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Semantic SEO - how to make SEO
for people rather than machines

Semantic SEO...

What size is it? Why do you need to know about it if you want to top Google? And how do you do it in practice?

I'll go into that in depth in this blog post.

Nicolai Vittrup
Last updated: May 11, 2023

What is semantic SEO?

To understand semantic SEO, you first need to know about SEO aka search engine optimization. If you don't already, read about SEO here first, and come back to this post afterwards.

Okay, let's dive briefly into semantics - and not least semantic SEO.

In short, semantics means 'the meaning behind language'. Without going too deep into the conventional guidelines of the Danish language, it is still very good to understand the basic meaning behind 'semantics' before you venture into semantics SEO.

Semantics, roughly speaking, looks at the content behind the meaning of words and sentences. Putting this knowledge into SEO perspective, semantic SEO is basically about writing content based on topics rather than traditional keywords.

So when writing content for your website, you need to think about the context of the words you use in the content; you need to look at the context of your keywords and not just cram a bunch of relevant keywords into your text (as used to be the case) - the "classic" approach to writing SEO text.

If you're still not on the semantic SEO wave, I'll hold your hand with the following guide.

Why you need to know semantic SEO

SEO-The world was a bit wild just a handful of years ago, when techniques like spam links, keyword stuffing etc. were used as 'cheat tools' to rank higher on Google. This resulted in pages with - effectively irrelevant content - ranking high on keywords, even though they contained information that users weren't actually looking for when searching on Google. This frustrated both Google users and webmasters.

For the same reason, in 2013 Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm, which was Google's first bid for an update to improve search results and better tailor them to users.

Suddenly, the focus was on natural everyday language, as well as context and meaning. The algorithm made a profound difference as Google's search engine became more human and far better at understanding text as a whole.

This meant that Google now looked not only at how much a keyword was mentioned in a text, but also the overall context of the text and related words used.

The Hummingbird algorithm was followed by RankBrain in 2015, which has only made Google sharper. This means that Google now demands a much higher quality of texts on the web today.

In many ways, Hummingbird understands intent and context just like humans do, which is why it's super useful to know about semantics SEO, since 41% of Google searches (according to Google itself) each day consist of a conversational search, which in short are searches that sound like hv questions. Semantic SEO is particularly relevant here, as multiple keywords can appear in one search.

If you want to be found by your target audience on Google, you should know about semantic SEO

If you want to be found by your target audience on Google, you should know about semantic SEO

Semantic SEO means good SEO

Good SEO = higher ranking on Google. Good SEO means, among other things, that you manage to deliver valuable content to your website - and thus to your visitors.

You do this by thinking in human terms - which shouldn't be too difficult, since there's probably a human behind the screen reading along. Because the robots will read the content and "serve" it on - but the users, not the bots, are the final recipients of your content.

That's why understanding what your consumers are searching for on Google is key to delivering content accordingly.

'How to' and 'need to know' about semantic SEO

Now you've learned the what and the why - it's time to dive into the how. So I've put together a little guide to the most relevant branches of semantics SEO.

1. Pack away the classic SEO brain

Google loves pages that go in-depth with content and topics. The more hv questions you answer on your website, the higher you can expect to rank on Google. So it's a huge plus if you really go in-depth with your content - as long as it's relevant to your topic, of course.

If you find this difficult, you might try thinking of subject relevance as a silo. A word or phrase can have many subtopics, and your page should make sure to cover all of them.

For example, if you sell gin on your website, you can write about subtopics such as: "How is gin made?", "The flavours of gin, "The producer behind the gin" etc. - in short, topics that can engage and activate the user.

Subtopics act as representatives of your content. They need to be both compelling and appealing to your target audience. Since Google reads the overall content of your page, it is also important that you set up your subtopics with a good composition.

Having trouble finding relevant subtopics to write about?

There are many methods to investigate which related questions readers want answered when they search for a keyword on Google. The most popular method is to conduct a keyword analysis. Check out our blog post with tools to do a kodyl keyword analysis.

If you want a simpler approach, jump into AnswerThePublic, a tool that collects raw data from search engines and quickly finds useful phrases and questions people ask about your keyword.

2. "People also ask"

Do you know about SERP? If not, let me walk you through it.

SERP stands for 'Search Engine Result Page' and is simply Google's results page, where you see answers to a given search query. The SERP is made up of, among other things, organic and advertised results, but it also has the so-called "People are also asking about" feature, which you are most likely familiar with from when you have done a Google search. The feature provides the user with more useful information without necessarily having to click through to a page.

TIP: You can use this feature, among others, to research people's related questions to your possible main and subtopics.

SERP is super relevant because the more questions you answer from SERP, the more Google will drool over your content - which ultimately means a higher ranking on Google.

