Semantic SEO: Your Step By Step Guide


We’ve all seen it.

Google has been slowly evolving into a semantic search engine.

That means Google attempts to understand the meaning of language and concepts.

What’s more, Google is doubling down on semantics with its algorithm updates.

For instance:

  • Hummingbird
  • Rank Brain
  • Bert
  • Mum

And that means…

A semantic search engine requires a semantic SEO strategy.

In this post, I’ll answer:
What is semantic SEO?
How do I implement a semantic SEO strategy?

Now before I jump in, I just want to note that this blog post is intended to be a big-picture overview and is by no means the final word on the topic.

If you need more context for anything, I’m linking to other resources.

What Is Semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO, or entity SEO is a search engine optimization strategy that focuses on the meaning and context of words, phrases, and entities on a website, rather than just on specific keywords.

Now, to understand this let’s understand what a semantic search engine is.

Semantic search engines use natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms to understand two things:

  • The user’s search query
  • The content in its index

Because, if Google understands the user’s query, the search engine can understand the search intent.

But, that’s just one part of the picture.

If Google understands the content in its index, it can accurately answer the search intent by presenting the most relevant content in the search results.

This means, when you focus on semantic SEO, you are helping the search engine find the most authoritative content so that it can serve its users.

This is a win-win.

You get more traffic and the search engine has happy users.
Network of entities

Semantic SEO Benefits

Now that you understand what semantic search engines are designed to do, let’s now jump into some semantic SEO benefits.

1. Improved Search Engine Rankings:

As you’ll see later in the post when I get into the entity SEO strategy, your goal is to cover entire topics and structure them in a way that’s easy for search engines and users to navigate.

This helps the search engine:

  • Understand what your site is about
  • Find targeted answers to user questions

When you get this right, your content is likely to rank higher.

2. Present your site as a topic expert to both search engines and users:

When you cover an entire topic thoroughly, your users will perceive you as an expert in your niche. If you focus on making that content accessible through a logical structure and well-placed internal links, your users are more likely to visit your site often.

What’s more, Google will view your site as a topical authority awarding your site with more traffic.

3. Better User Experience:

Structuring your content for semantic search will help your users in two ways. Higher rankings will save users time and effort by bringing them the exact content they were looking for.

Once users visit your site they will find a network of content that is easy to navigate. And having a well-structured resource is likely to result in users visiting your site more often.

The more helpful you are to your users, the more likely they will look to your business in the future.

4. Increased CTR and Engagement

Semantic SEO strategies will help your site rank for longtail keywords. Now, although longtail keywords have lower search volumes, they offer you two big advantages.

The low search volumes often mean low competition as SEOs tend to focus on higher search volumes. And, low competition can result in some quick wins that add up over time.

Secondly, longtail keywords tend to include more words and modifiers which tend to have a clear and obvious search intent. The better you understand the search intent, the easier it is to create content specifically tailored to your users.

5. Increased Conversion Rates

When your content is optimized for semantic search, you can attract more qualified leads and increase the chances of converting those leads into customers.

By providing relevant and informative content that meets their needs, you can build trust and establish yourself as an authority in your industry.

6. Future Proof Your Site

Semantic SEO is becoming more important with every passing year.

It’s evident that each algorithm adds a layer of semantic understanding to the search engine. It’s getting to the point where we can’t ignore semantic SEO tactics.

This means the sooner you pay attention to semantic SEO the better your chances of SEO success in the future.

Now that you understand the benefits of semantic SEO, let’s get into the strategy.

This is intended to give you a big-picture understanding of what to do. If anything in the next section is unclear, I include links to other resources that will give you the context you need.

Semantic SEO Strategy – Achieving Topical Authority

Understanding the semantic SEO strategy requires a paradigm shift. Until now, SEO was always about optimizing content to rank for keywords.

The advice was always one keyword per asset.

Semantic SEO is a topical SEO strategy that requires that you stop focusing on keywords and start looking to rank entire topics.

When you do that effectively you achieve topical authority.

To understand this further, there is a Google patent that tells us that Google profiles your site according to the topics it covers.

What’s more, Google understands topics broadly and calls each topic a Knowledge Domain.

Each Knowledge Domain includes a list of queries as well as a list of sites that cover that topic.

This means if you cover a topic consistently, Google might classify your site as part of the Knowledge Domain assigned to that topic.

When a user types a query into Google, Google identifies which Knowledge Domain the query comes from.

If your site is included in the same Knowledge Domain as the query, Google might match your site with that query and might rank your content in the search results.

