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Semantic Search is Not the Future of SEO – It’s Now!

An SEO's Guide to Google and Semantic Search

Semantic Search, like so many industry words that came before it, is tossed around FAR too often without context. The good news is that ends right now. In this article we will dig into what Semantic Search actually means and we'll explain exactly how to apply it to your keyword research and content creation.

Why? Because, when done right, leveraging Semantic Keyword Research for content creation is not only efficient, it's exactly how you cut through the noise and produce highly relevant content that delivers what searchers want!

Bonus: We've found that the benefits are especially high for localized content so if you're marketing for a local business - consider this a must read. 

Semantic Search - start with the basics...

The word semantic is an adjective that's related to meaning within language or logic. Being an adjective, semantics are defined as 'words that are used to help describe or give descriptions to people, places and things'.

So, the fundamental difference between Semantic Web technologies and other search technologies related to data is that the Semantic Web is concerned with the meaning and not the structure of its content, or data.

  • Semantic Search: focuses on the meaning of data.
  • Non Semantic Search: focuses on the structure of data.

Semantic maps (or graphic organizers) are maps or webs of words. The purpose of creating those maps is to visually display the meaning-based connections between a word or phrase and a set of related words or concepts.  Visual representation of Semantic Search

This is the moment when you visualize a huge wall of images and clippings of people, places and things that are all connected by strings woven and overlapping each other. Here's a quick picture of my office wall after an especially caffeine-fueled deep research dive into understanding semantic search. Yes, this is a joke... BUT if you can't personally relate to this photo then perhaps you should stop reading now because we're going to seriously geek out in a minute. I'll let you decide.

For lack of a better option, many people refer to all that encompasses Semantic Search as Natural Language Process or NLP – although that isn’t exactly right it’s a decent explanation to start with. We will explain that in more detail later.

Semantic Search and Keyword Clusters

“Semantic keywords” in SEO speak, refers to the meaning and intent behind a specific keyword phrase. Alone these give you an indicator of what the searcher wants, which gains a lot more value when you group or cluster your phrases to verify the intent behind a search. Here's an example of a semantic keyword cluster that we would compile to optimize this article, taken from WordTracker:

Keyword Volume  Competition   IAAT
semantic 180,000   33.47   18,384
definition of semantic 37,550   5.36   4
definition semantic 37,550   0   0
semantic definition 37,550   5.36   4
semantic meaning 13,583   6.23   8

When keywords are grouped like above, it's easier to verify the information that the searcher wants will be mirrored back to them in the content served by the search engine. They want to know the answer to the question “what does semantic mean?”

Now it's time to get into “how” search responses to that query work. This is when we go beyond the basics... coffee hot?

What is Semantic Search and how does it affect content?

Semantic Index(ing) is a method that uses mathematical techniques to find relationships between words and concepts within a piece of content by mapping and showing the connections they share, both in a specific document and with other documents across platforms. (Maybe read that last sentence one more time for good measure.)

As an example, our earlier grouping of keyphrases could be mapped to a piece of content that gives an in-depth explanation of the meaning of semantic. Ideally, that content would include people, places and things directly related to the search to increase its relevancy and value. Things like:

  1. Who created semantic search? (people)
  2. What is the semantic web? (thing)
  3. Where was semantic search discovered? (place)
  4. Are there semantic search tools? (thing)

Data linking makes gathering, sorting and delivering information possible and semantics improve data linking efficiency and accuracy. By including those questions in our content, we are logically answering the other questions that will naturally come up as someone progresses through their education on semantic search. This allows us to grab searchers regardless of where they are in their research.

Google knows the importance of semantics and they have invested in many patents over the last 2 decades that they leverage to improve their indexing of data across platforms for text, image and video content. (Google search, Google Ads, YouTube, and so on…)

What we often refer to as Google's Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the cross-platform reach and engagement that Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) offers. It's just easier to explain as AI. Kinda like telling your in-laws that you're in 'marketing'.

An example of LSI might be Google finding results for a search that includes all different forms of content from multiple platforms like an ad, a poster, a written review, an image, a movie trailer and a movie.

Now we get into the actual utilization of Semantic Indexing. Breaking big-sounding things down to bite-size pieces makes them easier to digest and understand. So, let’s break down LSI by its characteristics:

  1. The definition of latent is something present but invisible or hidden. An example of latent is an ability to swim that will become clear with a first lesson.
  2. The word semantic in the context of LSI are the words that we use to give context to a group of search queries or results. Reminder: these are words that are used to help describe or give meaning to people, places and things.
  3. The definition of an index is an alphabetical list of names, subjects, etc. with references to the places where they occur. It's typically found at the end of a book. Indexing is the action or process of compiling an index.

understanding semantic search and LSI


User intent and Context seem to be the SEO buzz words of the last few years, but they're really just different ways of explaining these LSI relationships and how Google's A.I. interprets them.