3. "Volvo car"... "Volvo car 2005" - Google's keyword variants

In the past, it was best practice to publish a new page for each keyword combination. This often ended up in a multitude of landing pages, which mainly polluted the search results with a myriad of landing pages that actually answered roughly the same search intent - but also just provided a worse user experience.

Today, Google's updates have fortunately solved this problem, meaning that the search engine can distinguish between variations of the same keyword. And that's because Google understands the semantic relationship between your keywords!

For example, if you search for "Volvo car" or "Volvo car 2005", you will see virtually identical search results.

So there is no need to have two different pages for these keywords. The same applies to long-tail keywords, which thanks to semantic SEO fall under the same function.

Ergo, if your content answers multiple semantically related keyword combinations, Google will make your page visible on multiple keywords within the same category.

4. But but but... keywords are still your 'partner in crime'

Although I've (hopefully) sold you on semantics SEO and Google's ability to understand a page's overall context, don't put classic SEO keywords on the shelf. Google still recommends that you remember to make use of relevant keywords in your content. To sum up: optimise your content based on the primary keywords you want to be found on. In other words: Use them naturally in your texts, meta tags, headlines, etc.

Then your site can't help but grow on Google! For tips on writing great landing page copy, check out our SEO checklist.

5. Long Form Content performs better

High quality content is informative, thorough and clear. This is especially true in a semantic world SEO, where writing both long and in-depth texts is a competitive advantage. The more relevant knowledge you can get down in writing, the more it will benefit your ranking in Google's search results. This type of content goes by the name of 'Long Form Content'.

This means that you should aim for a minimum length of between 700 and 2000 words. So don't be afraid to write a good chunk of text on a relevant topic on your page.

Google's algorithm works by "scanning" your text for context and then trying to create an understanding of topic, relevance and length. In short, Google will prioritise your content if it is deemed to be of high quality that can answer the reader's search query.

6. LSI keywords - when Google understands the content on your page

LSI keywords - or 'semantically related keywords' - may sound a bit long-winded if you haven't heard of it before. In a nutshell, LSI keywords are at the heart of semantic SEO , replacing the classic SEO approach of sticking a landing page with the same repeating keyword in a desperate attempt to rank higher on Google.

Roughly explained, LSO keywords are words and phrases related to the content on your page that help Google understand what you're writing about. For example, if you search 'bicycle', related keywords would be 'bicycle tyre', 'bicycle tube', 'bell' and 'support leg'.

Opinions are divided on whether LSI keywords are a ranking factor or not. But if we move away from traditional keyword thinking and think in terms of topics instead, LSI keywords will undoubtedly gain their raison d'être.

Because if we think semantically SEO, LSI keywords become important when you write your content because they help you convince Google that your content claims many underlying relevant topics. This will increase your chances that Google will eventually give your website higher rankings on specific searches.

7. Conversational keywords - semantic SEO in everyday language

Are you the type who Googles exactly what you're thinking? For example, do you write "Does Webamp make websites?" instead of "Webamp website".
If so, you're Googling with the so-called conversation-based keywords. (Psst.. yes, we do make websites, I should say). And because the searches are conversation based, it fits perfectly with semantic SEO and the search engine's overall purpose; to understand what your site is "talking" about.

The Google algorithm's understanding of conversational searches allows you to write in natural language, where you don't have to plaster your website with unnatural and awkward search terms. The feature is therefore both a help and a requirement for you, as you can increase the quality and relevance of your content while satisfying the algorithm's requirements for the same - and thus hopefully increase your ranking. That's what I call a win-win situation!

Google not only reads the meaning of your landing pages in the content, but also in the source code

Google not only reads the meaning of your landing pages in the content, but also in the source code

Semantic SEO at technical level

Ironically, semantic SEO is not just about relevant content and long texts. There are also a number of aspects that fall into the more technical category.

1. Semantic HTML

Although semantic SEO sounds purely content-related, it actually starts at the building of your website. If you have experience building websites, then you 100% know what I'm talking about when I say HTML tags.

If web development isn't your strong suit, let me translate: Standard HTML tags serve as the basic on-page SEO of your website ("title", "H1", "H2", etc.), and it's one of the main ways search engines understand the content on your page. Semantic HTML is focused on Google's understanding of a given landing page and is hidden in the coding.

Når Google crawler din hjemmeside, kigger søgemaskinen også på dine HTML-tags for at forstå indholdet af din side – lidt ligesom du forstår en nyhedsartikel ved at skimte rubrik, manchet og mellemrubrikker. Tidligere blev alle elementer kaldt <div>, hvilket var problematisk fordi det ikke gav fingerpeg om elementets indhold – akkurat ligesom du vil have svært ved at skimte og aflæse betydningen en nyhedsartikel, som udelukkende bestod af brødtekst.

I dag bruger vi tags såsom <h1>, <h2> og <body> til at tilskrive hjemmesiden mere semantisk værdi. I sidste ende ranker din hjemmeside højere, hvis du bruger semantiske HTML-tags, da søgemaskiner vil have lettere ved at identificere indholdet på din hjemmeside.

