Are You Confused by Google Semantics? SEO Tips You Need.

Semantics is the future of SEO
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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 searchuses 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, 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.

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Author: Jeannette Paladino

Jeannette Paladino is a social media writer, blogger and project manager helping organizations to build brand awareness and engage employees as brand advocates on social media.

58 thoughts on “Are You Confused by Google Semantics? SEO Tips You Need.”

    1. Hi Munna,

      Google did stop showing “authorship” results in their search results and they don’t track data from content using rel=author markup any more.

      One of the reasons Google cited for doing that was they believed that Google Authorship did not provide value to their end users. They also stressed that they were committed to semantic search.

      From what I’ve been reading, it’s not the number of followers that we have that is measured. It’s more about whether or not our content fills the need of Google’s end users For example, Google’s Panda 4.1 algorithm focuses on quality content.

      A lot of bloggers that I know are turning to relationship building and forming collaborative communities. They’re also worrying less about organic search. At the same time, we all recognize that we need to be careful of both incoming and outgoing links.

      Thanks for letting us know that you found Jeannette’s post helpful. You’ve really got me thinking more on the importance of semantics. I’ll keep my eye out for more info on this topic for my Friday Finds series.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Did You Know Google Panda 4.1 Rewards Quality Content? #FridayFindsMy Profile

    1. Sachin,

      I agree with Jeannette that snippets are a key factor in SEO. Resources that I rely on, (, and, all have recent articles that confirm this.

      Google factors in snippets. A word of caution though is an article that was recently published on (creators of SEO PowerSuite). The post acknowledges that Google is now issuing a new type of manual penalty targeting rich snippets that they consider fake or spammy.

      You can find that article, (including a rich snippet checklist) here:
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Twitter, Content Marketing and Social Media ResourcesMy Profile

  1. Hi Jeannette and Sherryl,

    I added this excellent article to the site. It’s been getting some interesting comments over there, too. Just in case you want to drop in, here’s the link. (Sunday, who left a comment below, is one of the moderators over there.)

      1. Sherryl, I think I’ve been using Kingged about a year. The front page can seem a little cluttered, but it is actually easy to submit your own articles and those you find useful to others.

        Aside from having some impressive sharing going on over there, they have an active community that engages one another (and then comes out to support the sites whose articles they share). I’ve seen a number of folk both here and there, including Phil, Don, Sunday, Carol, Mi Muba …

        I tend to go over every few months or so.

  2. Hi Jeannette,
    This is a revealing post. I have heard about semantic search but never gotten a grasp of what it is and how it works.

    I am happy to have stumbled upon this post because it gives me an idea of what this all about.

    I now have a basic understanding on this topic and will build my knowledge further from this!
    I have shared this comment in where the post was left.

  3. Hi Jeannette and Sherryl,

    @Jeannette – Well written and the videos are “just enough.” Semantic search. Structured data markup. This is heavy stuff and I appreciate you breaking it down so we can grasp it better.

    The first time I really paid attention to structured data markup was at the beginning of this year. (I’m not saying I had, or have, a handle on it!) A client for whom I was doing a website redesign had begun incorporating SDM into their old site. The redesign called for switching over to a new responsive theme. We had major difficulties getting the pages and posts to display correctly wherever the markup was included.

    As I listened to the first video about the new JSON-LD format, I was reminded of those display issues and wonder whether it will resolve those types of issues. (I think they were using the microdata format.) As with any code that sits on top of (or is incorporated into) a theme’s code, if the theme or WordPress doesn’t recognize it and parse it properly, we (bloggers, webmasters) are left in a fix.

    To echo what you and some others said, I’m more interested in writing for readers than coding for Google, even though I understand that we have to pay some attention to SEO because as a discipline, it benefits both writers and searchers.

    Enough rambling! Thank you, Jeannette for a wonderful treatment of a difficult topic. Hats off to you Sherryl for introducing us to Jeannette. Looking forward to more from her! 🙂

    1. Hi Vernessa,

      Thanks for letting us know that you encountered issues when you switched an existing site (with structured data markup) to a new theme. In Leora’s comment, she mentioned “It’s fine if I am newly building a site, but if the site is already built, it would need more convincing.” I had been dragging my heels implementing structured data on my site. So, at this point, (after hearing from both of you), I’m not even thinking about implementing data markup until after I switch to a new theme.