Now, just profiling your site according to topics is the first step.

You need to establish your site as the biggest authority for your chosen topics. You do that by creating a network of authoritative content that covers the entire topic thoroughly answering all user questions in the process.

Once you are an authority on your chosen topic, you should aim to have more topical coverage than your competitors.

What’s more, if you cover more than one topic, you should separate your different topics into silos.

But, just publishing a large amount of topical content is not enough. You also need to structure your content in a way that search engines understand information.

Now to understand this, let’s get into Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Google’s Knowledge Graph includes a network of entities structured in a similar way to how the human brain structures information. Having information structured this way allows Google’s NLP algorithms to analyze language and even answer questions.

For semantic search engines to understand your content, you should structure it the same way.

This means using a topic/subtopic hierarchy.

Once you’ve figured this hierarchy out, build it into your site architecture. But more on that later.

To figure out what content to create, first research your chosen topic.

Topical Authority Research

You should now understand the big-picture topical authority strategy.

The question now is, how do you know what content to create? How much content do you need and what specific questions should your content answer?

Start by researching how Google understands your topic as a whole. You can do this by looking at the Google SERPs.

You need to answer:

  • What are the subtopics Google associates with your topic?
  • What questions does Google associate with your topic?
  • What entities are related to your topic?

Let’s start with topics and subtopics.

Topics and Subtopics

Let’s first figure out how to understand how Google understands the topic.

Google’s Knowledge Graph includes both entity information and how those entities relate to each other in a logical hierarchy.

Although Google doesn’t tell you how it structures entities in its Knowledge Graph or what is related to what, you can find some obvious clues.

There are many places to look:

  • Knowledge Panels
  • Image Search
  • Auto-Suggest
  • Google Trends
  • SEO tools

The best way to figure out this hierarchy is to look at Knowledge Panels. The reason is the information presented in them comes directly from Google’s Knowledge Graph.

To find a Knowledge Panel about your entity, do a generic search about your topic.

In the screenshot below, I searched for the entity Gandhi.

As you can see Google includes filters next to the name. Each one is a subtopic you can create content around.

Ganhndi entity SERP

If you can’t find subtopics and don’t know how to structure your content, take a look at the top sites that cover your topic.

Competitor Research: Topical Analysis

So, if I was in the pets niche I’d simply Google the topic and see what comes up. Click on any of the top results and look at how they structure their information.

Here are some things to look at:

  • URL structure
  • Menus
  • Breadcrumbs

For example, if you look at thesprucepets.com, you’ll notice that they have siloed their information by pet type.

You can see that in their top-level menu.
Top level menu for the Spruce Pets site

They have information about:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Birds
  • Small pets
  • Aquariums
  • Reptiles (!)
  • Horses
  • Best pet products

In other words, if you had a pet iguana lizard and you wanted to teach it to fetch, you’d look at the Reptiles content. 😊

Each one of these items is a topic.

If you want to see how they arrange their subtopics, take a look at the subheadings on their menu.

Second level menu for the Spruce pets website

If there aren’t any subheadings, take a look at their breadcrumbs.

Breadcrumbs for the Spruce Pets website

As you can see in the screenshot above, the topic is Cats. Cat health & wellness is a subtopic of cats. Cat diseases & disorders is a subtopic of Cat health & wellness.

You can find a wealth of information on competitor sites if you dig around.

At this stage, you should have a list of topics and subtopics.

Topics and subtopics help you understand how to break the information up on your site. In other words, they help you with content structure.

Now the question is, what information should exist in each topic or subtopic?

To figure that out let’s find some questions that your audience is asking.

Finding questions related to your topic and subtopics

The point of this section is to find a list of questions that your target audience wants answers for.

By answering any and all of these questions, search engines will eventually see you as an authority on the topic.

Google has a large database of user questions.

What’s more, this database is bucketed into topics (or Knowledge Domains). This means when a user asks a question, Google will categorize that question according to the topic. It then matches the query with its topic.

This means, if you want to cover your topic entirely, you should aim to answer as many of these questions as you can.

To do this, simply Google your topic and take a look at the People Also Ask box.

Click the results. The more you click, the more results Google will bring.

If you keep clicking, eventually you’ll notice that Google brings you results that are not relevant to your query.

For instance, in the screenshot below, I searched for the keyword ‘how to do local SEO’.
People Also Ask query limits
Now you’ll notice at some point, Google brings queries that are not entirely related to local SEO.

  • Can I do SEO for free?
  • Is SEO good for beginners?
  • Should I pay someone to do SEO?
  • Etc.