The Incredible Adaptability of Semantic Indexing makes AI possible

LSI automatically adapts to new and changing terminology and has been shown to be very tolerant of noise (i.e., misspelled words, typographical errors, unreadable characters, etc.). This is especially important for applications using text derived from Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and speech-to-text conversion. (source)

The text does not need to be in sentence form for LSI to be effective. It can work with lists, free-form notes, email, Web-based content, etc. If a collection of text contains multiple terms, LSI can be used to identify patterns in the relationships between the important terms and concepts contained in the text. It's the perfect answer to perfect search results.

You can see how this technology is essential to Google especially as they move towards more AI-focused products like the Google assistant and other hands free technology.

Today's Semantic Search Engines do NOT match Yesterday's Keyword Research 

Yesterday's search engines were more rudimentary and could only analyze the exact phrasing of a search term when matching results with a search query. That's why everyone was so obsessed with keywords. However, Google has been incorporating semantics to improve search accuracy. By understanding searchers' intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable data space the company can generate more relevant results.

This is also why a few years back SEOs were suddenly reading how keyword research wasn't as important as it once was, which isn't true. The truth is that old school keyword research isn't very effective at getting the results you want because you aren't taking semantics into consideration. Keyword research has evolved so your methods need to as well.

Today's keyword research starts with finding out what people really want – once you know this you can put together the result that they want the search engine to deliver them. Reverse engineer it to be the perfect match.

When someone enters a search query into Google, there is specific user intent behind that search. When you find a grouping or cluster of search queries with the same meaning and intent – these become the backbone for a highly relevant content response.

Think back to our grouping we shared earlier:

Keyword Volume  Competition   IAAT
semantic 180,000   33.47   18,384
definition of semantic 37,550   5.36   4
definition semantic 37,550   0   0
semantic definition 37,550   5.36   4
semantic meaning 13,583   6.23   8

WordTracker is the only tool that I am aware of today that has this unfiltered raw organic search data available. It’s something they have been trusted to provide for two decades and they continue to offer highly desirable and reliable search query (keyphrase) data. Yeah, I'm a big fan.

Here is a semantic grouping of keywords I used WordTracker to pull together that we will refer to later in our article. Again, you can clearly see the searchers' intent within the queries. You know what they want and exactly what to give them.

Keyword  Volume Competition KEI
crate train a puppy 41,517 7.69 82
crate train puppy 41,517 3.97 89
how to crate train a puppy 23,900 7.52 80
how to crate train puppy 23,900 3.97 88
crate training 17,092 14.79 68
puppy crate training schedule 5,000 5.04 81
crate training a puppy at night 4,275 3.97 84
crate training schedule 3,008 5.36 79
kennel training 2,692 7.04 74
how to crate train your puppy 2,675 6.23 76
how to kennel train a puppy 2,483 3.97 82
how to crate train 2,150 10.39 66
crate training at night 2,125 4.61 80
Total  172,334 85

The above search shows a sample of a hungry market niche. You can see there are 172,334 people searching for a solution to their problem finding only 85 individual web pages with possible solutions. That translates to 79% online market share open to capture organically. Those are my kind of odds.

Semantic Search wants you to Create Content that Mirrors Searchers' Intent

Once you have your group of unhappy searchers, you need to determine what it is they really want. I do this by starting my general keyword search and digging down into related niches. Then I start a spreadsheet to sort my phrases into meaningful groupings (niches) based on questions, interest or specifics like the above example. You can have a grouping in each tab, then use this as the basis for evaluating, focusing and generating your semantic content.

Your response needs to mirror back the query phrases used in these searches and it also needs to present people, places and things that intersect in relationship to those queries. Remember our earlier example:

  1. Who created semantic search? (people)
  2. What is the semantic web? (thing)
  3. Where was semantic search discovered? (place)
  4. Are there semantic search tools? (thing)

Same concept for puppy training searchers in mind:

  • PEOPLE: You may want to share the biography of William E. Campbell Dog Trainer, Behaviorist in the canine professionals international hall of fame.
  • PLACE: For our example, you may want to mention the Crate Training 101 program offered through The Humane Society of the United States.
  • THING: You may want to mention the Richell Pet Training Kennel for sale on Amazon.

This is a powerful methodology for creating a response through highly relevant content. By integrating our search queries with these readily available semantic content pieces we are now equipped to create our unique highly relevant content ready for semantic search!

Now to leverage your knowledge on semantic search to create content that gets traffic AND converts!

The table above reveals a grouping of search phrases centered on the topic of crate train a puppy. The highest search demand phrases (2 at most) should be chosen as the anchor phrases for the content piece you will create. Then, by incorporating the remaining support phrases throughout the content we are rendering it to be what Google's A.I. is looking for in terms of the LSI aspect of the algorithm.

Your anchor phrases will also be used in the article title, subheading, and any incoming links to the piece. Yes, you'll use those exact phrases in your internal linking strategy to reinforce its importance to Google and your users.

The support phrases will play a big role in the creation and promotion of your piece of content. They will be used throughout the remaining body of the content piece. Then, you'll use them in any social posts promoting this piece of content. You'll also want to sprinkle them into descriptions for videos that are embedded into the article. Essentially, these phrases will be used in every aspect of the on-page SEO as well as within the off-page marketing. Simply put, we want to reinforce these phrases throughout all the marketing of this piece.

An Outline to Keep it Simple: KISS Method!

