Semantic search: a must-know practical guide to modern SEO

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Search Engines - Google, Yahoo, Bing

Have you noticed search engines have become quite intelligent? One could say they’ve become more intelligent than ravens, a bird with an incredible level of intelligence. Google’s introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, led to a drive towards semantic search. Now, there is no correlation between Ravens and Hummingbird. As a point of clarity, this blog is not about birds but search engines.
The world of search engine optimisation has progressed from a robotic keyword-driven approach to a more intelligent and contextual result page. Semantic search has contributed to the display of personalised and relevant results to users around the world. Maybe, we are in the age of modern SEO or just an advanced form of SEO?

So what is Semantics and Semantic search?

Semantics refers to the meaning of words, phrase or text. The two types of semantics that exists are logical and lexical semantics. Logical semantics focuses on the study and meaning of sense and implication of words whilst lexical semantics looks at the analysis of word meanings and the relationship between them. According to WordStream, “Semantic search is the concept of improving search results by focusing on user intent and how the subject of a search relates to other information in a wider sense, or its contextual relevance.” The semantic search goes beyond looking at a string of keywords and takes into account the user’s intent, browsing history, location, trend and any other vital information that will help search engines produce the most relevant result.

Entity and property in semantic search:

At the core of semantic search are the entity and property elements. In most cases users type entities or subjects (objects in some cases) in a Google, Bing or Yahoo search box. These entities now return a variety of properties which are tailored towards a user’s intent.

semantic search as a modern SEO strategy


Based on the above image, bread is the entity and Google renders a variety of properties such as nutrition facts and recipes. Since my search was not specific, Google envisaged I could be interested in the recipes of bread or the nutrition facts.  Semantic search helps search engines to deliver relevant properties to the entities or subjects typed in by a user.

This is akin to a mum and baby scenario. The baby utters: “cup,” which is an entity in this case and the mum responds with a variety of properties such as “water, juice, food, play” and so on. Google and other search engines are striving to be more intelligent in serving the relevant results to users. Website owners and digital marketing professionals can ensure their sites are marked up with the relevant entity and property details to enable search engines to present these websites in the most relevant format.

These properties are not generated by Google by chance or randomly. According to an article written by Sergio Redondo on the Search Engine Land, factors that determine the given properties are:

  • A user’s search history
  • The given user’s location
  • Global search history and trends
  • The characteristics of the queries such as spellings, variations, acronyms etc.  and more.

Utilising semantic search for content creation and improving rankings

Modern SEO entails creating relevant content to meet the intent of users. A user-centred approach to content creation should involve a semantic search strategy. We will walk through a process of creating contents using a semantic search approach.

For this example, let’s assume you’re aiming to create content on public speaking to attract traffic for users that run queries on the search term ‘public speaking.’  Using the image below, we will breakdown semantic search into three elements. As your web content is made of sentences, it is quite important to understand three elements of your key sentences to gain the benefits that come with semantic search. Lexalytics, the text and sentimental analytics firm, express that sentences comprise semantics, syntax and context. We will adopt this approach to gain a better understanding of the ‘public speaking’ example. These elements will help you create content that users will find useful and will attract relevant traffic.

semantic search as a modern SEO strategy

semantic search improving modern SEO


  • Semantics: the meaning of words in a given sentence
  • Syntax: This refers to the phrase or sentence structure (Subject, action, object).
  • Context: The context element focuses on the concept being discussed in a sentence.

So let’s apply these three elements to gain a better understanding of the top pages on Google for the keyword: “public speaking.”

Applying semantics, syntax and context to the ‘Public Speaking’ example:

Semantics:  This refers to the meaning of words in relation to a sentence. The above results clearly indicate that public speaking could be viewed as a speech or a presentation delivered to a group of people.

Syntax: The majority of the top results on Google for ‘public speaking’ have a sentence structure that has a subject (entity), action and object.  In the ‘public speaking’ example, it is quite obvious that the Google search algorithm identifies known entities (subjects) like TED and Toastmasters as most relevant to a search query like: “Public speaking.” Entities refer to people, places, companies or products. In reference to action, the top results on Google’s search engine result page present Meta descriptions with actions such as “in order to inform, influence or entertain.”  A common action syntax used by some of the top results is “the fear of public speaking.” Objects in this scenario included things like ‘visual aids’ and ‘props,’ as can be seen in the Meta description of Toastmasters international.  Other relevant objects that can be used in this example are podiums and microphones.

Context: the top results for the query “public speaking” are websites focused on helping people overcome their fears and become better public speakers.

How do I use this in content creation?

In this instance, we are assuming your aim is to write a ‘public speaking’ related blog. The steps below will help you adopt a semantic search approach in creating a purposeful content.

  • Defining public speaking in your article is important as this takes care of the semantics aspect (meaning of words) to a large extent.
  • Using known entities like TEDx can help boost your content ranking. A good example could be a topic like: “How to overcome your fear and speak like a TEDx veteran.” This is because Google relates and substitutes ‘Public Speaking’ with TEDx. Adding objects like projector, microphone, IPod, podium and the rest can help your content stand out. The action in this article could be to address ‘the fear of public speaking.’
  • In terms of context, the top articles are about overcoming the fear of public speaking or becoming a better public speaker. The core theme of your content should be to help people overcome public speaking.

Hopefully, this guide provides a good understanding of modern SEO in utilising semantic search to produce content that meets the intents of users. Also, will help you utilise structured data to aid search engines present your website in a more relevant manner. Users don’t have to type a complete query to get relevant search results. With machine learning, search engine algorithms are now smarter. Are you aligning your content strategy in line with this development?

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