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September 29, 2014

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

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Photo Credit: Carlos Luna via flickr

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, 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. 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: 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!


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.