      I’ve always just relied on really tweaking my meta-tag data and calling it a day. So far, it’s served me well. The verdicts not out and I’ll definitely keep an eye on where semantic search is heading but (like you and others have said) I write for my readers.

      This definitely is becoming a hot topic! I’m grateful to Jeannette for breaking it down so nicely. As Google continues updating algorithms and emphasizing quality content, I’ll keep my eyes open for more posts on this topic. I’m not promising anything right now but there could be a Friday Finds post on this in the future.

      Thanks for weighing in on this (and for guest blogging this week). Enjoy the rest of your weekend and I hope you have a great week ahead.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Security on My Mind: How To Successfully Evaluate and Protect Your Online Technology AssetsMy Profile

      1. Hi Sherryl,

        The owner of the site had an SEO guy who had already added the markup data before I started on the redesign. It was after importing the old articles into the new portion of the site (this was kinda complicated) that I noticed the display issues.

        It took some digging to find out the problem because the markup was only on certain pages and posts (never did understand why). Not only that, the markup was entertwined within the post, wrapped around a paragraph here, a phrase there. A real nightmare!

        This is why I wanted to highlight this issue here on this article — so others could have a bit of an idea of what might be involved, especially if they were to use the “microdata” format or if they were in the midst of doing major site changes.

        Just to be clear: I didn’t do anything with the structured data (except delete it so the pages could display properly). I figured the SEO guy could re-create it AFTER I finished my job. (OK, so that wasn’t the most elegant solution. Sheesh! LOL) I still don’t know any more about how to incorporate the structured markup than I did at the beginning of the year. 🙂

        1. Hi Vernessa,

          UGH! Sometimes trying to figure out what the person before you has done to a site can be a time consuming process. I agreed to take over an old HTML site for one of my clients. (She has four WordPress sites yet truly wants to maintain that old static site.) Every time I have to work on it, I dread it. It’s a nightmare to work with and I completely understand why the original webmaster decided to not maintain it anymore.

          Thanks for clarifying what you ended up doing. That’s helpful. Sometimes, an elegant solution isn’t necessary. 🙂

          I keep pushing structured markup to the background too. When I watched the “Knowledge Graph” video that Jeannette embedded, I can see how the markup works but I have yet to be motivated to start including it on my site. I do need to understand it more though (maybe next year).

  4. Hi Jeannette

    The criteria of Google to reward or punish a webiste is horrible for those who don’t understand it nor they want to get its know-how.

    In a frenzy to get higher ranks they just follow the set rules and forget the fact that Google is unbelievably dynamic in its each assessment.

    You explained the Google semantics in very simple terms and one can easily understand what is the real requirement of a search engine to do full justice with your each online creative effort.

    Thanks a lot for being as guest author at Sherryl blog and giving such a valuable input.
    Mi Muba recently posted..10 reasons you should not follow all popular blogs to earn moneyMy Profile

    1. Hi Mi,
      Too often, bloggers are punished by Google in spite of the fact that they’re not intentionally doing anything wrong. Since Google changes the rules so frequently, it’s very difficult to keep track of what we should and should not be doing. The fact that Google deindexed so many blogs this year is frightening.

      I agree that Jeannette did a wonderful job explaining semantics. Thanks for your feedback!
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Google Manual Web Spam Action or Algorithm Change?My Profile

  5. Hey Jeannette,

    I really love the fact that you simplified this subject for all of us to understand. Google Semantics is a big topic to cover. As a matter of fact I read a book about it this year and some information went over my head. But to get a better understanding of it, I wrote a couple of blogs about it. I wish I just went ahead and took your angle about it LOL… Thanks for the lesson!
    sherman smith recently posted..8 Simple Doable Tips To Instantly Get Better Traffic To Your BlogMy Profile

  6. Hi Jeannette,

    You’ve done a really good job of explaining how the changes happening inside Google are affecting both users and websites. Too often some focus on just the website and your article was really application and practical.

