not creating as much quality content. Incredibly frustrating!

    The recent value they are placing on site layout is also concerning. Personally, layout won’t hurt me as I already follow best practices and have text content “above the fold,” but I don’t care what the numbers and research game says that leads them to a “layout SEO scheme,” it’s subjective and is beginning to stifle creativity. This is also a big concern because this idea flies in the face of another thing they are trying to penalize, the “template sites/cookie cutter sites.” Every one uses templates these days and wordpress sites are popular because they are templates that people can adapt for their own purposes and they perform better SEO wise than a more traditional site does. My personal belief is that Google is going to make their own templates soon and will set prices of said templates based on how much traffic you can afford or think you will need to generate.

    Lastly, google doesn’t really practice what they preach. Look at the adult industry. Type in any keyword and you will find all top results are tube sites. Tube sites are the definition of thin template/cookie cutter affiliate sites. They have zero original content, are all tied together, use every dirty trick in the book. That doesn’t even take into consideration that a majority of things on tube sites are violations of copyright laws which they attempt to skirt responsibility by the sites fine print terms and conditions. …And isn’t the google search engine nothing more than one giant, thin affiliate site with duplicate web content?

    • Hi sublithium, I can’t speak for adult sites, LOL, I never check on them, but for us it’s simply been a consistent stream of quality content. Improve your writing, or hire an expert; get better and better at thinking of great topics, share your posts across your social media multiple times, and ABSOLUTELY try to submit high quality guest blogs (like I’m doing here at SiteProNews). I’m serious: THROW TECHNICALITIES OUT THE WINDOW, and be serious about putting out quality content. We have only increased since last November – that’s almost 12 months of steady, steady uphill rankings. Content IS the way to go, but you have to throw out worrying about all the templated things like cutoff areas, fitting content in a box, and simply write good content (at least 1500 words, with a few 3000+ word posts).

  • I have to agree 100%. Julia thank you so much for the great article, we are a small business that has just entered into online sales for the first time, and all I can say is with the constant changes Google comes up with to it search algorithm it seems nearly impossible to get any time of real rankings. We have been at this seo thing for nearly a year. We have had our website optimized but 2 different seo companies promising results but it seems every time the work is finished, Google changes the game. the latest change with more results being based on the “semantic” approach actually has helped us. From what I understand they use both the area your in and the layout and ease of use of the website to rank you accordingly. It is tough now a days to noticed by Google but i think if everyone that is running a legitimate website keeps trying eventually google will recognise this. Just my thoughts.
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  • Great article, but the Google’s goal has always been the same, to provide the best results at the top of their organic listings.

    Their results still beat Bing. On Google, I’m on the 1st page for web design related keywords in my area, but on Bing/Yahoo, I’m non-existent.

    One of Bing’s 1st page results for web design in my area goes to an under construction page with no content. How is that result better than Google’s?

    Sorry, I went off topic.

    • I completely agree with you about Bing. It seems no matter their “upgrades” they are getting nowhere close to Google. Most people still use Google, so we aren’t even worrying about our presence on Bing.

  • If content is so paramount, then why do I find so many websites that are outdated or outmoded?
    The other day I was searching for traffic on HW-5 and there were dozens of websites that related to the subject but were years old. Who cares?

    If the owners of these sites don’t care then, maybe, Google could weed them out?

    Or, websites must have an original date on them and then periodically renew that date if still relevant?

  • I agree with many of the comments. Yeah how does google know what quality content for each industry is? Recently i have noticed on a site of mine that I used the “exact title of a page” as search and a different page shows up before the correct page. The page showing up has none of the search info in it. One thing i have found that has stood true for years is having a domain in exhistence for years. I have a site that has been around for 15 years and one of the pages still states uder construction along with very little content, no social buttons, no google tracking, no google plus and it stays at the top of page one in it’s industry. I never verified it with google, because i figured it would start losing rankings. Why fix it if it is not broken. If this site were built today, you would never find it.
    Many of these high ranking sites have horrible page speed and test out poorly on many google tests, speed, image etc.
    Nice comments here, good to know it’s just not me thinking this way. Still seems like a ever changing testing ground and crap shoot to me.

  • Hopefully, the era of valuable content has come. I definetly hate those web sites full of repetitive word saying nothing but keywords with the only aim of reaching the highest position. May be, a better quality in many aspects will result out of this!

  • From a USER’s point of view I hate it! I’m a full-time traveller and constantly battle Google (and Bing), unable to find what I’m looking for when I’m searching from an outside country. Google’s automatic redirect to the local search engine is making things even worse!
    We built a camper vehicle in Germany, trying to research most options ahead of time from Australia was near impossible (although I could use google.de); as soon as I was physically IN Germany things changed drastically and I got useful results. Before that: 90% irrelevant stuff, even with so-called “advanced search”, which I have the impression doesn’t work at all anymore.

