Semantic Search


In today’s world filled with technology that responds to our wants and whims within nanoseconds, people demand a lot from search engines. Whether they want the phone number to the bakery down the street or they want to learn how many miles there are between the Earth and the Moon, search engines like Google are go-to hubs. However, the way people search for things is changing, and that’s why you need to focus on semantic search.


What in the World is Semantic Search?


To put it as simply as possible, semantic search is a process by which search engines (namely Google) try to understand the contextual meaning of a word or short string of words entered into a search bar. In short, it is hoped that semantic search will improve the accuracy of searches by utilizing information such as previous searches, location, and device as “hints”. This makes searching for information a better experience for everyone, and when you learn how to utilize it for your business, you can improve your overall results.


An Example


To better understand semantic search and how it works, let’s consider an example. If you type the very broad word “Cobra” into the Google search bar, your results may vary. For instance, if you have been shopping for a new car or ordering car parts online, you may see pictures of Mustang Cobras, local Cobra dealerships, and more on the page. Conversely, if you have not shopped for automobiles or parts, you might see images of the serpent cobras on your screen if you regularly search for animal-related news, or you may even be directed to articles about Cobra health insurance. This is semantic search in action. Google attempts to take your personal search history and apply it contextually to your new searches.


Semantic Search



What Searchers Say vs. What They Mean


Overall, the goal is to make Google intuitive in a sense; to allow it to essentially make an educated guess about what a searcher wants when he or she types in some random word like “Cobra”. Your goal, then, as a business owner, is to use semantic search to your advantage. To do this, you need to make sure that you utilize your keywords in such a way that Google can determine their contextual meaning. Using the aforementioned example, if you are a Mustang Cobra dealer, then you will need to include key phrases throughout your content that separate your Cobra from any other kind of cobra. For example, you would use “Mustang Cobra”, “Cobra Shelby”, “Cobra 427”, and others.




Factors Considered by Google


When someone types a very broad term into the Google search field, the site utilizes many different types of information to attempt to determine the context of that word. All of the following are taken into account:


  • The person’s previous search history (the more recent, the more relevant);
  • The person’s location since results may be more appropriate or relevant in some locations than in others;
  • Total global search history, because if people around the world are searching for related keywords with increased frequency at the same time, then it likely links to the same search or event;
  • The spelling and variants of words used in the query; and
  • Linked domains, distance between co-occurring terms, and more.


Why Understanding Semantic Search Is Important for Successful SEO Campaigns


Simply put, you need to understand semantic search in order to make sure that Google applies the right context to the terms in your content. Remember that search engines like Google are becoming ever more intuitive, and they can effectively “learn” how to present content to people who search for it. If you want to be on the front page of the search results, then your content needs to not only be relevant in terms of keywords, but it must also be relevant in terms of context. You need to teach Google that your article about Cobras is about Mustangs; it is about the automobiles manufactured by Ford, and not snakes or health insurance.


Implementing Context into Your Content


The good news is that semantic search often does not require a lot of tweaking on your part. All you have to do is write your content in such a way that the context is plain and clear. Think of co-occurring words that you would normally see alongside your main keyword and include them in your text as close to the main keyword as possible. This way, when someone types in Cobra 427, they are much more likely to see your website than a reptile salesman at 427 Locust Street.


The good news is that semantic search is not hard to understand. All you really need to do is understand other websites and industries that might share some of your most common keywords, then optimize your content with co-occurring words that help to make its context very clear.

Google Semantic Search


 “Real search is about providing valuable information when it’s really needed to those who are actually looking for it.” – David Amerland, Google Semantic Search


Back on the 1st June I started my job as a content marketer at Veeqo. Before I started this new stage in my career I retreated to the serenity of the Gower Peninsula in Swansea and read David Amerland’s book Google Semantic Search.


Amerland states a simple but effective point at the start of the book “search is changing” and this will affect how people find your services. So, where do small business owners come into this equation? And what can they do pro-actively to stay in touch with these changing times.


Long gone are the days of link exchanges, paper thin content and keyword stuffing. Amerland eloquently points out that the “first page on Google” is now almost obsolete, despite what business owners may have been told.


