Semantic SEO is the next step in the evolution of SEO. It’s a new way of thinking about your content and how it should be optimized for both Google and the users.
In this guide, you will find out what semantic search really means, why you need to care about it, and how to use it to improve your website.
Before you get into reading, we want to emphasize the fact that this guide won’t be as helpful for complete beginners in the SEO field. If you consider yourself a newbie, we suggest you read our on-page SEO checklist first.
What Is Semantic SEO?
Semantic SEO is the process of optimizing content for a topic instead of a keyword.
It means to consider the search intent and to provide the user with all the information he is looking for by creating quality and in-depth content.
Or in other words, Semantic SEO is the bridge between user intent and content.
For example, if you google “semantic SEO”, you wouldn’t be happy to open an article that simply gives you the answer to what semantic SEO is. You would also want to at least know how to do it and why.
A good Semantic SEO-optimized article would cover all content angles behind a search query. In contrast, the old-school SEO approach was to create a separate piece of content for every keyword. But the old days are long gone.
Why Is Semantic SEO Important?
On the one hand, there are the users — it is very frustrating to have to go through several different articles to gather all of the information you need from a simple search. So, in terms of UX, optimizing for Semantic SEO and providing in-depth quality content is of high importance.
On the other hand, the search engines already know what is good for the users and are making sure to rank pages accordingly. They are getting smarter by using machine learning to understand context and meaning. This allows them to better provide users with relevant results.
Ever since the Hummingbird Algorithm Update and the BERT technology, Google is more and more oriented towards semantic search. Without getting into much detail on these updates, the result of them is that Google now understands topics and search intent better than ever and doesn’t rely solely on keywords.
In other words, Semantic SEO is vital to ranking well in the SERPs, and it is going to be even more in the future.
How to Optimize for Semantic SEO?
SEO is an ever-changing and evolving practice. It becomes tougher and tougher to keep up with all the nuances of modern SEO. It’s no longer enough to simply use your focus keyword in the title tag, H1, and text. You need to transform and modernize your SEO efforts.
Here’s how to win in semantic search:
Organize Your Content in Topic Clusters
Organizing your content in groups will help search engines understand better the main topics your website is about and hence will contribute to building your topical authority. It will also help readers find what they are looking for easier and more quickly.
You want your articles to work together rather than serving a sole purpose.
One way to do this is to use the pillar-cluster model.
The basic steps of your action plan are:
- Think of the main topics you are covering on your website
- Plan content in a way that each article can be mapped to one of these topics
- Don’t repeat information, each article should cover a unique new angle to this topic
- Connect the relevant content pieces on the same topic through internal linking
This should be an important part of your content strategy.
Pay Attention to Content Depth
Content depth is one of the main differentiators of Semantic SEO. This refers to in how much detail your content covers a given topic.
To estimate how in-depth your content should be, you can check how many H2s, H3s, H4s the top-ranking content has for a specific query. To make this process easier you can use a browser extension, such as Detailed.
How to Identify Sub-Topics?
To find which sub-topics you can cover in your content piece you can:
- Check top-ranking pages;
- Look at the People Also Ask section for a specific query (you can easily scrape it with SearchResponse.io);
- Search for questions people ask on forums and social media.
To identify sub-topics you can also use TF-IDF, which will be discussed in detail further in this article.
How to Determine the Content Formats for Each Heading?
In a world of data, there are many ways to present information. And users have their preferences, too. For example, they prefer tables when it comes to comparisons, and if we have a look at some recipes, ingredients are usually in a list.
You can check how competitors present different types of information, have a look at a Wikipedia article on the topic, or think about it yourself. But either way, pay attention to the variety of content formats, as it is not enough to simply use paragraphs of text for everything.
Test Optimizing for TF-IDF
TF-IDF stands for “Term Frequency – Inverse Document Frequency”. This is a technique that can help search engines understand the context of your content piece. It can also help you get to know what you have to cover and mention in a content piece.
A TF-IDF analysis can measure how often different terms are mentioned in the results ranking in the SERP for a specific query and how important they are.
For example, if you have an article on “Queen”, Google has to understand whether it is about Queen Elizabeth II or Queen, the band. To assist this process you can use key phrases, specific to each of these entities. “Freddie Mercury”, “music”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, etc. would definitely help the search engine you are talking about Queen, the band.
You can also use TF-IDF to find content angles to cover.
To conduct a TF-IDF analysis you can use a tool such as a WebSite Auditor.
TF-IDF analysis in WebSite Auditor
If you want to learn more, you can read Semrush’s amazing article on TF-IDF.
Understand the Meaning of Entities
While Google is getting better and better at understanding topics, it is still not as smart as a human brain. The search engine doesn’t consider a topic everything humans consider a topic.
To provide semantically relevant and helpful results, Google is keeping a carefully organized database, widely known as the Knowledge Graph. The basic function of this database is to map single pieces of information to specific entities (e.g. what Google considers to be a topic).
Unlike keywords, Google knows the meaning behind each entity, if and how it is related to other entities. So using them can help the search engine understand better what your content is about.
To do a quick check on whether or not Google takes something as an entity you can:
- Check whether there is a Wikipedia page about it. Wikipedia acted as a primary data set for the Knowledge Graph, so you can safely assume that the subjects of the Wikipedia articles are entities.
- Use the Google Natural Language Processing API.
- Google it and see if a Knowledge Panel appears.
You can read this excellent article on Entity-Based SEO by Inlinks if you want to learn more about entities.
Implement Schema Markup
To build the Knowledge Graph, mentioned above, Google has to understand the relations between different things and it has a specific methodology for doing so.
You can reverse-engineer this methodology for your website, using Schema Markup.
Schema Markup is a type of structured data that can improve the way search engines read your website and can help them understand how different things on it are related to each other.
You can also use Schema Markup to signal that a topic you mention is related to an entity.
To do Schema Markup you need to use the vocabulary on schema.org. Keep in mind that misusing structured data can get you a Google penalty, so make sure to consult with a specialist or trust a full SEO service.
You can watch this great webinar by Semrush that dives deep into how you can use Schema Markup:
How to Write for Semantic SEO?
You can assist the search engines in understanding your content by following some best practices.
Here is a short checklist you can use:
- Use active voice rather than passive voice.
- Paragraphs should be unique, so don’t repeat information.
- Always give answers directly and precisely.
- Paragraphs should be concise & clear. Use short sentences.
- Don’t use unnecessary words. Avoid analogies, jargon, idioms, acronyms, abbreviations, complex words unless necessary.
- Cite a source when making a statement. Avoid expressing personal opinions.
- If you cite external websites, make sure they are trustworthy and authoritative.
- Do not overstuff with keywords. Keyword density is not a ranking factor. You don’t need to use a keyword more than once. Variety is better, it helps search engines understand the context.
Skyrocket Your Results With Semantic SEO & UX
In the end, Semantic SEO is simply modern on-page SEO. It marks the beginning of a new era where SEO is helpful to both business owners and users.
This is definitely in contrast to the old-school techniques, which were exploiting the SERP with the sole purpose of ranking a page well, regardless of its quality.
So you can be certain — a bright future lies ahead for search and SEO.
On a roll? Continue reading how SEO and UX work together to get a glimpse of the bigger picture.
Yoanna Antova – Content Team Lead @ Hop Online
Christian Stoyanov – SEO Team Lead @ Hop Online