    For those who are familiar with my writings, I don’t put a lot of emphasis on SEO, but I also don’t ignore it. I think when we write for readers and keep in mind how they might search, and write great content that offers a person a reason to leave a comment and then offer the social signals of sharing makes a big difference.

    When I really started noticing a difference on Google was when other influential bloggers started including my quotes and links in their articles in a very natural, organic way.

    When all of those things cumulatively came together my search rankings really increased. But it was with the goal of connecting, sharing and creating relationships with influencers not gaming Google. I really believe that building organic community online is the key to a prosperous seo campaign. When Google changes, I don’t have to. I’m just not willing to follow when I can lead and be proactive.

    That’s how I’ve explained Google in simplistic terms when I speak or write: You must be proactive because Google is reactive to what you’re doing.

    Again, great post. Thanks for taking the time to draw the application!

    I hope you have an awesome week Jeannette.

    Great choice Sherryl for a guest contributor!!!!

    ~ Don Purdum
    Don Purdum recently posted..One Over the Top Idea To Help You Grow Your Business OnlineMy Profile

    1. Hi Don,
      I feel the same way as you do about SEO. I don’t obsess over it but at the same time it doesn’t make sense to ignore it.

      I think it’s when we turn our backs to Google (and all the news around their updates) that we run the risk of incurring their wrath. Just ask any blogger who found their sites deindexed earlier this year and you’ll hear the pain that they went through. Once you find yourself reacting to either a Google penalty or (even worse) a manual webspam action, it’s too late. Some bloggers never recover their traffic.

      I absolutely agree with Jeannette when she says “referred and direct traffic are more valuable than search results when so many of those visitors bounce right off because you weren’t what they were looking for”. I also totally agree with you when you said “building organic community online is the key to a prosperous seo campaign”.

      Funny thing is, organic search traffic had been my top source of traffic for years. It significantly out ranked both my direct and referral traffic. In the last few months, that has stopped. The last time I checked, direct traffic was in my number one spot followed by referral. I am thrilled!

      The other thing to note is that my organic search traffic did not drop. So, the increases in the other two sources was just the cherry on top. 🙂 I think the lesson to be learned here is to pay attention to SEO. Then, develop good habits so that you can incorporate SEO quickly and easily while focusing on writing for your readers. You’re proof of that!

      Thanks so much for weighing in on this. I’m glad you enjoyed Jeannette’s article. I know she worked really hard on it and it shows. I hope everyone here has an awesome week!
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Google Manual Web Spam Action or Algorithm Change?My Profile

      1. Hi Sherryl,

        I just love your replies!!!!! It’s nice to be connected to such open minded but yet like minded people such as yourself and Jeannette.

        Congratulations on all your traffic success. With only a four month old blog, I have a little ways to go, but I’m happy with the results I’m getting thus far. I’m sure I will continue to learn from you and those you bring on board as guest bloggers.

        Jeannette did an amazing job and she represented you extremely well!!!!! Good for her and for you!

        I hope you have a great finish to your week.

        ~ Don
        Don Purdum recently posted..One Over the Top Idea To Help You Grow Your Business OnlineMy Profile

        1. Hi Don,

          Thanks for the kind words! I love your replies too. The conversations that we have online are important part of our community building.

          You’re doing extremely well with your blog. When my blog was four months old, it was a ghost town. 🙂

          I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend.

        1. Thanks Jeannette. I hope the recent hiatus that I took over the last month didn’t hurt me. (You and many others are aware that due to my MIL’s health, I wasn’t blogging or commenting as much as usual.) Even if I notice a set-back, I’m staying the course though. (BTW – She came home yesterday. Woo! Hoo!)

  7. Hi Jeannette,

    Thanks for sharing this information… 🙂

    And YES you are absolutely right about it… Google is trying to find out more and more ways to understand the inner meaning of our content and schema markup is the 1st step towards that idea…


    Thanks for having Jeannette with all of us… 🙂


    1. Hi Karmakar,

      Thanks for letting me know that you found Jeannette’s article interesting. SEO is one of my favorite blog topics. Jeannette did a great job researching this topic for us and sharing resources that help to make it easier to understand.

