Some of the biggest changes in recent years, in the form of Google’s Hummingbird and RankBrain, have come about in response to the semantic web. As search engines like Google, try to incorporate semantic technologies into its search results, SEOs are still trying to figure out what implications this will have on their approaches to SEO and future strategies. Will it be a case of do or die? Today we examine: What will SEO look like in a semantic web future?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a constantly evolving practice that has kept me more intrigued, and sometimes more panicked than any other channel. Why? Because of continual search engine updates and the perceived impacts they will have on performance, rank and visits.

The Semantic Web Today

The purpose of the semantic web is to link data, which is not limited by format, location, sources or applications. It, therefore, promises a richer, more personalized online experience with greater access to information.

Search engines have been fairly quick to respond to the semantic web and have already begun utilizing semantic technologies in their searches. Similarly, their aim is to link data from across online platforms to enhance the user experience which has resulted in the birth of enhanced search results like rich snippets, featured snippets and knowledge panels.

More importantly, the purpose of the semantic search is to better understand the* intent behind queries* (managed by Google’s Hummingbird update) beyond just a simple word or phrase. It also learns from past results to create links between entities to deduce the answer to a query, rather than providing a list of web pages that may or may not bear any relation to the search - implemented through Google’s RankBrain updates.

A good example of Hummingbird in action is when I search for ‘Wonder Woman’. Without telling Google what information, in particular, I wanted to see (the film, the TV show, or the comic?), it decided to show me the closest venues to my location that were showing the film. It also provided a full synopsis, ratings, images, top stories and a list of cast members.

Wonder Woman rich search results

The Future of Semantic SEO

So, let’s take a look at how we should be optimizing sites for semantic searches and how this will impact on the future of SEO?

1. Create content with a purpose

I know we’ve said it before, but semantic search aims to serve results to its users that are detailed, fully researched arguments that offer full solutions to problems. Therefore, your future content should look at achieving all of these objectives.

Customer Personas

If you haven’t already, you should develop a good understanding of your audience by creating customer personas. Like customer profiling, personas examine the following key areas:

  • Who are they: Segment your audience into demographics - gender, age, location etc. This can help to identify patterns in behavior or concerns shared by a particular segment of your audience.

  • Main concerns: Often referred to as pain points, these are potential barriers to buying a product or service. What information do they require in order to help inform their decision> Try to identify why they didn’t they purchase from you after visiting your site? Or what persuaded them to purchase from you.

  • Shopping preferences: Where do they prefer to shop? With independent vendors or larger, well-established brands?

  • Past behavior: What products and services have they purchased before? What stopped them from purchasing again?

Establishing customer personas will help you align content with target audiences. Tailoring content to your audience will have far greater success at both attracting and converting them.

Answer Questions

Helping customers arrive at an informed decision is invaluable - especially, if your content helps them purchase from you. However, content shouldn’t be created with this sole purpose in mind. Instead, concentrate on creating insightful content that empowers users with the knowledge they need. Great content not only demonstrates your knowledge, it will also help to build vital backlinks.

If you have a FAQ section on your site look at the questions your visitors need answers to and write detailed articles around these subjects. Alternatively, ask your customers directly or start a dialogue on associated forums. Use sites like Quora and Answer the Public to develop a list of questions that can be turned into blogs.

2. Long tail keywords

Change the way you target keywords. Because Google now looks at the entire phrase being typed into the search bar to serve more appropriate results, it will become essential to target long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are phrases made up of 3 or more words and make the search query more specific. This means that instead of simply targeting a single keyword like ‘plumber’, we should instead look at incorporating these into actual phrases.

  • Benefits of using plumbers
  • Registered plumbers near me
  • Plumbers for home extension projects
  • When should I call a plumber

Remember that Google is looking for helpful content. It will become more important to incorporate keywords that relate to your topic (known as LSI keywords) throughout, rather than just targeting one specific phrase.

3. Featured snippets

Featured snippets (aka Google’s Answer Box) are used by Google to display answers that directly relate to the searcher’s query. Because they typically appear in position zero they offer the potential of increased exposure for many brands.

Featured snippets are created organically by Google but there are ways that you can optimize your site to influence your site’s inclusion:’

  • Produce content that directly addresses issues and queries that is well researched and highly informative
  • Target long-tail keywords or phrases
  • Include the question and answer within your content. Keep the answer concise to ensure that it will fit into the answer box.

Featured snippets can create a bit of dilemma for site owners. Recent research conducted by ahrefsfound that:

  • CTR decreases. Featured snippets only achieve 8.6 percent of clicks compared with the 26 percent clicks achieved by organic results in position 1 that don’t have a featured snippet.

  • Featured snippets generally don’t perform as well presumably because the information is provided within the search result and limits the need to visit the site.

  • I’ve seen several instances where snippets have been accompanied with images from competitor sites. This is likely to be the result of Google pulling in images that have been markup with schema from one site and text, that doesn’t require markup, being used from another site.

  • Sites already have to be ranking highly to begin with - ideally in position 1-10. Featured snippets may not, therefore, be a quick solution for some sites.

With so many perceived and reported issues you might be wondering if there is a future for featured snippets. The problem is that, although they raise concerns for site owners, they benefit the user and enhance the search experience. Featured snippets are also the only results read through voice command searches So with the popularity of voice rising, it’s likely that featured snippets are here to stay.

4. Adoption of Schema markup

The creation of semantic search results depends largely on the use of markup, a universal code that helps to decipher the meaning of HTML code to identify logos, reviews, opening hours, products and more.

Currently, the adoption of schema markup is relatively low: Search Engine Watch recently reported that only 17% of marketers use markup. The estimated number of websites that implement it is less than one third. While smaller companies are said to be more willing to adopt and utilize schema markup, perhaps due to their agility and inherent drive to achieve greater exposure, medium sized B2B companies are less willing.

Although it isn’t clear how not using Schema markup will impact sites in the future, SEOs should look at addressing this because it could be a case of do or die.

5. Solid Social Strategies

The success of semantic search is dependent on being able to retrieve data from across multiple platforms. SEOs should therefore focus on building solid multi-channel strategies to establish and monitor multiple social profiles. Ultimately, social media should be used to share great content, provide brand transparency, engage with customers and promote your brand. Utilize large, trusted sites like Wikipedia, Google+ and YouTube, as Google examines these as a point of reference, especially when evaluating the trust and authority of your site. A presence on these sites combined with the use of Schema markup will also help with ensure that your profiles get included in Google Knowledge Graph.

Finishing Up

With so few sites using Schema markup it could be argued that the semantic web is still in its infancy. However, as the popularity of voice search increases and user searches become more sophisticated it will become vital for site owners to develop an SEO strategy that focuses on optimizing the semantic web future.

In the past SEOs primary focus was on stuffing text with keywords to highlight relevance and obtaining backlinks. While this is still true, to some extent, SEO should no longer ignore the importance of creating a great user experience, that both empowers and enriches audiences understanding.

Use the strategies listed above and begin optimizing your site with semantic searches in mind.