Tiger Woods has just been reborn. No, I did not literally mean that Tiger Woods, the most dominant professional golfer if his generation, has just undergone the mythical process of reincarnation. No, what I mean to say is that 1,876 days since Tiger Woods last won a tournament, during which he was engulfed in an infidelity scandal, arrested for DUI and at one point being ranked 1,199th in the world, he is now back in the winner circle after winning the season-ending Tour Championships a couple days ago.
I didn’t share that tidbit just for fun; I used that as an example that words are malleable in nature. Depending on context, the words they’re paired with and the reader itself, a single word can have a multitude of different meanings. For SEO services and marketers, this relation between words and their meaning(s) is explored in semantics. Given how their business is directly involved with queries and keywords, understanding the concept of semantic and how they work on search engines is essential.
Demystifying the concept of semantics
Now, the concept of semantics itself can be somewhat philosophical but in the interest of keeping this discussion grounded, I’m going to strictly limit myself to the concept of semantics within linguistic. As I’ve stated before, words are malleable. Used correctly, they can convey ham-fisted truths as well as they can convey subtle nuances, which makes them all the more beautiful. What’s also interesting that with time, the original meaning of a word can be eventually lost as well.
Here’s an interesting example, the word decimate now means to eradicate completely or almost completely. In its original meaning however, the word decimate means to eradicate one-tenth of a particular group, derived from the Latin word decem, meaning ten. Given their malleable and evolving nature of words, semantics as a field of study can be an important tool in deciphering how words can be used in a particular era.
As we all know, search engines revolve mainly around words. Since the early 2010s, search engines have progressed further and further into becoming more human. In 2013, Google announced an algorithm update dubbed “Hummingbird” that aims to subtly revolutionize how their search engine works. Above all, the Hummingbird update directly incorporates natural language processing (NLP) and the concept of semantic search into their algorithm.
Semantic and search engines
When search engines were first developed, how they process search queries is rather simple. They look at the words from those queries and simply look for webpages that include those keywords. The problem with this is that if you use an actual question as your query, say “who is Bowsette?”, then there’s a chance that the Google of two decades ago will show pages where that question is asked, instead of where the answer can be found.
The Google of today however is drastically more sophisticated than that. Using a combination of artificial intelligence and natural language processing, Google look at each words in the above query example, try to divulge their meaning based on the individual words and the combination as a whole and try to guess the searcher’s intent based on that query. The intention in this case is to figure out who Bowsette is, which according to Know Your Meme is an “anthropomorphised genderbend version of the Super Mario villain Bowser caused by the effects of the Super Crown power up”. It’s a bit of a long story.
Anyway, the main point in this discussion is the concept of searcher’s intent. Search engines are now no longer a simple matching game, pairing up keywords with webpages simply by association. They’re now smart enough to delve into what the searchers are looking for when the use a particular query and looks up webpages that they think include those answers or better yet, try to answer those questions themselves if the query is simple enough.
What does semantics for SEO?
If your SEO strategy has been mostly above board, in that you’re not just simply focusing on keywords, you should be okay. You should however consider using more natural language, since it is after all called natural language processing. Using conversational language helps as well as taking time to consider typical questions relating your business instead of the more vaguely defined keywords.
Another piece of advice is to properly make use of the technical aspects of SEO. Proper use of titles and metadata can make it easier for search engine crawlers to identify the context of your webpage. This should be especially helpful when the keywords you’re optimizing for are somewhat ambiguous. Schema, a technique used to structure your data and having a good site structure can also help search engines identify and categorize your website’s content.