So HTML tags can define the elements of the page, but unfortunately not the actual content. Fortunately, structured data can!

2. Structured data

Okay, now this might be a bit heavy. But hang in there! Because it's actually super important to know about structured data and its importance for your ranking on Google.

Structured data is also called "search engine language". That's actually a very good explanation, because that's exactly what it is. Language hidden in the code, visible only to search engines and not to users. If you use structured data on your website, you "talk" to Google behind the semantic part - in your coding. And then Google has an even easier time understanding your content.

Google reads your data and uses it to display more enriching search results for your website - also called 'Rich Snippets', which can include images, reviews, recipe information, etc. Ultimately, 'Rich Snippets' are what can make your website more eye-catching and therefore increase the number of visitors.

If you want to read more about structured data, I recommend you read Webamp's introduction to structured data.

3. Relevance through links

Internal and external links with descriptive anchor texts can help Google understand the content on your page. It's therefore a super good idea to link to other informative content when it makes sense and is relevant.

This can be content on other websites as well as other subpages on your own. When you link to other subpages on your own website, you are also attributing SEO value to them. The more internal links you have to a given subpage, the higher Google will rank it. This practice is known as internal link building.

So you increase Google's understanding of both the pages you link from and to.

Structured data increases Google's understanding of your website - and can therefore be an important part of your semantic SEO strategy

Structured data increases Google's understanding of your website and can therefore be an important part of your semantic SEO strategy

How to think semantic SEO into your content

Now that you've become a semantic SEO whiz, you need to start thinking about it in your website's content. I'll give you three tips on how to put your knowledge to practical use when writing content

1. Understand the search intent

When your audience searches on Google, they have an intention for their search; also called 'Search Intent'. They are looking for answers to something specific. Keeping this in mind when writing content for your page is the smartest move you can make, as a match between the user's search intent and the content on your website is the way to Google's heart. In other words, it gives your website much better rankings on search results.

A user's search intent strongly depends on where they are in the customer journey. Are they looking for information? Do they need to buy a product? Find a service or the best solution to meet their needs?

In other words: What is their search intent?

Four types of search intent are distinguished: information searches, commercial research searches, transactional searches and navigational searches. Webamp's SEO specialist Adam has written a King blog post on just these, which you may benefit from reading.

2. Think in terms of topics - not just keywords

I've mentioned it before, but just remind you again. Semantic SEO is about thinking in terms of topics; don't forget your keywords though!

The Google algorithm's ability to understand website content means that your chosen keywords may not appear in all search results, even if they revolve around the same search intent. So you need to consider what your keywords are actually about before using them in your content.

Another side of the coin is that the algorithm's understanding of your content can let you rank for keywords that you don't actually use on your website. This is because Google thinks that your topics and content are actually the same as the Googled keyword related topics and content. That's pretty cool!

Plus, it gives you more freedom to think topics instead of keywords. This also allows you to deliver more complete and useful content to your visitors, which can ultimately lead to a conversion or your visitors returning for more information.

3. Know your audience

You've probably considered who your target audience is when you started your business. And you need to keep them in mind when writing content for your website.

Different audiences use different words and concepts for topics that are relevant to them. This means that you need to put yourself in your target audience's position and make sure you use the same words they would use in their Google search.

Now that the algorithm has a greater semantic understanding of your texts and can therefore understand your content, it can also assess whether you are articulating in the reader's eyes. So Google has become keen to know its audience by their "way" of searching, and therefore it also keeps an eye on whether you write your content in their "way".

For example, if your target audience is makeup artists, it is important that you write "blush" instead of "cheek red" or "the red that gives you color on your cheeks", as this is not a correct term in the professional makeup artist world.

So you run the risk of the algorithm judging that you are not formulating in the reader's eyes and therefore cannot deliver what the user is looking for. Ultimately, you will not be visible in otherwise relevant searches, and you will miss out on traffic from your target audience.

Even worse, incorrect wording can have a negative effect on your bounce rate (and therefore your Google ranking) if the reader gets annoyed and leaves your page because you don't have relevant content in their eyes due to incorrect wording in relation to what you provide.

You can use your knowledge of semantic SEO in your content strategy if you want to rank higher on Google

You can use your knowledge of semantic SEO in your content strategy if you want to rank higher on Google

Get help to make your SEO work semantic!

Want to take the semantic plunge SEO and get your website ranking - without being stuffed with unnecessary keywords?

Contact me or one of my colleagues at Webamp via 70 60 50 28 or info@webamp.dk for help with SEO.

Learn more about SEO, and increase your online presence

Whether you're a generalist or a marketing specialist, our SEO specialists have put together some great advice for you on our blog.

Learn more about SEO in Webamp Academy.