Optimising your content for semantic search

Google voice search OK GoogleThe way Google indexes content and displays search results has changed significantly in the 16 years the search engine has been running. As a result, search engine optimisation techniques have evolved alongside changes in Google’s algorithm. Thanks to the Panda and Penguin updates, the days of link spamming and keyword stuffing are long gone. Instead, Google’s recent Hummingbird update places the focus on high quality content and semantic search.

Post Hummingbird, Google aims to analyse search queries as a collective whole rather than a string of individual words, with the aim of understanding user intent. In other words, Google is trying to become more sophisticated. It wants to go beyond the words and phrases people use, to figure out what they mean.

A change in the way we search

The way we are searching is also changing to reflect the way Google now works – instead of searching for single keywords, we are now more likely to search for complex questions, written as we would say them. Google are further cementing this shift with heavy promotion of their ‘OK Google’ voice search, which encourages people to search by speaking, rather than typing.

Tips for optimising for semantic search

This move away from keywords to more meaningful language requires a more considered approach to search engine optimisation. While previously metrics like keyword density were important, the focus of semantic search is all about the user and what they want.

Use the natural language of your audience

At the core of Hummingbird update and semantic search is the idea of ‘natural language’ – by creating content which uses the language that your audience are already using, they’re more likely to find it, click on it, and read it.

To do this, you need a deep understanding of your desired reader. By spending as much time as you can finding out about them – from their interests to their frustrations, you can work out what questions they might be compelled to ask and how they might pose them.

Once you have this information, you can start to plan a content strategy with your readers at the core – answering their questions with high quality content written in their language.

Help search engines understand what your website is about

Although you should write primarily with your reader in mind, structuring your content in a way search engines understand will help them find it. Use expected conventions (H1, H2 and so on) to organise your content and use schema.org categorisation where relevant. If you use WordPress, you can install a Schema plug-in to automate a lot of this work.

Go beyond the simple keyword

Keywords still matter – search queries are still made up of words, after all. It’s just that modern keyword research is less about repeating a particular keyword in every possible place within your content and more about learning the language of your customers.

Our recommended strategy

The strategy we recommend is to target long tail keywords with in-depth articles that are more relevant to your specific customer, rather than trying to create generic content to rank for broad terms.

The benefits of creating useful articles that your prospects are looking for go beyond optimising for semantic search, as you’ll also position your brand as a knowledgeable and trustworthy resource.