Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has evolved over the years to be more user-focused and comprehensive than ever before. SEO is no longer based on just specific keywords.
Search engines now find results based on search phrases and questions even when there is no exact match in words. Basically, the algorithms are smart enough to understand the user’s intent.
And with the rise of mobile and voice-activated devices, search engines now must interpret and deliver results based on how people speak.
What is Semantic SEO?
Semantic SEO involves targeting topics, not keywords. It involves creating digital content that is trustworthy, has depth and answers the questions users are asking online.
Since SEO is an ever-changing, ever-growing process, it's important to understand how these changes led to Semantic SEO.
The Rise of Google Semantic Search
In the early days of search engines, SEO sought to answer one question: "What is your content?" SEO specialists and content creators were hyper-focused on their ranking, and only a few factors affected that ranking, mostly keywords and external linking.
Because of that, many people exploited this ranking system and engaged in practices like keyword stuffing, link farming and other shady practices.
From the growing pains that came with building and fine-tuning a search engine, Google released two major updates in 2011 and 2012, Panda and Penguin. Both updates had a major impact on how search engines would rank content and addressed the question: "How trustworthy is your content?"
Google made the shift to deliver the best results to its users. Now the biggest SEO concern was delivering quality content and linking to reliable resources. Other competing search engines followed Google's lead.
The rise of semantic search came after the launch of Google's Hummingbird update in 2013. The question SEO had to address now was: "What questions does your content answer?"
The Hummingbird update was a completely new algorithm. No update, no change, but a completely new build. There is a greater focus on the user and how people use a search engine, not how they tried to adapt to the search engine in seeking answers online.
This update was also Google's way of preparing for the rise of voice search, since smartphones and tablets starting taking over a larger share of internet traffic. Since Hummingbird, there have been other updates (like Possum) that addressed quality, new Google features and user experience.
Becoming Bilingual in Google
So how do you build content around something as complex as the Hummingbird algorithm?
No. 1, begin with the intent of Hummingbird in mind — which is to offer a great user experience. This is true for both content and SEO and should begin with your content strategy.
Semantic SEO requires your strategy go beyond just keyword research. Ultimately, the goal of your content strategy should be to capture users from search results and keep them interested by guiding them through the educational process. Answer as many questions as is relevant to that buyer’s journey. You want your content to be relevant, high quality and timely.
You also need users to find your content. There are a variety of ways Google delivers search results: Google My Business listings, AdWords, maps, images, shopping, featured snippets … the list goes on and continues to grow.
The more you conform to how Google and other search engines try to achieve this, the more likely you will be to increase your organic ranking. Additionally, the visitors to your website will have a better experience, and that also plays a big factor in your organic and paid rankings.
And remember: Always circle back to the main goal of search engines -- deliver a great user experience.
Determining Your Digital Dialect
Another tactic that can be used in advancing your SEO approach is fully leveraging Actions on Google. These tools will help voice-activated devices deliver better results, and this is a great way to outrank your competition in 2018.
Also, don’t neglect your buyer’s journey. SEO must be paired with other essential elements to successfully attract ideal customers to your website and keep them engaged. This again puts your users at the center.
Instead of focusing on the SEO as its own tactic, create an incredible strategy that will naturally result in exceptional SEO.
Continuing the Conversation
Semantic SEO has been around since 2013, so the concept is not new. However, the rise of mobile and voice-activated devices (such as Amazon's Alexa and Google's Home) have changed the way people search online.
They search how they speak. They expect the search engines to understand them and deliver what they seek. This only reinforces the importance of semantic SEO.