Do you feel like I do, that search Engine Optimization (SEO) has always been a bit of a mystery? For years, we’ve been taught that keywords, quality backlinks and “great” content will drive traffic to your site.
But Google seems to be constantly changing the rules on us. Now we need to learn more about semantics. Semantic search isn’t new; it’s just become more important.
This is a complex topic, but in this post I’ll briefly define semantic search and its key elements: structured data markup and rich snippets.
What is Semantic Search?
In simple terms, semantic search “uses machine intelligence to determine the intended meaning of words so searches become more relevant.” Google and the other major search engines are trying to be more precise in delivering content that people really want.
As search has become essential to our lives, we have become better in defining our search terms. Instead of searching for the generic “French restaurants,” we might type in the more conversational “Looking for French nouveau cuisine on the west side of Manhattan.”
Blog and website owners must become acutely aware of the importance of phrasing and not just keywords because Google is moving away from keyword-based search and towards what is known as entity based search.
In entity search, Google takes into account the relationships between people, places and things to understand what web pages are talking about and what people are really searching for to provide better search results.
What is Structured Data Markup?
The major search engines have signed on to using schema.org, which provides a common vocabulary of “structured data” that webmasters can use to markup and optimize their sites for search.
According to Google, “Structured Data Markup Helper shows you how to update your site so that Google — and potentially other companies’ products (meaning search engines) — can understand the data it contains. Once Google understands the data on your site, your data can be presented more attractively and in new ways.”
One of these “new ways” is the Knowledge Graph that Google introduced in 2012. You’ve seen these boxes of information next to searches you’ve conducted but probably didn’t know what they were called.
If you are in the business of sponsoring events or conferences, then it’s important to understand how to markup your site for Google to gain more prominence for your events in a Knowledge box.
In the YouTube video below, Google’s Justin Boyan says that Google’s first source of information is from the event organizer’s own website. He explains how website owners can attract Google’s attention by adding structured data to their websites. Caveat: don’t attempt this unless you are comfortable in altering code in your website. It is best done by your webmaster.
What are Rich Snippets?
Rich snippets are another element of structured data. Snippets are the brief descriptions you see under each search result. This is the content you type into the Meta Description under your blog posts and each page on your website.
While Google will most often use your snippet, it won’t if it feels your description is stuffed with keywords or doesn’t capture the meaning of your post or page.
You can increase your chances of Google returning your site in a search query if you create a rich snippet by adding a few lines of code to the existing HTML that provides more information about the content on the page. Rich snippet types range from recipes, to products to events.
What does this all mean for the blogger who isn’t comfortable with altering or inserting code or doesn’t have a webmaster who can? It all goes back to content, of course. The irony is we’ve got to write for our readers, and not for search engines, by using a common vocabulary.
Let’s have a conversation with our readers and write the way our readers talk and enter search terms. They are the conduits to search engines. Of course, we need to include keywords, but they must flow organically in the conversation.
What are your readers looking for? What new information can you add to a reader’s knowledge? How can you simplify a complex topic?
Hopefully, I’ve succeeded in scanning the topic of semantics for you in this post. Please add your thoughts in the comment box and let me know if I’ve left out something important.