      Even if someone doesn’t feel comfortable adding code to our sites, there are plugins available and at the very least, everyone should be entering meta tag descriptions for their posts and images. It’s important.

      We also need to be paying close attention to our titles. One of the simplest things that we can do is to occasionally search for our posts and see how/if they’re returning in the search results. That can be very enlightening.

      Great to see you here! Thanks for taking the time to join the conversation.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Google Manual Web Spam Actions and Penalties #FridayFindsMy Profile

  8. Hi ladies. What a great post. I particularly love the colourful design in the opening image. That is what initially caught my eye this morning as I was reading through my Networked Blogs email.

    I’ve been picking up tips and there from everyone on how to improve my SEO and I’m still trying to understand all of the little things that the algorithms look for.

    Thank you for the information about rich snippets. I’m going to try to improve mine when I write them. 🙂

    Have a great week ahead. I feel like I sometimes can’t keep up with the web! LOL but true..
    Lorraine Reguly recently posted..30+ Blogger-Sharks Spouting Oceans of KnowledgeMy Profile

    1. Hi Lorraine,
      It’s so nice to see you here. I’m glad that Jeannette’s post caught your eye and that you found it interesting.

      I know you followed (and participated) in our discussion about meta-tag descriptions on our posts and images (in the Bloggers Helping Bloggers group on LinkedIn). You may find this #FridayFinds article that I wrote about SERPs interesting. It includes a Matt Cutts video answering the question ““What criteria does Google use to change the title it shows in the SERPs depending on the query?”

      Also, did you know that the recommended length of a title (for your blog post) used to be up to 70 characters long? Now, (thanks to Google design changes), those titles may be truncated in the search results. (Recently, Dr. Peter J. Meyers recommended up to 55 characters now in his article on
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Google Website Signals SERPs and Title Tags #FridayFindsMy Profile

      1. Looks like your site is truncating your comments, Sherryl. But I read it in its entirety in my email.

        Check your comment – visually, on this page! You will see it’s cut off.

        Thanks for the tips. Oh, and yes, the ideal title length is now 40-55 characters. I knew this already, but don’t always follow it because Google still reads all the words in the title. 🙂
        Lorraine Reguly recently posted..30+ Blogger-Sharks Spouting Oceans of KnowledgeMy Profile

        1. Thanks for letting me know Lorraine. I had HTML code around the word “title” in the 2nd paragraph and (obviously) my theme didn’t like it. You know, a little voice in my head questioned inserting those characters as I wrote my reply but I ignored it. 🙂 When will I learn? LOL

  9. Hi Jeannette,

    Thanks for helping Sherryl out and providing us all with some great information in the meantime.

    Now if you can believe this, I was familiar with all of these terms and what the future holds as far as Google is concerned.

    Isn’t it funny that all of us who quit worrying about Google some time back is now having Google catching up with us! That we’ve been writing for our audience all this time and now Google is realizing that people are actually searching for even more specific information so they better do something to help us all. I know they still have a long way to go but at least that’s the direction they’re heading. I’m so happy about that myself.

    I appreciate your explanation of this, great share and hope both you ladies have a really awesome week.

    Adrienne recently posted..Announcement At AdrienneSmithnetMy Profile

    1. Adrienne — I agree. I stopped worrying about pleasing Google, too, because I feel referred and direct traffic is so much more important to my business. Obviously, Google is still important and I do think they are starting to get it right. Neil Patel just wrote a post today in which he said that the vast majority of his traffic comes from “long tail” words, which are phrases and not keywords. This coming from an SEO expert.
      Jeannette Paladino recently posted..Why WPBeginner is the Go-To Site for All Things WordPressMy Profile

    2. Hi Adrienne,

      Jeannette and I emailed each other this summer and the idea came up for her to guest post for me. When she offered to write about semantics, I jumped at it!

      You know I’ve always been intrigued by SEO and it’s one of my favorite topics to blog about. Having said that, I looked at structured markup language a long time ago and it just didn’t resonate with me. Instead, I took my chances just trying to write content that my readers would enjoy (while still adding value).

