A Whole New World, Part 3: Semantic SEO and User Experience
For the last few months, we’ve been diving into what the semantic web is, its impact on search engines and how it affects content marketing. If you missed the first two instalments, you can check them out in those two links. But, just to bring you up to speed, here’s a quick recap:
- The semantic web, according to the W3C is “a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across applications, enterprises and community boundaries.” It’s the connection of ideas that provides context behind words in a machine-readable way.
- These connections are made by what’s called linked data, which uses semantic markup languages to outline entities and properties.
- Google uses this web of linked data to form its Knowledge Graph and incorporate semantics into its search algorithms. The semantic algorithms responsible for interpreting context surrounding queries and page content are known as Hummingbird and Rankbrain.
- Semantic search has changed the way you create content. Instead of targeting keywords, craft content to establish topical authority, target users and fulfill search intent. Use natural, human-oriented language and take advantage of relevant jargon and vocabularies
But there’s more to SEO than just content, so there’s more to semantic SEO than just content. The second main ingredient in optimizing your website for semantic search is user experience.
Like with your content strategy, incorporating the semantic web into your website will result in you changing the way you approach designing and implementing the user experience for your website. And when you do it right, this will result in making it easier for search engines to find and interpret the context of your content, and better connect your users to the content they want and need.
Incorporating the principles of the semantic web into your UX benefit your business in several ways:
- Improved SEO. Making your content easier to find and more pleasing to use/consume will make your domain look better for Google.
- Understanding Users. Part of the process of semantic SEO is understanding who is searching for your website and why. This information is invaluable for marketers.
- Conversion Rate. Providing good content on an easy-to-use website makes for happy users and happy users are more likely to trust your business and convert.
So how can you go about incorporating the semantic web into your website to improve user experience?
Creating Semantic Entities
As we’ve said, the semantic web is powered by entities and markup connecting the properties those entities to provide context. So if you want to use the semantic web for your website, you first need to create the vocabulary and entities that will form its base.
So, first, what are entities? Basically, they’re the ideas, people, places and things you reference in your content. Nouns.
To see entities in action, just do a search for something, someone or some place. Here see the entity for Yellowstone National Park as part of Google’s Knowledge Graph.
As you can see with this example, entities are made up of properties. In the case of Yellowstone, we have properties for location, size, date of establishment, phone number and managing government agency. It also ties in other properties such as social media profiles and visitor reviews.
Note: you can also see two things here that tie into a concept we’ll discuss in a minute: intent. Right above the Reviews section, you’ll find links to information on planning a visit. So it seems that Google has interpreted someone searching for information about this entity has the intent of planning a trip.
Linking Data for Better UX
The neat thing about the semantic web is that you can link the data on your page to outside resources like DBpedia using the
sameAs vocabulary. Or, you can create your own knowledge graph with your own entities.
Then, using a semantic vocabulary like JSON-LD or Schema.org HTML elements, you can link back to your own knowledge graph. Your website becomes, in effect, its own semantic web.
Meeting User Expectation: Finish the Search
Thanks to Hummingbird and RankBrain, covered in earlier entries in our series, Google can interpret the context behind the words used in a user’s query. In SEO, that context becomes “search intent,” and describes the ultimate goal the user is trying accomplish.
There are three basic types of search intent that will govern how you optimize your site’s user experience:
- Navigational: These users are just trying to get to a certain page, but don’t know the URL.
- Informational: Searchers looking for a particular piece of information, or for more information about a certain entity.
- Transactional: People who want to complete an action, whether that’s a purchase, a download or email signup.
Once you know the intent of a Google query, use it when crafting your page’s user experience. Make the end user goal, whether it be learning a piece of information or adding a product to a cart, the central focus of the page.
In other words, use the landing page to finish the finish the search.
You might be thinking to yourself here, “boy, this sure sounds a lot like the advice I got for semantic content marketing!” And you’d be right because semantic search is all about delivering the right page to the right user at the right time.
From a user experience perspective, that means making sure the thing that fulfills the user’s intent is front and center. Put any conversion form, purchase button or important information above the fold, with no additional steps in front of it.
The search intent you’re targeting will, of course, determine how you go about optimizing your landing pages.
- For informational searches, put the most important information at the top, front and center. You should also structure the content and other on-page elements (title tag, HTML headers, etc.) to make it obvious what problem or question you’re answering. Make each step in the how-to an
<h2>tag. If you’re answering an “what” or “why” question, put the answer in the
<p>tag right after the header that contains the question. This is also a big part of Answer Box optimization.
- For transactional searches, make the conversion the most prominent feature of the page. Any conversion form, call to action or button should go above the fold and be the centerpiece of the design. Users shouldn’t have scroll to figure out how to convert, as well as any important information regarding special offer, benefits or terms. Finally, make CTAs clear and actionable. Check out some the top landing page mistakes to avoid to get some more insight into how to optimize for transactional intent.
Here’s an example of one of WooRank’s landing pages for transactional searches:
Doing It for The Users (And Maybe the Rankings, Too)
So, what’s the unifying theory here regarding semantic SEO and user experience?
Do it for the user.
Again, this sounds like a “no duh” kind of situation, but the user hasn’t always been the focus of old-school SEO. In the past, SEO was as much about writing and linking for machines (using synonyms, analogues, equivalents, metonyms, matches, similar terms…) as it was doing anything for the human users.
Now, however, using your semantic entities, linked data and better optimized internal linking, your website will provide users with an enhanced experience. And Google will be able to read and interpret the context surrounding that experience and rank your site accordingly.
So, when implementing semantic web technologies on your website, focus on the user experience and the rankings will follow.
To learn more about the semantic web, semantic search and semantic SEO, check out the other entries in our semantic series A Whole New World and stay tuned for our next entry.