Yes, general SEO is related to local SEO, but it’s clearly a different search intent.

Now by applying a bit of common sense (your best SEO tool), I know that local SEO is a subtopic of SEO.

This means all the questions related to general SEO should exist in a different silo to your local SEO content.

Using this method, you can compile a complete list of queries for any topic or subtopic.

Another great place to look for questions related to your topic is keyword research tools.

Keyword Research Tools

For instance, if you were looking for questions on dog training, log into your keyword research tool and look at the Questions filter.

To do this effectively, search for a broad keyword and filter your results down.

What I mean by broad is, search for a head term like ‘dog training’. Don’t go for a more targeted term like ‘how to train your dog’.

The reason you should search for the head term is you are looking for all the questions in the topic as a whole. If you get too many results, you can always filters to manage the information.

For instance, I searched for the (broad) keyword ‘dog training’ in the Similarweb Keyword Generator.

To see any questions that your audience is asking, click on the questions filter.

semantic seo key generator

Once you are there, you’ll find a long list of question keywords. What’s more, you can also see Search Volumes, Keyword Difficulty scores, and more.

You’ve figured out all the questions you need to answer in each topic and subtopic. Great. Your next step is to understand what entities Google associates with your topic.

Related Entities

Understanding the entities that relate to your main entity will help you figure out what to include in each piece of content.

Looking at related entities might also help you find more ideas for content you should cover on your site.

So let’s go back to Gandhi.

You can easily find entities related to Gandhi’s entity by looking at the About section.
Gandhi Knowledge Panel showing the About section
As you can see in the screenshot above, the Knowledge Panel links the user to related entities such as:

  • Children
  • Spouse
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents

It also links you to entities related to his assassination.

These are all entities connected to the main entity in Google’s Knowledge Graph and Google expects to see them in the content.

Also, the majority of the entities are about Gandhi’s family. It might make sense to create a subtopic about Gandhi’s family.

Another way to find related entities is to look at the Similarweb Related Keywords report.

related keywords

As you can see in the screenshot above, I searched for the term ‘dog training’.

Now, if you look at the results, you’ll notice that the report doesn’t just bring a list of keywords that include the words dog training. Instead, it presents a list of terms that are related to the meaning of the target search term.

As you can see from the screenshot, the tool includes:

  • Puppy training at home
  • Training puppy
  • Most successful puppy obedience training methods

In other words, the entity puppy is related to the entity dog in Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Since the entity ‘puppy’ is related to the entity ‘dog’ in the Knowledge Graph, it makes sense to include them somewhere in your content.

Now you have a body of research, it’s time to tie it all together in a topical map.

The two entities have similar attributes as they are both Finnish composers.

Since all of these entities are related to Jean Sibelius in the Knowledge Graph, it makes sense to include them somewhere in your content.

Now you have a body of research, it’s time to tie it all together in a topical map.

Create a Topical Map

By now, you should understand the difference between ranking keywords and entire topics. You should also have a good list of:

  • Topics and subtopics
  • Queries related to each topic and subtopic
  • Related entities

In order to own entire topics, you need to plan your content out. To do this, start by generating a topical map.

A topical map is simply a content map that not only includes a list of content you plan to create but also how it should be structured.

Now, since I’m a visual person, I like to mind map this. You can pretty much do the same thing using spreadsheets.

Map out your topics and subtopics. Once you’ve done that, map out the actual content that you intend to create for each topic or subtopic.

Look at all of the related entities and queries for each subtopic.

Each related entity and related query represents a piece of content that should exist under each subheading.

Here is a topical map that I created for my favorite Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.

Topical map for the Jean Sibelius entity

I found the subtopics Personal Life and Compositions by looking at the Jean Sibelius Knowledge Panel. I also found that Google’s Knowledge Panel breaks the Compositions down further into Symphonies and Tone Poems.

This analysis helped me to create a clear content structure for the entity Jean Sibelius.

In terms of the actual content assets I plan to create, I found a list of questions and related entities.

If you want to know exactly how I created that topical map, take a look at my blog post on how to create a topical map.

Okay, you’ve mapped out your content, now it’s time to plan out your site architecture.

Create Your Site Architecture

Okay, you have your topics, subtopics, and content all mapped out. The next step is to build your content hierarchy into your site architecture.

The flow of information on your site should make sense to both:

  • Search engines
  • Your users

Getting this right is a win-win.

Because Google reads your site architecture to understand more about your site and the topics you cover.

