Semantic SEO: How Google’s Semantic Search Works

The SEO semantics is the practice of writing optimized content for search engines focused on a subject and not on individual keywords. This means optimizing content to meet users’ search intent and not to answer a single search query.

In this guide on semantics applied to SEO we will see:

  • What is Semantics?
  • How Google’s semantic search works
    • Language ambiguity (phrasal semantics)
    • The reference dictionary
    • The context of the query
    • What is the best answer? The most authoritative one
  • Semantics applied to SEO
    • Topic analysis
    • Semantics and quality content
    • Schema.org and Semantics
  • Is semantic SEO enough to rank on Google?

What is Semantics?

The semantics is the part of linguistics that focuses on what is the significance of the words.

A sentence can be very ambiguous due to the multitude of concepts that can be expressed in the same words.

The ambiguity of a compound sentence is due to the fact that behind every single sentence there is a research intention and therefore the field of semantic study has yet to expand to that of pragmatic semantics , that is the use of a specific language in a certain context.


How Google’s semantic search works

We imagine the Internet as a large tangled bundle of people rather than a collection of computers connected together. Google’s job is more human than one might think: to make them communicate.

When a person types a question (query), the search engine chooses, among the millions of possible answers (the various web pages), the one it deems most appropriate.

What are the problems that Google must solve to provide the best answer by limiting the number of user attempts?


Language ambiguity (phrasal semantics)

The first problem that Google must solve is to resolve the ambiguity inherent in the nature of human language. If my query is “learn the law” what do I want to read?

A page on tennis, jersey, driving or jurisdiction? Often our queries condense a complex and articulated mental journey into a few words.

In understanding written and verbal texts, our mind is continually engaged in resolving the ambiguities of language by activating the semantic meanings that are consistent with the reading path hypothesized and constantly verified in the text.

This means that if I read the words “learn the law” in a text where I find words like “tennis”, “backhand” and “ball” I will begin to hypothesize a thematic reading path on the “game of tennis”. What does this have to do with Google?


The reference dictionary

The more accurate the search engine is, the more it must simulate the functioning of the human mind to give the best possible answer to the question posed.

Google therefore needs a context in which to hypothesize one or more reading paths and a reference dictionary: the semantic interpretation of each reader is based on a series of previous knowledge acquired through learning or experience.

University reminiscences tell me that for a communication process to be effective, the sender and the recipient must share at least a part of knowledge as well as the reference code: if I want to teach you how to do the forehand and the reverse, we must both know what tennis is!

Similarly, a search engine also needs to know what a given person’s previous knowledge is in order to provide him with an adequate answer to his question (if you don’t know what tennis is, it is unlikely that you will search the internet for how to do it. right).


The context of the query

Another variable that seems to go into the disambiguation process is the location of the query within the user’s search path.

Whoever expresses the query “learn tennis law” according to related Google searches will also search for “tennis law wrist”, “first tennis lesson”, “tennis tutorial”, etc.

From these ideas it seems clear to me that the leitmotiv that unites them is no longer in the superficial level of the linguistic variants, but in a deeper layer: the thematic and narrative one (learning the game of tennis).


What is the best answer? The most authoritative one

Once the query has been disambigued, the search engine must choose which is the best answer and must give a value to each content.

Here comes the “authority factor” and if in the past we talked about “popularity”, today we talk more and more about “authority”.

How is the authoritativeness of the content determined? From the authoritativeness of its author, the number of other related contents that refer to it, the number of “likes” and the quality of these likes.

What should not be underestimated, in my opinion, is that authority is never absolute but always relative to a given community, which in turn is defined at the semantic level for the sharing of passions and interests.

For this reason, if our site is linked by authoritative sites belonging to the same niche it is completely different than simply being linked by any site.


Semantics applied to SEO

In 2013 with the release of the Hummingbird algorithm, Google fundamentally changed the way it evaluated content.

While he used to focus on the individual keywords present in the content, he is now able to understand the general topic of a page.

Hummingbird is designed to focus better on the meaning behind words in order to return the resources that best match its meaning after a query, rather than returning pages that simply contain the query terms.

For example, let’s consider these two keywords: “link building techniques” and “how to do link building”.

Google is now able to understand that both of these keywords concern the same topic and for this reason the results shown are very similar:

Thus, Google is not intent on trying to understand what the meaning of a single word is, but rather engages its efforts in trying to understand what the meaning of a query is and what a user’s search intent is to provide him with the best content available.

Consequently, to apply semantics to SEO, it is necessary to work on 3 fronts:

  1. Topic analysis
  2. Quality content creation
  3. Structured data implementation Schema.org

Topic analysis

The first step is to establish the main topic and the sub-topics that compose it by studying the search habits of users.

To this end, I advise you to read ” Keywords Research: strategies, procedures and automation”, where I explained in detail how to identify all the keywords that revolve around a specific topic.

Next you will need to create the “thematic structure“, which consists of a list of all subtopics that fall within the main theme.

The more subtopics you can cover, the more the content you create will be relevant to Google.

Only after you have finished this job will you have to start writing the content.


Semantics and quality content

We often hear about the so-called “quality content“, but without ever delving into what this phrase means in a more precise way: what kind of quality is being talked about and what is qualitatively valid content to the point of being considered the best by Google.

For that reason, I want to try to explain it in a simple way. For me, quality content is content that is useful to users or that fulfills the user’s intent to search.

Quality = Utility

Therefore, quality contents are contents that answer a specific question asked by the user, which are easily traceable and understandable by search engines.

We often forget that Google is a company that has its core business in the sale of advertisements and that its market is powered by users who use it for the most diverse personal and commercial searches.

With this easy reasoning, anyone can understand the importance that the return of pages that respond almost perfectly to the search made by the user has for Google itself.

Only by returning useful and quality content will a user return to Google to carry out another search and only this succession of searches makes it the most used search engine in the world and with always flourishing finances.


Schema.org and Semantics

The search engine exploits the data already in its possession to give a definition of what it is reading and understand its meaning.

To this end, for several years, Google has been pushing for the use of the structured data of Schema.org a useful tool that, through the definition of schemes, allows to identify the contents giving it a precise meaning.

So with the introduction of Schema.org the attention shifts from the concept of “keyword” to that of “entity”.

Unlike the concept of keyword which is much broader and more ambiguous, precisely because it includes a series of references to the context, the entity for the semantic web is unique, as if it were a product identified by a specific barcode.

Through the use of structured data it is in fact possible to indicate specific contents to search engines, such as name, company for which you work, colleagues, titles and dates of events, places, products, offers, reviews and much more.

To deepen the subject you can find more information on the official site of Schema.org.


Is semantic SEO enough to rank on Google?

The positioning on Google is a much more complex and articulated process where the creation of quality content that meets the needs of users is only the first step of a long marathon.

As I never tire of repeating, SEO is a technical marketing discipline , so making distinctions between technical SEO and semantic SEO is basically denying the very nature of SEO, since they are two sides of the same coin and if there is none, there is none. not even the other.

When providing SEO services:

  • on the one hand we have to optimize the sites to ensure that they are indexed and “understood” in the best way by search engines in order to reach our audience;
  • on the other hand, we must work to ensure that this visibility is not sterile, so the whole issue of putting the user at the center of the strategy.

So for me the answer to this question is definitely “No”, since there are many other variables that come into play in search engine positioning and just as many ways in which an SEO provider weaves and uses these variables to achieve the goal.

You will always have to focus on Technical SEO, On Page and Off Page to get noteworthy results, but if you have any questions about Semantic SEO don’t hesitate to use the comments!

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