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What is Semantic Search and Why Does it Matter for Your SEO Strategy?

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Remember the not-so-good old days when SEO was all about stuffing keywords into your articles until they became illegible by human readers? SEO has come a long way since then and we have semantic search to thank for this progress.

What Is Semantic Search?

Semantic search refers to search engines’ ability to take the intent and the contextual meaning of search phrases into account when delivering results. In other words, it’s an attempt by machines to understand human language and all its nuances.

Back in the day, search engines only looked at phrases as a collection of words, never looking at the meaning or the possible intention of the user. Today, as we understand that different people speak and write in different ways, search engines try to incorporate their newly-acquired understanding of human speak into the results of all queries.

Some of the factors that semantic search takes into account are:

  • User’s search history
  • User’s location
  • Spelling variations of a phrase

Let’s say two different users search for “chocolate cake”. Based on their history, the search engine will know that one of them is an amateur baker, so it will offer chocolate cake recipes. The other user is a traveler and a foodie, so the search engine will offer lists of the best places nearby to buy a chocolate cake.

If both users are amateur bakers, the search engine will take into account their location to offer recipe results that use either ounces (if the user is US-based) or grams (if the user is based in Australia). Similarly, each user will receive recipes from websites in their own country because, most likely, it will be easier for them to find the ingredients this way.

Semantic search isn’t brand new. It started to take form back in 2013, with Google’s Hummingbird update, the first time NLP was used to help the algorithm understand phrases in their entirety instead of offering results based on the meaning of each individual word. The RankBrain update in 2015 took the understanding of user intent to the next level by using machine learning and a query analysis AI.

How Should Semantic Search Change Your SEO Strategy?

Why should you care about all this? Well, because users care. Here’s how to leverage it:

Focus on Topics Instead of Keywords

Forget about creating content based on the keywords with the highest search volume. In fact, forget about basing your content on keywords altogether.

Instead, focus on topics that are relevant to your audience and build in-depth, authoritative content on those.

This doesn’t mean that you should stop doing keyword research. Keywords are still relevant, but they should be secondary to the topic, not front and center. Their primary purpose is to act as beacons that direct traffic to the relevant pages on your website based on what the user is looking for (more on that below).

Take Voice Search into Account

Almost 40% of internet users in the US rely on voice search. Even those who type in their searches are prone to use longer phrases and full sentences.

As a content creator, your first task is to answer questions simply and effectively. See the first headline of this article – What is semantic search? The question is followed by a quick definition that’s written in the right format: semantic search refers to… This is something that a voice assistant can easily read back to the user. It’s also something that a user who typed in their search expects to find. A quick answer that’s clearly formulated as an answer – otherwise, they will search elsewhere.

Aside from definitions, you can also offer clear lists of tips, items, movies, and so on – something that can be read at a glance. Plan to detail every item on that list? Go for it, but add a separate basic list in the beginning of the article, so it can be indexed easily.

Always Write with User Intent in Mind

Told you we’d be back to keywords! This is where your keyword analysis gets to shine. Use keyword analysis tools to group keywords by search intent and write separate pieces of content for each type of intent.

If you sell snorkeling gear, for instance, you will have to accommodate beginners, experts, and people who are only thinking about trying snorkeling. 

  • “What equipment do I need for snorkeling” is a keyword that you can target the last category with.
  • “Basic snorkeling gear” matches the search intent of a beginner.
  • “Floating valve snorkel” is definitely something an experienced snorkeler would search for.

Feel like the keywords are too long? You shouldn’t! Search intent is best reflected by long-tail keywords. And remember what we said above about people using voice search or typing queries that sound like a conversation? Long-tail keywords are the new normal.

Wrapping Things Up

Semantic search helps users find what they need faster and easier. For content creators, it’s a breath of fresh air – it helps us finally write the way we speak, without forcing a keyword into a phrase it should never be in.

If there’s only one thing you remember from this article, make it this: write the way you’d speak to a friend and you’ll win the hearts of your readers and even the cold hearts of the algorithms.

Need help with winning those hearts over? My team of expert content writers and I can help you rank in SERPs and get excellent ROI from your content. Check out the stories of the companies we’ve already helped meet their goals and let’s talk!

About the author


Adriana Tica

Adriana Tica is a trend analyst, marketer and writer with 15+ years in the field. She owns two digital marketing agencies, Idunn and Copywritech, and a recently-launched consulting business. On SiteProNews, she shares Ideas to Power Your Future on topics like digital trends, marketing, SEO, copywriting, and more.