      Having said that, I have always paid attention to meta-tags and I work really hard at writing meta-tag descriptions that will please both my readers and at the same time, satisfy the “bots”. So far, it seems to work. Whenever I’ve searched on one of my posts, Google has returned my description in the SERPs. That’s good enough for me. (I too would rather write for my readers and build relationships than cater to the big “G”.)

      So, Google’s catching up? I like that! 🙂 I hope you have an awesome week ahead too Adrienne!

  10. Hi Jeannette, and welcome to Sherryl’s blog 🙂

    This was an interesting and informative post indeed 🙂

    I often see people get confused these terms, and it took me a while to understand them too, which I did, thanks to Ana Hoffman’s posts and a few others I visit. I think they are so important for bloggers.

    I agree that one no longer knows what really works or doesn’t work for Google – because it is forever changing. What really works for me, personally speaking, is the relationships built with fellow bloggers over time, and that keeps me going. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead, both of you 🙂
    Harleena Singh recently posted..8 Action Tips For Guppy-Bloggers In An Ocean Of SharksMy Profile

    1. Hi Harleena,

      Google! Can’t live with them and can’t live without them! (Don’t they say that about men too?) 🙂

      I just admitted to Leora that I’ve been really slack in paying attention to structured markup language (in spite of how many SEO bloggers tout the benefits). I’ve just always concentrated on optimizing my meta-tag descriptions for both my posts and my images. I’d rather spend my time building relationships too.

      The few times I’ve searched, Google has used my meta descriptions in the SERPs and up until I really made an effort to drive more traffic through referrals, organic search had been my #1 top source of traffic for years.

      So, awhile I will continue incorporating solid SEO practices on my blog, I still am not committing to use structured markup. (Maybe I should be paying more attention to it but at this point, I don’t plan on it.) I do know that since Jeannette wrote this (awesome) post for me that I do need to research it some more.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Who Do You Listen to When Influential Bloggers Don’t Agree? #FridayFindsMy Profile

  11. Great post on the basics of both of these! I will have to read more technical posts on both topics, but they are quite relevant. I just hope Google doesn’t change it’s mind the way they did with Authorship – I remember spending time convincing clients Google Authorship is important. Guess what? Now it most certainly isn’t.
    Leora recently posted..Image File Naming: Not Fred or EsmereldaMy Profile

        1. Hi Leora,
          I have to confess. I’ve been dragging my feet on using structured data markup. I’ve always just relied on trying to write great meta-tag descriptions for my posts and my images. So far, this seems to work for me. My organic Google search traffic has always been steadily increasing and up until a few months ago, had been my top traffic source.

          Now, some may say that with the latest algorithms, maybe I should pay more attention to semantics but my overall traffic is still growing (and my direct traffic sky rocketed last month). Since, I’ve been strategically trying to generate more referral traffic (mainly through Triberr and Twitter), I take that as a good sign. I could go back and take a closer look at my analytics but I’m a little overwhelmed now and I don’t believe that would be the best use of my time.

          The point I’m trying to get to is that I’m relieved to see that you recommend building semantics into new sites but you’re not rushing to change what you’ve already done on existing sites. (On the other hand, this is a topic that I hope to research more in the future.)

  12. Makes perfect sense that Google has now moved into semantic search. Managed to add a plug-in called Rich Snippets but removed it the other day becasue it added a box under my articles and it was too much.

    Sherryl and Jeannette, I’m delighted that you two are now cooperating. What a pleasant surprise to find an guest post by you Jeannette on Sherryl’s blog.
    Catarina recently posted..Interested in exporting to Southeast Asia?My Profile

    1. Hi Catarina,
      I was very pleased when Jeanette agreed to guest post here. We chat back and forth quite a bit via email but neither of us have blogged for each other before. (It’s a time thing.)

      We first started talking about Jeannette authoring an article for me and she suggested writing abut semantics. I knew that would be a good fit here because I blog about SEO a lot and hadn’t really addressed it. It’s definitely a topic that I need to explore.

      Thanks to Jeannette for all her research!

    1. You are very welcome Jeannette. Thank you! SEO is on of my favorite topics to explore here and I appreciate it that you broke this down for my readers. The videos were excellent choices too. I hope to see you back here as a guest blogger in the future.

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