The way we search the web has gotten more sophisticated. Sure, we still use keywords to try and piece together ideas in order to find what we’re looking for. But more often than not, we already know what we’re looking for; it’s the right answer we need.
When Google released Hummingbird in 2013, they put user intent ahead of everything to improve search engine results. Instead of finding the most relevant keywords, Google now finds the best content correlating to the user’s reason for searching. This put semantic search at the forefront, pushing keyword-only search into the background.
What’s “Semantic” Search?
“Semantics” is the brand of language concerned with the meaning of words. When Google adopted semantic search, it became less about recognizing a word and more about understanding the intended meaning. In simple terms, semantic search is the “process of typing something into a search engine and getting more results than just those that feature the exact keyword,” as stated in this Search Engine Journal article.
Semantic search isn’t about replacing keywords and phrases with synonyms (although that’s a small part of it, as utilizing synonyms helps in anticipating different users’ search queries). It’s about understanding what users need when they search.
With keyword-only search, if a user typed “vacations in Orlando,” Google would find results that included the phrase “vacations in Orlando.” Now, if a user types “vacations in Orlando,” Google recognizes the words “vacation” and “Orlando” and finds results for Disney World, Orlando restaurants, flights to Orlando International Airport, and more.
Why Is Semantic Search Important for SEO?
What makes semantic search so significant is that everything Google has done with its update has been for the benefit of users, not for the websites in the results. Because of this, websites are expected to stop using black-hat tactics to rank well and focus more on providing high-quality content that will benefit site visitors.
It’s okay to use keywords here and there, as that’s still a way search engines find your website. Just know that the overuse of those keywords will hurt your SEO. A better idea is to write content that’s centered on the reader. Who are they? What do they want? What kind of background did they come from? Thinking about these things will help you create content optimized for semantic search.
Remember: People don’t think the same, so they won’t search the same. Understanding what your site visitors need and how they’ll go about looking for it is what your content needs to anticipate. Only then will you reap the SEO benefits of semantic search.