Therefore, understanding how semantic search works is the only way to enhance your web-presence and improve your organic search rankings, whether you decide to outsource this work or not.


Good news, there’s nothing technical about it!


The good news is that despite its name, there is nothing technical to semantic search. What semantic search means is that Google is now able to extract contextual meaning and intent from a searcher. Essentially they are delivering answers, when previously they just delivered links.


At this point, how this is done isn’t entirely important, if you would like more technical reading on this subject i’d recommend this article from Bill Slawski. We will focus on how you can work this in your favour.


When people search the internet there has become a growing expectation that information should be immediate. More than 80% of internet users now own a smartphone and this has been reflected in Google’s developments such as the introduction of predictive search through Google Now and Google Voice Search.


How staying local is important


The relationship between smartphones and locality has had a massive impact when it comes to semantic search. Go back more than 10 years and a search for “where is the best pizza place in New York?” would have brought up the first site that crammed that phrase as many times as possible into its back end.


semantic search

With semantic search, search engines have evolved to understand it as a question, Almost as if you were having a conversation with a person. Within 2 seconds of typing the phrase, Google will have identified the question, established your location and returned relevant results with directions, reviews, open times and contact details. Very impressive when you think so literally about it. It begs the question, what is the next developement from Google on this? I’d be interested to get your opinions.


Because of this Amerland states that you need to be providing as much information as possible, “It’s no longer enough to have a “Contact Page”. You now also need to have a Google Maps listing, a Google Business Page, reviews, mentions, citations, photographs, videos and podcasts”.


As search engines advance, and they invariably will, we will no doubt see further developments in regards to localized search that will allow you to develop your brand.


What are you searching for?


In order for Google to display the most relevant results they use a process by which the information displayed is determined by the importance of it to that specific user.


Within those 2 seconds, Google takes into account a number of factors that include previous search history, information stored on you (YouTube, Google+), location, global search history and external links from articles on the same topic.


To use an example, if we searched for “Rio” this could bring results back for a city in Brazil, an animated film, a Duran Duran song or former professional footballer Rio Ferdinand.


semantic 1

Interestingly when I entered “Rio”, I was presented firstly with “Rio Ferdinand”, which makes sense based on my previous searches. My boss, tried the same thing and was presented with the film, this could be due to the fact that he has 2 children and has admitted to searching for animated films in the past.


Next I tested the ‘global search history’ theory. As I am UK based, a simple search for “David” brought up the big story at the moment “David Cameron Pig” that Google would think i’d be interested in. Not a story for the easily offended, if you aren’t already aware of it.


semantic 2


What does this mean for my marketing?


So with these new developments, what does this mean for your marketing and the content that you produce? Simply you need to create content that will easy to find. If it can be easily understood, then this is beneficial when search engines are scouring your site.




Also importantly there should be some context to it. Like in my example, if you were writing a piece about Rio the city, mention words associated with him to help Google understand it better such as “Brazil”, “South America” and “Copacabana” throughout the piece.




Although they are still important, keywords aren’t what they were and quality hold is key. It’s important that you are writing for humans first and search engines second. However using tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner tool and searching for related searches can help you generating relevant keywords to place in your article.


semantic 3



As briefly mentioned linking to similar external content will not only strengthen the quality of your post, but it will also help Google identify the subject matter and will boost its presence through search engines.


Social Sharing


It’s said that social media will become a more important feature in semantic search, in regards to organic search. The recent search ranking factors from Moz suggests this is the case. Therefore if you create a high quality piece, this is more likely to get shared. Check out my presentation on how we use Buzzstream and Buzzsumo to increase shares of our articles.




As a small business owner you need to integrate your offline and online affairs and take into mind the ways in which people could possibly find out about your business.


Telling your company’s story, interacting on social media and producing good quality content are the big SEO factors of today. A willingness to keep up to date and learn about the subject will keep you in good shape when it comes to your online presence.


As mentioned earlier I would fully recommend David Amerlands book if you want learn more on the subjects of social signal, Google’s knowledge graph and particularly the part on the 10 SEO techniques that no longer work.