  • Hey, thanks for sharing this post. But I think we should not use keywords in our content. Just write natural words. Don’t try to write for business.

    Type ‘Travel Agent’ in Google Search ad you will be surprised to find wikipedia.org, Iata academy & http://www.justdial.com. Are these websites in Travel Agent Business.
    I personally feel SEO PROFESSION IS DEAD.

  • Number one, I think Google is trying to do a away with free organic search results and force everyone to buy AdWords. And as long as they can get away with it, they will. Yahoo and Bing have consistently delivered higher searches for my clients while Google continues to play around. Google needs to stop this money grab and learn from Bing and Yahoo.

    Second: who is Google to tell me what colors or what of anything I can use to design a client’s web site? Did it ever occur to the folks at Google that businesses brand to create corporate Id that is separate from the rest? That includes color scheme, which should the decision of the company trying to brand itself and NOT GOOGLE. They have absolutely no right to dictate to me how to design a web site. The only reason Google Pigeon exists is because directories such as Yelp, Manta, Yext and others whined and cried that they were not getting enough search results. And people should be able to list their businesses in more than one city, state or even country without having to create separate pages to show what they are doing in those areas and then optimize for that. It used to be that you could list the cities, states or countries on your home page of the places you serve, and at least have a change to get some kind of listing. Now that Google has become so localized, that opportunity does not exist anymore.

    Thirdly, what Google is forcing upon us will drive the mom-and-pop and startup businesses right out of business by their new Pigeon pushing them down in favor of the directories, who have no business pushing legitimate businesses back to another page.

    If I were Bing and Yahoo, I would be looking to bring in people who are frustrated with what Google has done. There needs to be legitimate alternatives to Google, AdWords, and all the other attempts at money grabs they are making. They should not be allowed to make all the rules. Maybe it’s time to investigate Google in the US like some of the other countries have.

  • Julia: since when is putting the locations you serve on your home page and optimizing it considered writing for business? It had been traditionally used to try to help clients in other cities find you if you are operating in another city besides your own. You SHOULD BE ABLE to write relevant content and still list where you operate on the home page and optimize for it. How in the hell can that not be writing good content? I have both a journalism degree and a graphic design degree. I really resent Google telling me what and how to write. It’s only a matter of Google relaxing their rules on this. I don’t consider this spam. In the interests of being localized and forcing people to either pay a ton of money to have their entire service area in different pages, get physical locations in each city or buy AdWords, Google is pricing themselves out of the reach of the startups and mom-and-pop shops Who cannot afford the prohibitive costs but want to reach out to increase their chances of being found. And with no viable alternative, forget it.

  • Julia: I see it wasn’t you who made the comments about writing for business. For that I apologize. However, there is no hiding my frustration, especially when I’ve had to deal with clients or prospective clients who want to be found in other places than their own local area. I’ve also had people who didn’t want to have their local address (usually a home address, and they don’t want to invite people into their homes) given out. Why does Google continue to punish such people? Isn’t getting found supposed to be what it’s all about? Google has placed onerous demands on small businesses that only the big boys can play. It’s like they have turned their back on small business.

    • Hi Larry, I only have one answer for you, and while you probably won’t like it it’s my best response. Google doesn’t have to please us. It’s their SERPs and THEIR standards. Therefore, we have to please them. I agree with you that the push to use Adwords is growing (again, my comment on Authorship disappearing due to more people clicking on headshots instead of Adwords), and local rankings favoring directories – but Google will do what benefits them. We aren’t paying them unless we run an Adwords campaign, etc. Let’s fit their standards as best we can, avoid ALL black hat and questionable practices, and worry about our brand, audience and quality rather than what position we are in. Look at the ranking of a guest blog and try to get on the best ones out there for your niche. Write blogs more than 2,000 words and do a Hootsuite autoschedule to get them published at optimal times. Those are the things I’m talking about.

    • Julia: I understand exactly where you are coming from. I agree with all the things you are mentioning. However, I’ve had to deal with clients who believe they only need to have their web sites optimized once. Many of them don’t want to pay my monthly SEO fee (in lieu of a monthly maintenance fee), which became mandatory for clients who came on board with me after a certain date. I’ve also had to deal with whiny clients who demand they be on page one of Google – despite the fact that Google has never guaranteed a first page ranking. I agree with you that Google does what’s best for them, but I’m starting to see some alternatives popping up, such as Pinterest’s business section. And Angie’s List, an outfit I wasn’t too happy with before, is now becoming a viable option – I’ve even taken out an Angie’s List business account. The big problem here is cost for my clients to be able to use AdWords and similar things such as paying per month for SEO. SEO is not a one time thing- it is an all-the-time thing now. But trying to convince people of that is a huge problem for me. Then they come whining to me as to why they are not on the front page of Google. Google keeps changing the rules, and I could explain that until the cows come home, but they won’t listen. BTW, I don’t practice Black Hat SEO. I love the idea that content is king now. Here’s the other thing, I recommend the same thing you are about blogging, but they don’t want to invest the time or cost into it – even though someone could get a WordPress blog site for free. This is what I’ve been up against.

