What is Semantic Search and How Important Is It?

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What is Semantic Search and How Important Is It?

The search engine landscape is regularly morphing and shifting. New innovations appear all the time, often dramatically changing the way that both users and websites approach search engines. But semantic searching is more than just a new innovation – it represents a complete shift in the way that search engines operate.

What Is A Semantic Search?

Search engines have grown considerably more sophisticated since they first launched towards the end of the twentieth century. When they first appeared on the scene, search engines weren’t able to do much more than on, well, simply search websites for the keywords that at the user input. Search engines have grown considerably more sophisticated since the first launched towards the end of the 20th century. When they first appeared on the scene, search engines weren’t able to do much more than, well, simply search websites for the keywords the user inputted. While it might appear to the layman that this is exactly how search engines work today, modern search engines actually go far beyond simple keywords and use a variety of data points in order to accomplish their task.

Semantic searching refers to the ability of search engines to look beyond the raw text in front of them and to consider what the ultimate intent behind those words is.

For example, if you were to ask a human: “What is your favorite animal?” And then follow this up with the question: “What is its natural habitat?”, it is obvious what the word ‘it’ is referring to in the latter question. For humans this is easy, but computers have traditionally found it difficult to ascribe meaning to words beyond the dictionary definitions.

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Prior to 2013, search engines were simply unable to assess the wider context of a search query. However, since the introduction of semantic searching, Google and other search engine providers have been able to incorporate other data points into their responses.

In order to provide a response to a search query today, Google will consider things like the use of search history, their geographical location, how their search compares to that of other similar uses, and any local and regional variations in the spelling or meaning of words.

But how exactly does semantic searching impact you, the website owner? So far, everything we’ve discussed occurs under the hood at Google. However, the rise of semantic searching has bought with it numerous opportunities for businesses to enhance their SEO performance and drive up traffic like never before. Let’s take a look at some of the key ways that semantic searching and SEO play into one another.

Voice Searching

Trying to use voice commands with a smartphone even a decade ago was a fool’s errand. It has taken some time, but modern smartphones are now equipped with high-quality microphones capable of capturing crystal-clear audio. Meanwhile, Google and other software providers now have access to advanced algorithms that are able to accurately transcribe audio into text.

So, while things like dictation and voice searching have been around for some time, it is only relatively recently that the technology in consumer-level devices has been good enough to utilize these features properly. The rise of people using voice search has been a huge motivating factor in the development of semantic search capabilities. Optimizing for voice search requires a very different approach to traditional SEO.

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When you are optimizing a page for semantic searching, ask yourself what query a user might say, not just type into the search box, in order to bring them to the page in question. Create content that provides a clear and concise answer to this query, and you will quickly find yourself among the top results for voice searches.

Focus On Topics Not Keywords

While keywords have traditionally been absolutely fundamental to the way that search engines work, the way that users interact with them, and the way that websites and businesses optimize their content for them, this paradigm has been shifting rapidly in recent years.

Back when search engines were working with dictionary definitions of words and little else, it made perfect sense for both search engines and users to focus their attention on individual keywords. But now that semantic searching is the new king, keywords are only one small part of the equation when fetching results.

Instead of focusing on creating content relevant to specific keywords, it is now much more fruitful to focus on creating content that speaks to the wider topic. For example, if you run a website for gamers then instead of producing a bunch of different reviews for strategy games, why not create an ultimate guide to strategy games that encompasses the whole genre? This enables you to take on multiple different topics simultaneously and enables you to pack more value for each user into your content.

Intent Is The New Priority

Search engines today or much more concerned with why a user is searching rather than what exactly they are searching for. As part of your routine search engine optimization strategizing, you should be looking at the kinds of search terms and queries that are leading people to your website. Understanding your users’ intentions is vital for optimizing for semantic searches.

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For example, if lots of users are making it to your website because they are searching for things like “Android vs iPhone battery life” or “android iOS app store comparison”, it is clear that the user’s intention is to compare smartphones.

Similarly, if the user is searching for “where to buy an iPhone”, or “best deals for Android phones”, then their intention is not to compare smartphones but to purchase a smartphone.

Once you understand how to infer your users’ intent from their search queries, you can then start to produce content that targets their intentions instead of specific keywords. Not only this, but you can be a lot smarter about what older content you direct users to. Don’t just direct them to other content that is tagged with the same keywords – direct them to content that will help them fulfill their intention.

Semantic searching is more than just the latest trend in SEO – it represents a dramatic shifting of the foundations that search engines today are built upon. As time goes on, individual keywords are becoming less important while user intentions are gaining prominence. As the amount of data available to Google about individual searchers grows, so too do the possibilities for more powerful semantic searches.