So, we've shown you all the theory and the action behind integrating semantic keywords into content and leveraging the semantic web to ensure your content relevance and quality, but now comes the hard part... actually doing it.

Here is a content piece based on the research revealed earlier:

For the headline and sub-headline, we use these top phrases as our Anchor Phrases:

  • crate train a puppy
  • crate train puppy

 Content Headline:

Both of our anchor phrases are utilized in the headline here:

 Learning how to crate train a puppy through our Crate Train Puppy Training means you get to sleep at night and your shoes survive your daily outings!

Your “BODY” Content – Full Semantic search Keywords in Action!

Remember, these are the keywords left from our list that we need to work into the piece. See if you can spot them in the example content below:

  • how to crate train a puppy
  • how to crate train puppy
  • crate training
  • puppy crate training schedule
  • crate training a puppy at night
  • crate training schedule
  • kennel training
  • how to crate train your puppy
  • how to kennel train a puppy
  • how to crate train
  • crate training at night

And this is our working content piece.

===== ===== ===== Start of article example ===== ===== ===== 

Learning how to crate train a puppy through our Crate Train Puppy Training means you get to sleep at night and your shoes survive your daily outings!

If you are wondering when or how to crate train a puppy, our best advice is while you still have shoes! Having a crate training schedule and learning how to kennel train or crate train your puppy builds a vital lasting bond and gives your puppy a safe space to relax when some quiet time in needed.

One thing is certain, if you are wondering “should I be crate training at night” the answer is Yes! This is not a bad thing. Your puppy will learn that their crate is the one place that belongs to them and helps them to feel secure. It’s an absolutely vital part of their long-term comfort and yours.

For most pet owners, the primary use for a crate is kennel training because dogs do not like to soil their dens. The crate can limit access to the rest of the house while they learn other rules, like to stay off the kitchen counters and furniture. The crate should be comfortable but not too much larger than your dog. A great example is one easily found on Amazon called the Richell Pet Training Kennel.

It's smart to get one that grows with your puppy. If you go too large too fast then they have a safe place to soil it without having to actually lay in it, which can delay their crate training.

However, before long you realize that the crate is something you can't be without. It's their bed that goes with them on nights away from home. It's where they go when they're afraid or worried. It's their safe spot when new visitors come over. The list is long. No matter what, the crate should be a comfortable bed and the door left open when your home so your dog can enter it when they need a safe space.

How long to crate train puppy is usually something you discover as you go. There is some wisdom shared by William E. Campbell Dog Trainer, Behaviorist from the canine professional’s international hall of fame however we feel confident that You can crate your dog until they are able to be alone in the house without accidents or destructive habits - only putting them to bed in it. Or you can graduate your dog from a crate to an enclosed area of your home, like your kitchen, before giving them access to the full house when you’re away. It might prove helpful for you to start to crate train your puppy at night to start with.

It's also important to know that puppies under six months of age should not stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They can't control their bladders or bowels for that long. The same goes for adult dogs being house trained.

The best way to crate train a puppy, is the way that works for you and for your puppy quite frankly. It's going to be a little different for each person and each situation so don't stress too much. The good news is that there are some things that are standard so these best practice tips we've shared can help. It's about your puppy's natural responses and learning to be calm so accidents don’t happen.

If you still want even more ideas, you can check out the Crate Training 101 program offered through The Humane Society of the United States

===== ===== =====  End of article example ===== ===== ===== 

Above you can see how we have integrated the remaining (supporting phrases / synonyms) into the body of the article. We also added the semantic search related content we found.

Sometimes a keyphrase is present within another keyphrase, so you don’t have to use them all individually. You just want them all to be present within your content and mirrored by the search content you include. We don't need to stuff the keywords in multiple times.

We've decided to take as much of the friction out of things as possible by giving you a quick worksheet you can leverage. This will keep you focused when it comes to weaving in your keywords and it's also great to hand to writers once the research is done.

Click here to download a copy

Semantic Search | The Time is Now!

Content is, and likely always will be, King – but that does NOT mean that more content is better! We've spent countless hours pruning away worthless content from clients' sites. Don't be like them!

It means that the right content is the medium smart SEOs use to generate unique and recurring traffic. It's how we win new business, close new clients and create fresh opportunities online. That said, if you aren't using WEB 3.0 data-driven strategies for your content creation - you're simply wasting your time.

Although this concept is not new, the timing of integrating Semantic Keyword Research into your content creation is spot on. Google recently updated their Quality Raters Guidelines, to focus on Needs Met. It's highly relevant and gives you a fresh way to grade your own content's ability to meet the needs of your users.

For example, here's their Needs Met rating scale pulled from the updated guidelines. How does your content rank?

Needs Met Scale from Google's Guidelines

In closing

We know from experience (working with hundreds of clients and combing thousands and thousands of content pieces) that most people are doing it wrong. Yes, many content pieces are highly successful but most of the time that's by accident instead of design. You're now armed with everything you need to bring data science into your content creation strategy to be sure that you're meeting the needs of your audience.

See that wasn't so bad now was it 😉

Donna Rougeau
Director of SEO & Queen of Semantic Search