What The Heck Is Semantic SEO & Should You Care At All?

Keyword Research Aug 29, 2013

I predict that, after the first few opening paragraphs, you’ll feel like you’re on drugs. This will be a mind-expanding exercise that will leave you dazed and confused. But we’ll try to make as much sense of this as we can.

Semantic SEO

Before we can even begin to talk about Semantic SEO, we need to first understand what we mean by “semantics” and what the “semantic web” actually is.

If you want to get a bit technical about it (and I’m sure you love technicalities; you work with SEO after all), semantics has a general definition:

se·man·tics [si-man-tiks]


  1. The branch of linguistics that deals with the study of meaning, changes in meaning, and the principles that govern the relationship between sentences or words and their meanings
  2. The study of the relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent
  3. Logic:
    • the study of interpretations of a formal theory
    • the study of the relationship between the structure of a theory and its subject matter
    • (of a formal theory) the principles that determine the truth or falsehood of sentences within the theory, and the references of its terms

Source: Dictionary.com

So, it’s concerned with meaning. That includes concepts like sense, reference, implication, lexical semantics, which is concerned about meanings, word relations, and conceptual semantics.

Are You Confused Yet? Good, Me Too…

Confused About Semantics

Here’s the point: this grand, large-scale mess we call the internet and the web has been evolving towards a semantic “shape” with the information you can find. That is, the natural ordering and logic of information is taking on a semantic purpose and role, more so than what the web looked like, say, 5 years ago.

So, Google is not just about simply discovering information any more — it’s about ordering the web into a coherent flow of information; how topics, themes, ideas, text, video, audio — all of it — is connected and relate to each other.

A part of this are such small things like structured data markup, Schema.org, Google Knowledge Graph, Bing Snapshots, and Facebook Open Graph Protocol.

The idea of the “Semantic Web” will, naturally, affect us SEOers and shift the ground towards “Semantic SEO”.

This is ultimately why SEO will never really die; it will just change, continually.

But, a caveat: semantic web is NOT the same as semantic SEO.

On-site SEO, for example, is all about ordering information (site structure, headlines, text, layout, links) to the point where visitors and search engines find it valuable enough to send it to the top of first page results. Then again, there are always loopholes and flaws, which is why a lot of “questionable” tactics still work. But that’s a side-note for now.

It’s all about making sense, making meaning out of the barrage of information that is created and shared every minute of every day, non-stop. That’s what Google is all about: organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

So, as the web is becoming more semantic, that naturally extends to our SEO efforts.

Now, Why On Earth Should You Care About Semantic SEO?

Glad you asked. Let’s see what we can make of it all.

This is where the web and search is headed, so by virtue if you wanting to keep doing what you’re doing, that’s a good reason. This type of search understands the intent of the searcher and what the query means, rather than going through the keywords such as a dictionary would.

SEO Semantic and Semantic Web Concepts

Right now, it’s like a search engine giving you its best guess, based solely on the keywords and text you enter into the search box. But with semantic SEO, search engines will dive into the relationship between the words you enter, how they are working together, and then try to understand what the words mean.

Google can understand that there are two different meanings between they’re and their, and when New and York are put together, that the meaning changes. It’s more about natural language, as opposed to keywords.

The Future Is Already Happening, Can You See It?

Why do you think Google gives you the option to verbally search? They’re collecting a crapload of data on natural voice and speech. Google Glass, for example, is primarily voice-operated.

So, semantic search (and by extension, how SEO needs to work), takes into account the context, plus the meaning of your search query. Before, it was just the anchor text and links associated with each other which Google bots used to understand the contents of a page. But now the bots have a chance to view all of the content around the link to come to a better conclusion.

Supporting terms are looked at – This will included modifiers, synonyms, and so on.

Related terms are used in places such as your subtitle tags, title, content, meta, and more.

Does This Change Anything For SEO Right Now?

It is important to keep in mind that the other SEO strategies you’ve been using are still relevant, and they shouldn’t be thrown away so you can focus on semantic SEO. It is just one thing which Google looks at when it is ranking a site, so keeping your other efforts in place is a good idea — for now.

