What Does Semantic Search Mean For Search Engine Optimization


The way we search has changed; it’s only natural that search engines themselves have evolved to keep up. In the process, they’ve caused a fundamental shift in SEO.

The Internet – or at least, the way we use it – has changed. Thanks to social media, the way we communicate and engage with content has undergone something of a shift. Context in search results is now more important than it’s ever been, and our patience for irrelevant content – in light of how inundated we are with information – has grown rail-thin.

On top of that, the proliferation of mobile technology means that the way we use search is different now, too. More and more, people are starting to enter conversational queries into engines like Google, using voice recognition software to browse the web. The intersection of these two closely-related trends has given birth to something known as the semantic web.

That’s what we’re here to talk about today. What is the semantic web? Perhaps more importantly,what sort of impact does it have on search engine optimization?

Let’s begin.

Entities Instead Of Keywords

The biggest change brought about by semantic search is underscored by Google’s catchphrase “things not strings.” Although the slogan – used to promote the search giant’s Knowledge Graph – is a little vague, it does manage to get the point across. Search engines aren’t interested in keyword matches or blue links anymore, except as a vehicle to locating and cataloguing entities.

Right. Let’s back up a bit. What exactly is an entity?

Well…entities are…they’re things. That doesn’t help much, does it? Basically, an entity can be a person, a place, an object, a piece of media, an animal; pretty much anything that can be referred to as a noun.

Regarding how they fit into semantic search, well…

“Entities are different than keywords,” explains SEO Skeptic’s Aaron Bradley. “They’re what keywords are used to identify. Keywords themselves are imprecise; different keywords can be used to refer to the same entity.”

As a result of this fact, each entity classified by Google is assigned a unique identifier – usually by means of a URL.This is meant to represent the meaning of the keyword – for example, an apple or a silk shirt.

From there, Google uses a subject-predicate-object framework to describe each entity. The entity is the subject, the trait that’s being described about the entity is the predicate, and the value of that trait is the object. That silk shirt, for example, may have the following descriptor:

Silk Shirt -> Color -> Blue.
Silk Shirt -> Brand -> Etro.
Silk Shirt -> Size -> Medium.

You get the idea. By using this framework – which Bradley refers to as ‘triples’ – you allow computers to understand entities. You allow them to look at a particular thing and ascribe traits to it, and in so doing, provide better, more accurate search results.

What Does All This Have To Do With SEO?

Now we get to the real question – how exactly does semantic search impact search engine optimization? What SEO techniques do you need to know to tap into this new trend? More importantly, what does semantic search mean for old-school SEO tactics like keyword optimization?

Well…the short answer is that while keywords and links still matter, they don’t hold anywhere near the clout that they used to.

Moving forward, optimizing for search will involve identifying the entities that are mentioned on each of your pages. It’ll involve understanding how all those entities are connected to one another – and to your brand. It’ll involve explicitly identifying to search engines what entities a particular page contains through a structured markup framework like schema.org.

It’ll involve creating tailored rich snippets to improve the appearance of your brand’s entry on the SERP. It’ll involve authorship and verification methods. And perhaps most notably, it’ll involve the creation of incredible content.

I know, I know; we’re pulling out the old “just create amazing content and your users will come.” But the fact is that as far as semantic search is concerned, that’s never been more true. Search engines are getting better at understanding what the users want with each passing day – which means that in the very near future, a website’s quality will be every bit as important as the webmaster’s optimization efforts, perhaps even more so.

In short, change is in the air for SEO – and that’s awesome.

Daniel Page

Daniel is the Director of Business Development for Ahosting, a leading provider in SEO hosting and multiple IP hosting.