This means you should present your hierarchy to Google through your:

  • Menu headers
  • URL structure
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Internal links

It’s important to note that you don’t need all of the above options. Google has many ways to figure out the flow of information on your site.

For instance, creating separate folders on your URLs might not make sense to your site. Especially if you have a site that’s been around for a while as changing your URL structure would result in migrating content, which is risky.

But, if you have a massive e-commerce site, separating your numerous products through folders on your URLs might make sense.

The key here is to have each content silo exist in its own space on your site so that your users can easily find what they are looking for.

Now, for a great example of how to do this effectively, take a look at thesprucepets.com (mentioned above).

They have a well-structured site architecture that is helpful to the user, including:

  • Topically siloed content in their top-level menus
  • Dropdown second-level menus revealing subtopics
  • Breadcrumbs

All of this makes finding the right content a breeze.
Information flow on the Spruce Pets website

And, if people can understand the flow of content on your site, Google can too. What’s more, by keeping your topics separate from one another and creating a logical hierarchy for them, you are communicating your topical expertise to Google.

Okay, so you’ve mapped out your content based on SERP analysis.

It’s now time to look at content clustering through keyword clusters.

Create Keyword Clusters Using Keyword Research Tools

Another way to research topics is to work with keyword clusters. This is a similar approach to understanding how users and search engines break down topics.

Keyword clustering can help you figure out content hierarchies as well as help you target a set of keywords for each of your content assets.

To do this, search for broad keywords in your niche and look at the results.

When you do this it’s likely you’ll find obvious patterns in the keywords which will help you find subtopics and keywords that your users are searching for.

To do this effectively, look for clusters of keywords that have a similar search intent. By doing this you can identify which keywords to target for each asset.

You can do this quickly by using the Related Keywords filter in the Similarweb Keyword Generator. The filter is designed to find keywords that have a similar search intent to your seed keyword.

In the example below, I’m using ‘architectural software’ as a seed keyword.

keyword clustering

As you can see in the screenshot above, the tool brings:

  • Building design software
  • Building design software for beginners
  • Architectural drafting industry-standard software

All of these keywords have a similar search intent to the seed keyword and can be clustered into a single piece of content.

The key here is to target your most profitable ones. A great strategy here is to target some high-competition keywords with high search volumes together with some longtail keywords.

You can easily do this by looking at the search volumes and Keyword Difficulty scores.

Another way to create keyword clusters is by using Google Search Console.

Using Google Search Console for Entity SEO

Search Console works really well if your site has been around for a while and is getting impressions.

You can do this by filtering your Queries report into different topics.

The general approach to this is similar to the content keyword research strategy above.

In other words, you can use Search Console data to look for content patterns on your site. This will help you find obvious content silos to build into your site architecture.

Another way to use Search Console for semantic SEO is to find related entities to increase your topical coverage.

Going Semantic

Big picture

By now you should have a basic overview of the semantic SEO strategy. And, with this overview, you can start to dig into the topic more.

There is a large body of information to understand and it’s best to work on one topic at a time. To help you out, I’ve linked to many more blog posts and I hope that all of this content will help you grasp all the key concepts and strategies of semantic SEO.

You should have a good understanding of how to research Knowledge Domains (or topics), what content to create, and how to structure it so that both search engines and your audience can navigate it easily.

Top that off with keyword clustering and you have a winning formula.

The rest is up to you.

FAQS

How does Google semantic search work? 
Google’s semantic search uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms to understand the context and intent behind a user’s search query. It goes beyond the traditional keyword-based approach and aims to provide more relevant and personalized results for each user.

When a user enters a search query, Google’s algorithm analyzes the words and phrases used to understand the user’s intent behind the query.

Next, Google’s algorithm searches its index of web pages to find content that matches the user’s search intent. It takes into account a variety of factors, including the quality and relevance of the content, the website’s authority and trustworthiness, and the user’s search history.

What are the advantages of semantic search? 

  1. More accurate results: Semantic search algorithms have the ability to understand the context and intent of a search query, resulting in more accurate and relevant search results.
  2. Improved user experience: With semantic search, users can find what they are looking for more easily and quickly, resulting in a better overall search experience.
  3. Personalization: Semantic search algorithms can take into account a user’s search history, location, and other factors to provide personalized search results.
  4. A better understanding of natural language: Semantic search algorithms can interpret natural language queries and understand synonyms, related concepts, and other nuances of language, making it easier for users to find what they are looking for.
  5. Enhanced SERP features: Semantic search can enable features like auto-suggestions, and instant answers, making the search process more efficient and user-friendly.
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