If you’ve searched for something on Google recently, you may have noticed that Google is eager to help you out, even before you even click on any search result.
For example, a March 2018 search for the term “universities in singapore” brings up:
- a scrolling list of universities (and for some reason, polytechnics) located in Singapore
- organic search results, the topmost being a list of universities in Singapore from Wikipedia,
- a Google Knowledge Graph box on the right with information from the Wikipedia page for Singapore,
- and some recent news articles about a new course in Singapore universities.
What is Semantic SEO?
Machines such as Google’s search engine are now intelligent enough to understand your search intent. In this case, by searching for “universities in singapore” and not “best university offering statistics degrees in singapore”, you probably are looking for a list of Singapore universities to browse through, and not focused on any particular one just yet.
This is why it’s a good idea to take a semantic approach to your SEO efforts. Semantic SEO techniques help search engines use artificial intelligence to understand the searcher’s intent, and match it to an appropriate website. Google no longer just wants to give you results that contain your search query’s words in the exact order you typed.
Optimising your content for semantic search means to create topic-driven content responding to search phrases, and help Google understand the relationship among words in a search query.
In short, semantic SEO means to optimise your website for the actual intent of users. Semantic SEO writing answers their topmost questions, and subsequent questions framed in contextual search queries. This gives your content topical depth and makes it both readable by machines and useful to humans.
How does Google provide us with semantically related search results?
Google enhances its organic results with information useful to you by getting information from its Knowledge Graph. Google’s Knowledge Graph is a database that gathers information from various authoritative sources. This information is in turn presented in boxes on the right side and sometimes above a user’s organic search results in order to enhance them.
This means that the top few search results — not just the top 10 — matter the most. And even if your site makes it to the top, you may still be competing for traffic with Google’s Knowledge Graph information. (For this particular search query “universities in singapore”, congratulations to NUS– the others might wish to catch up!)
With this new approach to climbing the SERPs, how can Singapore advertisers and businesses rank high organically?
3 Approaches To Semantic SEO
1. Rank for long-tail semantic searches
A semantic search is a web search query that generates meaningful search results for the user, even if the search results contain none of the words typed into the search bar. Google’s algorithm makes use of artificial intelligence to understand your search intent, so that the search engine understands the relationship between the words you use and what your entire search query means.
It’s easier for Google to understand what you are truly looking for if you type in a long-tail search query, rather than a single-word one. In fact, the advent of voice search is making long-tail search queries more and more common.
For example, if you type in “what is nus” from a UK IP address, you will get the following organic search results and Knowledge Graph results:
As the abbreviation NUS is more well known as the National Union of Students in the UK, information about the National University of Singapore doesn’t take up much space on the search results page, though it is suggested under “people also search for” as an option.
However, this search generates a list of related questions that “people also ask”. If you expand these questions to reveal the answers, you will see links to the answers from a variety of websites that you can click through.
This means that if you include answers to long-tail search queries related to your organisation on its website, even if these queries do not contain your organisation’s name, you may get similar chances to rank. The exact keyword becomes less important than the relevance of your content and organisation to the topic in the semantic web.
Conversely, if you search for “what is nus” while located in Singapore with a Singapore IP, you get results that are highly specific to the Singapore university:
Here, Google knows exactly which organisation you are probably thinking of, since you are searching from Singapore. Multiple nus.edu.sg domain webpages show up on the rankings here.
So if you are a Singapore advertiser, you definitely want to rank for your brand name or brand name abbreviation if you are targeting a local audience, as knowledge graph information is more limited for such search result pages.
However, you might also want to keep in mind “people also ask” questions that are relevant to your company name in order to squeeze into the top rankings.
How about ranking for shorter search terms?
When you search for shorter search terms, you may find that Google offers you way more Knowledge Graph information. This information competes even harder for attention with the top 10 search results on the search engine result page, compared to a longer search query.
For example, when we Google the one-word search query “Singapore”, we see the following pieces of information beside the search results:
- the top three news stories about Singapore,
- a summary of basic information about Singapore,
- a link to a Google-hosted Singapore travel guide and Singapore hotel prices,
- and suggestions for things to do in the country.
When you click on a link and return to the search results page, you will even see that the search listing you clicked on has now expanded to show related searches.
It’s as if Google is seeing you, a new arrival lost and blur at Changi Airport, and rushing up to you with a handful of tourist flyers and maps. “Can I help you? Do you want to know the history of our island nation? Can I bring you to a host of attractions and tourist magnets? Or if you only have a few days in Singapore, I can also offer you an itinerary! Oh, and here’s today’s newspaper! Let me help you in all the ways!”
Since the single word “singapore” may point to a wider range of search intent than the longer term “universities in singapore”, Google seems to be offering more guesses of its own accord to help the user.
Google’s Knowledge Graph may reduce the likelihood of people clicking on your website in a search listing, but also points clearly to what you should do to rank high on Google: answer users’ long-tail search queries for better opportunities to rank.
2. Get Your Webpage Into SERP Position Zero
A featured snippet is a box on top of all of Google’s organic search results that takes information on websites to better help people find what they are looking for, especially if they are searching on a mobile device or performing a voice search.
We call this Search Engine Results Page Position Zero, or SERP Position #0. This position on the top of organic search results is like a penthouse with lots of floor space; you definitely want to climb the ranks and live here!
A featured snippet block on the top of a search results page presents a summary of an answer to the search query taken from a webpage, a link to the page, the page’s title, and URL. This is also known as the coveted “search engine result position zero”.
Aim for this result by researching long-tail keywords that have some search volume, and find ones which are relevant to your business but have few relevant search results among the top 10.
Then write content that answers the intent of these long-tail keywords that other publishers haven’t covered well.
3. Generate long-tail keywords and think of article titles and responses to them in your writing
You can find long-tail keywords from “people also ask” and “people also search for” phrases and sentences on search engine result pages themselves. There are many long-tail keyword generation tools such as LSIgraph, a long-tail keyword generator based on latent semantic indexing principles in search engines.
You’re not keyword-hunting in order to cover keywords, but rather to determine the contours of a topic and which ideas define the space that this topic occupies in your field.
Not all keyword generator results will be relevant to your company and to the topics you wish to rank for, so filter out the irrelevant ones that may be irrelevant to your organisation. For example, if you were writing about SG50 for a Singapore history website, leave out the keyword “sg50 promotions” and “sg50 2017” as you are not a discount listings site!
Go forth and explore your key industry topics, and become the master of your domain through and long-tail search query-driven writing.
And keep an eye on the changing SERPs as Google is adding more and more new features to assist searchers semantically day by day.