What is Semantic SEO?
Semantic SEO is a way of making website content more informative, in-depth and meaningful. It provides context for machines such as Google’s crawlers, and helps real users get to the information they need, often before they realise they need it.
Semantic SEO is about answering the user’s first question (that they searched for), but also anticipating follow-up questions and answering those too.
By doing this, the user journey is easier to navigate and saves them time. This has a knock-on effect for you as the website owner because if Google provides you with a higher ranking, you’ll receive more traffic, and users are more likely to trust your content and then buy from you.
How Search Engines Work
To understand Semantic SEO, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of how Google and other search engines function.
In the early days of SEO, search engines were very literal. That means, if you searched shops York, it would look for websites that mentioned that exact phrase the most times, regardless of how helpful the content was. That means SEO often consisted of keyword stuffing, a practice that is now considered Black Hat SEO and is accordingly penalised.
Fast forward to now, and several major upgrades later, and search engines are more adept at understanding the overall topic of the page. They don’t just take into consideration the number of mentions of a specific keyword, but also look at similar keywords, related keywords and synonyms, as well as the overall theme of a website.
Topics vs Keywords
A keyword is any word or phrase relating to a subject, and is often used when searching on Google, Bing, or others. A keyword is what users are actually searching for.
A topic (also known as a keyword cluster), on the other hand, is based on many keywords around a certain subject. A topic is what users are searching about.
A large part of Semantic SEO is to do with building content around topics rather than individual keywords.
So what does this mean in practice?
Because we no longer have to use repeated keywords to help search engines understand what our websites are about, we can write content that is much more natural, expressive, interesting and useful. And we don’t have to worry as much about shoehorning in grammatically incorrect phrases or repeating ourselves. Google will take a much broader look at the page and the site and use its knowledge of user behaviour to determine how relevant the page is to the search.
Remember that keywords are still an important part of SEO, it’s just how they are used that has changed.
Implementing Semantic SEO on your Website
There are many areas you can look at using Semantic SEO on your website. If you’ve already done some SEO work, you may even recognise and have implemented some of these practices.
As the name suggests, Semantic SEO is based on understanding the intention behind a user’s search. Google interprets this already through a mixture of machine learning, the Knowledge Graph, user search history, and a number of other factors.
Your job is to align your content with user intention so that Google and other search engines can match your webpage to the search.
If a user searches “best laptop for teenagers”, what are they looking for? Do they want a single product presented to them? Or do they want to see a list of options, with comparative information about the pros and cons of each?
You can make use of Google’s database to discover user intention. After you’ve done some keyword research, open an incognito window in your browser and search one of your target phrases. What kind of results come up? If Google is showing lots of sites comparing laptops, then chances are that this is the intention behind the search. You would be better writing an article comparing laptops than you would targeting a single product page to that search.
In fact, this search shows a focus on university students in the results, so those looking for laptops for teenagers are more specifically looking for laptops for university students. That’s useful information to have when writing your copy.
Because semantic SEO is about anticipating future questions, topical depth is vital. If you’re just answering the first question, your user then has to go back to search to find more information – probably from a competing website.
By expanding your content, you can provide more information about the topic. Apart from keeping a user on your site for longer, doing so demonstrates your expertise, builds trust, and moves a user closer to a purchase.
Topical depth can be done in two ways: by including all content on one page, or by linking to separate pages that cover a sub-topic or related topic in more depth. Which you use will depend on your audience, the complexity of your subject, and the relevance of the content to the topic.
When choosing whether to add some information to the same page or to link to another page, ask yourself:
- Does the extra information detract from your main subject?
- Are you going off on a tangent?
If you answer yes to either of these questions, create a separate page and link to it.
To begin writing in-depth content, start with a keyword related to your topic and enter it into a site such as Also Asked. This will provide you with other searches related to the same topic. Optimise your page to include these other topics, too, so that you answer any follow-up or parallel questions a user is likely to have.
The search “best laptop for teenagers” is quite a broad one. And as a user learns more information, the questions will get more focused. They’ve read some reviews that talk about CPU and screen resolution, but perhaps they don’t fully understand what those mean. So next they’ll want those questions answered. Or maybe they discover different laptops work better for different activities, so why not highlight those that are best for gaming, work, or streaming? Once you start exploring a subject, you’ll find plenty of further questions to address.
The balance with topical depth is making sure you offer just the right amount of information. Too much and you might overwhelm your user, too little and they’ll go elsewhere for their answers. Consider the audience you’re speaking to and what would be most beneficial to them.
Synonyms and Related Terms
As we’ve discussed, keywords are still important to Semantic SEO, even if Google isn’t looking for exact matches. It’s also because of this that you should look at alternative ways of phrasing a question.
Someone looking for “best laptop for teenagers” may instead search “best laptop for students”, “top laptops for teens” or “best laptops for gaming”. All these searches may require similar information, but they questions are all phrased slightly differently.
Using part-matches and additional phrases can both help Google recognise your page topic across a broad spectrum of related searches, and provide a guide or structure for writing your content.
You can also use related terms to break your content into sections through the use of headers. This helps with readability and structure.
Semantic HTML Tags
Unless you understand HTML, this will be work for your developer.
In very basic terms, you website is split into containers called divs. They include items such as the header (which holds information such as a menu and logo), body (your main content) and footer (includes other useful information such as contact details and secondary menu items).
Divs are created in HTML by putting content between two tags: <div>Your Content</div>.
However, the <div> tags don’t tell Google anything about the content. It doesn’t know which div is the header and which is the footer. Some semantic HTML tags can instead be used in the same way as <div> tags to identify more clearly what content is. Some include:
Other semantic tags focus less on structure and more on content, and help to highlight important sections of your main content such as headings, sub-headings and lists. For example:
- <ul> (bulleted list)
- <ol> (numbered list)
If you have a site such as WordPress, good themes will automatically use some semantic tags, and plugins such as Yoast can add more, though not all. Your developer will be able to check that these are in place and add them if not.
Similar to semantic HTML tags, structured data helps search engines understand and contextualise your content. It classifies different types of content so that Google can display it in more relevant searches, resulting in higher click-through rates.
Structured data can be used to identify content such as FAQs, recipes, review snippets, video and subscription content.
Again, this is something that a developer will need to implement on your behalf, unless you have a solid understanding of editing website code. Plugins such as Yoast can help implement some structured data on WordPress sites without requiring coding knowledge.
Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages
Topics aren’t linear, so covering everything about one large topic on a single page of your website is impractical. Instead, you can write in-depth pieces on many sub-topics then create a pillar page that clusters all your topics together.
A pillar page is something like a menu, but focused around one specific subject. It’s a single page on your website that brings several related articles together to create a topic cluster. By creating one of these pillar pages, you provide your users with a centralised space where they can jump into either a specific section of a topic, or gradually explore the whole in depth.
Using a pillar page to create a topic cluster allows you to provide detailed content while preventing overwhelm. It aids navigation and makes it easier for users to find the information they need.
Instead of the traditional SEO strategy of focusing on single keywords, semantic SEO focuses on groups of related keywords. It improves user experience by anticipating their needs and answering questions in-depth. Semantic SEO practices focus on creating information-rich pages, linking related pages within your website, and understanding user intention and buyer journeys.