A Whole New World, Part 2: Semantic SEO and Content
Last month, in our we introduced the semantic web, what it means, how linked data works, and how it’s changing the way Google and other search engines work. As a short refresher, here’s some quick takeaways regarding linked data and semantic search:
- Linked data uses semantic markup to connect pieces of data (known as “entities”) across web pages, allowing search engines to figure out context and meaning behind words.
- Google unveiled the Hummingbird update, a revamp of their core ranking algorithm, to incorporate its understanding of semantics into search results. Hummingbird sought to find the content that achieves the user’s goal behind the their query.
- Google is able to process that search intent thanks to RankBrain, the machine learning and artificial intelligence program. It interprets not only words used, but also pieces of user information to interpret the context of the query. We know RankBrain isn’t a ranking algorithm but is still vital to ranking results.
So with all that in mind, it’s time to ask, so what?
What does that mean to me, a website owner and/or search marketer?
How to Plan Semantic SEO Content
One of the big differences between old-school SEO and semantic SEO is that your page content used to have to appeal to the machines. That is, it had to be written in a way that search engines could understand its relevance to keywords and queries. That resulted in some maybe less-than-human-friendly text.
It’s all about writing for humans.
The phrase “content is king” has been around in marketing for years now, so saying your page content is a huge part of semantic SEO isn’t exactly dropping some sort of crazy knowledge bomb or anything. But the way you plan, create and optimize your content will change. Instead of optimizing for keywords, you should now focus on optimize for task completion.
Remember back in part one we described the Hummingbird update as Google’s change from a search engine into an answer engine? Well, optimizing for task completion is how you appeal to Hummingbird. Task completion optimization comes down to identifying four aspects of successful content:
- Identify Themes
- Identify Users
- Identify Need
- Identify Content Gaps
To see the SEO benefits of semantic content in action, check out SERPs for three different queries: “what games are backwards compatible with xbox one”, “what is xbox one backwards compatible” and “when will new games be backwards compatible”.
What games are backwards compatible with xbox one:
What is xbox one backwards compatibility:
When will new games be backwards compatible:
Identify Themes for Semantic Content
What is the website/category/page about? What are the themes people associate with your product or industry? We don’t mean ‘theme’ here like they do in your high school English class (unless you’ve got a website about man’s inhumanity to man, the decline of the American dream, the hypocrisy of “civilized” society or something like that). With semantic SEO, when we talk about themes we mean the topics you want to be known for.
If, for example, you have a website that sells video games, you’d want to create content for topics based on game genre (RPGs, RTS, etc.) and platforms.
This part probably sound a whole lot like the first step of keyword research, right? That’s not far off. The difference now is, instead of using these themes to find head and tail keywords to target with different pages, you’re going to create content that covers the whole theme.
Identifying Users for Semantic Content
A great way to think of semantic SEO is a move away from keyword targeting and toward user targeting. What sorts of people are searching for information on your themes? What sort of information are they searching for, and when? How do they behave when they land on your page? Do they engage differently with different channels?
If you’ve created a full SEO strategy, you’ve likely already done this when you came up with your marketing personas. If you haven’t created marketing personas, take this opportunity to do so, they’re super important in refining your marketing efforts. Some good places to look when creating personas include:
- Analytics user demographic information
- Conversion forms on landing pages
- Surveys embedded on your site
- Customer interviews
Identifying User Needs
This is where we really start to take advantage of Google’s semantic capabilities. In order to appeal to Hummingbird’s preference to answers, your content needs to address a specific need your users are looking for on your themes.
So, going back to our video game website, what sort of needs to people have when searching for, say, the Xbox One console? Some of these needs could be:
- Information on how backwards compatibility works
- Which games are backwards compatible with the new console
- How to livestream from Xbox One online
- Why a console won’t turn on or read a disc
- Where they can buy a console
- Which are the best games to buy for this platform
Of course, the possibilities for these needs are almost endless. Start by brainstorming internally and keeping a list. Or ask yourself the question, what problems do we help our customers solve?
Some other sources of user need include:
- Google Search Console – Head to the Search Analytics report and filter queries by those that include question words like “what is”, “how”, “where” and “why”.
- Related Searches – Check the “Searches related to” section at the bottom of the SERP to learn what information on a theme people are looking for most.
- Google Autocomplete – Type your theme into the Google search bar and record what they suggest as queries related to the topic.
- Keyword research tools – Ubersuggest and Answer the Public are two tools that scrape Google’s Autocomplete data to give you insight into how people are searching for your themes.
Identify Content Gaps
The final part of content for semantic SEO is finding gaps in current search results. Even if Google’s found a bunch of pages that have answered a searcher’s question, there’s no guarantee they’ve done so well. Plus, just because a question has been answered doesn’t mean you can’t do it better.
Do a quick search using the user need you’re fulfilling (question you want to answer, buying guide, etc.). Take a look at the top 10 results and take notes on what topics they cover, and what topics they don’t cover.
This analysis will give you insights into:
- The words and phrases Google deems semantically important to your target theme and question, so you know to use these in your content.
- The information you should emphasize in your answer. Google wants to rank the content that gives the searcher the highest chance of completing their goal so you need to include this information as well.
- Information the current top results don’t include. Like I said, Google wants to give users the most complete information, so if you can take your content a step further than the current results, you win.
Writing Semantic Content for Humans
So now that you’ve decided on topics, what users you want to target, what their needs are and how you can differentiate yourself from other sites, it’s time to start creating your content.
The type of content you write will depend on the plan you developed above, specifically the target audience and target task to complete. Users trying to find the definition of an industry term don’t need or want a how-to guide or best-of list.
For its Xbox One theme, our video game website should consider the following content to target their audience:
- How-to guide on diagnosing and fixing problems and errors with their console.
- A user guide to getting the most out of their console, including the most useful apps and accessories.
- Product and game reviews or buying guides that help users decide which products to purchase based on need.
- Infographics that break dense or complicated topics down into easily-digested key takeaways.
The point here is to format your content in ways that showcase your expertise on the theme and guide users to the most important information.
Huge blocks of text generally aren’t the way to do this, so put some thought into how you structure and layout your content. Try to break your text up with headers, bold text and bullet points to make salient points easier to find and reference.
Conversational Tone of Voice
Thanks to technology like RankBrain, Google is getting better and better at processing natural language. Natural language processing is what powers its Android and Google Home digital assistant. The benefit of these NLP developments is that you can now use a wider range of tones when writing content without making it too difficult for Google to read.
In fact, choosing the right tone of voice for your audience is key in optimizing for semantic search. Members of the same audience segment are going to be using language in roughly the same way, which means writing content to match will not only make your website more accessible but will also make it appear more relevant.
Choosing the right tone of voice to match your users will also help you build a more loyal and engaged audience. A more loyal and engaged audience will help create a positive feedback loop with Google, making your page look better when members of that audience search for related terms in your theme.
Content that keeps users on the page for more than just a few sentences, and keeps them engaged on the site, tells Google that it’s a good result for users asking questions related to that theme.
Don’t Be Afraid of Jargon
Finally, semantic web technologies like linked data, entities and vocabularies help you create content with an improved user experience. You no longer need to explain every reference you make (I for one am sick of writing out and explaining CTR when talking about digital marketing metrics).
Now you can use linked data and entities to create a vocabulary for your website. This vocabulary has great user experience and semantic SEO benefits.
Which brings us to the next entry in our semantic web series. To learn more about how to build a vocabulary for your website using semantic web technologies, stay tuned to part three of the A Whole New World Semantic Web Series.