    • Larry, good thoughts. It’s so hard to get someone to change who is stuck in “print-era” thinking, where they think Google really is a one shot thing. They will simply fail. It’s a short answer we give clients who don’t understand. More and more, we just focus on bringing those in who already know the need. I remember when I had to do convincing more so than today, and what really helped was just showing them the results (in case studies, written pieces with statistical data) that showed the huge difference rankings took in just a couple short months of regular blogging. I still have a PDF of these on my Google drive.

  • Hi Julia

    Could you clarify that Google indexes Facebook?

    Recently Google has gone on record that they are not indexing Facebook. Site access issues and change of content and status’s have been too difficult to keep up with.

    My experience is that Facebook posts make no difference to a site’s ranking in Google searches.

    “Social Media Integration: SemRush.com says that social search is critical to semantic results. Social media itself is a noteworthy component of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, so it makes sense that you’ll need to share your content through your own social profiles”

    I would appreciate your comments



  • Owen: They do index Facebook, again, depending on where you are physically located. I’ve seen my Facebook appear in both Frankenmuth and Flushing, Michigan. That’s because I even title my web site for Frankenmuth-Flushing. One of my clients has had her Facebook listed within her local area.

    What they don’t do is index individual comments from Facebook onto Google.

    • Correct! I’ve seen people do fairly well ranking for a Facebook business /fan page with a long tail keyword search name, especially local as you mentioned.

  • I for one am pleased that Google is at least making an effort to place value on quality over quantity. Websites that are flooded with the same keywords over and over may have been ranking at the top for a while, but rarely was there anything worth seeing or reading. Hopefully the updates and changes will continue to promote quality information in articles like yours, making it easier to produce an informative website and at the same time achieve high search rankings.

  • Hello Julia, nice article. I have registered many times for Google business but did not receive any verification card. What other tips and tricks can you suggest ?

  • I think the result of any keywords not showing the related website. Local listing website replace the related website with search result of some many keywords. That is true.

  • You’ll get away with anything Google throws your way if you value quality more over quantity, be it on links or content.

  • Thanks for sharing great article. Content and some links is king nowadays. But unique content is a massive factor.

  • I am writing a content daily on a regular basis, here on small furniture market in Slovenia. The best results, regardless to keyword stuffing vs. semantic I am simply getting with focusing my content to user intent and usability. All I have to do is to contribute as good as possible content to my readers and I don’t have to worry too much about algo and new updates. Regards,

  • Paylaştığınzı blogger şeklinde ve çok yaralı bir link olmuş. detaylı olarak anlatılmıştır. teşekkürler bana çok faydası oldu admin sağolun.

  • it’s really a pleasure to meet you with this blog. I can write a super article via keywords they’ve been really good to me

  • It’s really a nice blog, semantic keywords plays an important role in searching but most of the algorithms are based on long tail keyword searching, read more at: pixelcrayons.com/blog/cms/improve-your-sites-seo-with-simple-drupal-modules/ about how to improve your site searches.

  • Great Article Neil, These results are I guess named as vertical result sets where query is being evaluated against large information sets.
    These information set have different attributes based on the entity. If it is about a person then person will have birth date, name, Image etc. If its about any location then temperature, name will matter.
    Search engines are becoming smart every day and these result sets vary results based on your previous query also which shows relevance and correctly interpret user’s intent.
    But somehow I feel that for websites it may be little negative because these search results are providing enough information to end user to move away from SERPs and go to any other site.

  • Good call on that smartphone update. I think, in general, Google is going to reveal little in the way of confirmations about ranking factors. When they do, it will probably be under the umbrella of ‘this helps users on your site’ like the smartphone rankings piece.

    IMO, there’s a better shot of a click to an event marked up in schema.org than there is say, a basic fact. The Knowledge Graph and answer cards are going to take away a lot of clicks for sure. There’s a good chance that users who see an event in a rich snippet or Knowledge Graph listing may be looking for more info about the event or how to buy tickets. Those clicks will be sought after.

  • Hey, Julia. Thanks for sharing the informative article. I am working for the SEO company and I am always looking for the new Google update. I often come to this website to learn the new SEO tricks and techniques.

  • These results are I guess named as vertical result sets where query is being evaluated against large information sets.