Although keywords are simple to change around, intent is not. So to be able to rank well with a semantic search, you not only have to put your keywords in the correct places, but you have to figure out what the actual meaning is behind the keywords and make content around this specifically.

Whenever someone searches for something, they are often looking to answer a question and sometimes are searching with the abbreviated version of the question.

Keyword research is mainly driven around data on how popular the terms in their question are.

In a semantic search, keyword research will have to focus on the meaning of what the person is actually searching for in the keyword.

How on earth this will actually play out in real-life remains to be seen. The distinctions can seem meaningless, too, as they’re a bit granular. When you are framing your content with semantic SEO, it will have to be around answering the specific questions that people have as they relate to the keyword.

With each sentence you write, you have to consider how it answers the searcher’s question. You need to focus on the natural language, even if the users are concentrating on the keywords still.

Meet The New Keyword Research: Semantic Mapping

SEO Semantics - Word Classes

Semantic mapping is:

a strategy for graphically representing concepts by constructing a semantic map. In the literacy context, a semantic map is a graphical model designed to help students identify important ideas and how these ideas fit together in a text.

You’re already using something similar: long-tail keywords.

Talk about going after related terms and phrases, right?

Semantic maps simply enable the target search term or phrase to be placed at the “center” of the map. All other related and supporting terms function to help search bots “make sense” of the document.

You can quickly summarize some of the benefits this approach results in, but it’s not all about SEO, however:

  • Advertisement: better targeted ads, more personalized delivery.
  • Product Search: find the right product more quickly; less time spent browsing through a deluge of product listings.
  • Information Flow: more effective and productive by minimizing any “intermediaries” between the searcher and the information he or she is looking for.

Keep Your Eyes On Latent Semantic Indexing Tools

Aside from your usual collection of synonyms and apps like Ubersuggest, this one is highly relevant to your SEO interests:

LSI Keyword Generator — used in finding semantically relevant keywords and phrases (the abbreviation LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing). This tool gives the user an option of eliminating some words from the results, too.

Quickly, What Does This All Mean?

Well, basically this: you’ll see sites rank in search results that aren’t clearly optimized for specific search queries or that may not have “traditionally” strong SEO signals, like link profiles with exact or partial-match anchor text. Take a look at this quote search:

Google Semantic SEO

It’s a very generic quote when you look at it, and it shows up on over a million websites, but Google figured out it most likely refers to a quote from the TV show Knight Rider. If you want to read more about citations, occurrences and references across websites, read about links and social graphs here.

A factor of the semantic web and SEO are citations and mentions of the same “entity” across several other documents.

Immediate Take Away For Your SEO Activities

Let’s wrap this up, as much as possible, shall we?

In short: what are some takeaways of all this that will matter for your SEO?

  • Implement structured data markup/schema as much as possible, no matter what kind of website you’re trying to rank.
  • Ever heard of RDF? You should, and pay attention to the concept of “triples”. They allow you to not just describe relationships between two things, but also map the relationship between other statements about those things.
  • Think semantically. What are related topics, themes, ideas, concepts that you can use to help search engines understand and rank your website better?
  • Citations and references from relevant websites. This would be useful for link building; don’t get links from websites that have nothing to do with yours. If you try to rank a site for selling cat food, why on earth do you want a link from a site that’s all about cleaning bathrooms? Hint: you don’t.
  • Do yourself a favor: know what JSON-LD is. It’s all about linking data. Yes, you do want to at least understand it at a glance.

Makes a little more sense now, yes? [editors note: Wha, What? ;)]

Chime in if you have any other quick tips for implementing the concept of semantic Search Engine Optimization!

One response
  1. Avatar

    Great Article Neil, These results are I guess named as vertical result sets where query is being evaluated against large information sets.
    These information set have different attributes based on the entity. If it is about a person then person will have birth date, name, Image etc. If its about any location then temperature, name will matter.
    Search engines are becoming smart every day and these result sets vary results based on your previous query also which shows relevance and correctly interpret user’s intent.
    But somehow I feel that for websites it may be little negative because these search results are providing enough information to end user to move away from SERPs and go to any other site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *