What is Semantic SEO and How it Will Help Voice Search

The tools by which we optimize our search engine marketing have been steadily evolving.

We’ve moved from trends such as keyword stuffing to backlink building, quality content is now king of the SEO world. Once again, we’re building a new understanding of SEO, one that goes beyond just keywords and looks at the meaning behind them.

Search engines are learning to look behind individual search phrases and queries, finding results that don’t precisely match the terms used but still understand the intent of the user.

Voice Search Semantic SEO is becoming the new way to make sure your site isn’t overlooked, even when its keywords aren’t specifically targeted.

What is Semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO is all about optimizing your site and content around particular topics versus keywords.

It means inspecting a searcher’s intent that might lead them to your site, the circumstances in which they submit a search query and how different phrases and searches relate to one another.

Semantic SEO is also playing a larger role in voice search, ensuring that your content can be found even when search engine users aren’t likely to vocally input the same queries as they would if they were typing.

Why Semantic SEO is Important

The need for semantic SEO has arrived thanks to the rise of semantic search, primarily driven by Google’s ever-evolving algorithms.

Previously, SEO predominantly focused on what the content was, influenced mostly by keywords and backlinking. Black hat SEO agencies easily gamed this system relying on tactics such as keyword stuffing and link farming from low authority websites.

These techniques don’t mesh well with Google’s intention, which is to deliver search results based on what users are looking for. These techniques became less effective in 2011, when Google updated its algorithm to focus on website trustworthiness.

Keyword stuffing became targeted as a mark of low trustworthiness, and the authority of sites where you earned backlinks became even more important.

In 2013, there was a need for SEO agencies and website owners to create quality, relevant content by linking to reliable sites and resources. That’s when Hummingbird was released, which switched the focus from trustworthiness to search intent.

Now, the questions that users are trying to answer are more important than ever.

Hummingbird changed how SEO works, and that impact has been felt in the world of voice search, with mobile devices taking a large share of search queries and many users searching by asking specific questions versus typing keywords.

Google has doubled down on this new approach on user intent with RankBrain, a machine learning system that is constantly monitoring and analyzing search results. RankBrain sees which pages users are visiting and which are answering their questions so it can find pages with similar content.

This means that one page can rank just as high as another at the end of a certain query just by having similar value, even if they share no keywords.

Google is now better equipped to return results that answer user queries, even if they share no exact words from the text of the query itself. To do this, it looks beyond the query, focusing on global user search history, location and spelling variations.

Finding Your Voice

Semantic SEO voice search has to address the factors leading to this focus on user intent. One of those focuses is undeniably the rise of voice search.

Users of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, not to mention digital assistant devices, are relying more on voice commands.

You may have noticed that high-ranking content has become more conversational and more likely to get to the point of the page sooner. There’s no more waiting until after the fold to give up the goods, and this is thanks to voice search.

Front-loading the value of your content isn’t the only way to reign supreme in a world where semantic search is making vocal queries important.

Get Conversational

Compared to typing out search queries, voice search users are likely to speak in longer sentences because it’s less effort than typing it out.

Their queries aren’t just going to be long-tail keywords, they will be complete questions. You need to think about content titles, topics, and writing styles that match that conversational queries.

Nowadays, more sites are creating content specifically designed to address the most common questions their visitors have, and that’s the content that works well in a semantic search world.

Fight for Featured Snippets

Search queries are likely to return results that completely answer a question or deliver the primary value of their content within the first paragraph or two.

The rest of the page is often left to elaborate on an already delivered answer, rather than teasing the answer bit by bit to keep users scrolling.

This is all thanks to the featured snippet, a text box that appears featured at the top of search query results. When voice searching, particularly with digital assistant software, it’s the featured snippet that will get top the billing any may be read aloud to the searcher.

Prioritizing the efficient delivery of data and information through value-packed paragraphs, Q&A formatting and lists can help.

Research User Intent, Not Just Keywords

Voice search users are more likely to ask complete questions or use longer sentences when looking for information and answers.

It’s hard to match conversational queries by matching the text completely, but thankfully that’s not the only aspect that matters. User intent is just as important.

Keywords still matter, so don’t give up on keyword research, but there are tools that help with “intent research”, allowing you to input keywords and topics.

These tools can return with questions that search engines users are asking for related to a keyword, and which content those users find most valuable based on their search results.

For instance, if someone searches for “cheap BMWs”, not only will Google return content matching those keywords, but content that might help them find cheap BMWs even if the content doesn’t use that precise language.

Make Sure Your Pages Stay Speedy and Mobile Friendly

You need to think about the context in which a search query is taking place, not just the content of the search itself. Consider what context are voice users likely to ask their questions in.

In most cases, it’s when they’re on the move or in a hurry. Google will offer priority to pages that load faster in voice search results.

SEO auditing tools can help you see whether your site is loading fast enough and suggest what you can do to speed it up. This might mean switching out hosted resources such as videos and photos that aren’t optimized to load quickly, changing your hosting options, and more.

Optimizing your website to mobile devices is more important than ever in a semantic search world.

Creating mobile versions of existing pages or switching them out for responsive designs that are built to load quickly and display effectively on smaller screens is already important for mobile SEO. That same concept is even more vital for a world where voice searches are common.

Why are More Users Relying on Voice Commands?

As with all changes to SEO and digital marketing, it’s the improvement of technology that’s driving the latest change.

Voice recognition software is becoming more accurate and versatile, with the ability to recognize words regardless of accent, tone and background noise. Users are seeing the benefits of voice commands for search.

Voice search allows users to multitask while searching, helps them get results faster than typing and empowers them to carry out searches on the go. It can help deliver a recipe even when a user is in the middle of getting ingredients set up.

More users are relying on voice commands in search engines, whether through their phones or digital assistant software such as Amazon Alexa.

The importance of optimizing your websites and content to voice searches will continue to grow, so the sooner you start, the easier it will be to keep up.

What Else Should You Focus on?

Optimizing your site and content to voice search users is one key to modern SEO success.

However, it’s not the only one. Here are other changes to prioritize and strategies that can help you adapt to them:

Topics, Not Keywords

Creating content around keywords is becoming less important compared to covering topics. “Ultimate Guides” and content more comprehensively covering a topic are becoming more valuable than pages covering different chunks of a topic.

Creating pillar pages can help you get the best of both worlds. These pages connect subtopic pages to a centralized page.

Intent Matters

Semantic search updates are driven by a need to deliver content that more accurately answers user queries. Google is doing better to understand user intent, and so should you.

Instead of creating content with a particular product name or topic as a keyword, create content that answers the questions they might have around that product or topic, such as how it compares to other products or how they might enjoy a certain service.

User Experience is More Vital than Ever

User satisfaction is becoming more important. This is measured by mobile optimization, page speed and navigation ease, along with user stats like bounce rate, click-through rate and how long each user spends on the site.

Focus on these factors and improve them with A/B testing and SEO audits.

Don’t Throw Out the Old to Get With the New

Some strategies, such as keyword flooding and backlink spam, do not work as they used to and may even be penalized.

The switch to semantic SEO doesn’t mean that other past tactics are no longer effective. Finding a balance between the old and new will lead to the best results.

Don’t neglect your efforts of keyword research, improving on-page optimization and finding valuable backlinks and directories to hook up to your website. These all still factor into your rankings.

Think of semantic SEO as a way to keep your rankings competitive and to target the growing market of voice search users.

Start Your Voice Search Semantic SEO Strategy Today

Any marketing agency or business owner attempting to achieve true supremacy in the search world must follow the example as set by Google (and other search engines).

That means a heavy focus on user intent, switching from keywords to topics and optimizing your pages for voice search users.

The importance of semantic SEO strategies compared to others will continue to rise, as Google’s updates show a growing focus on answering user intent even without keyword matches.

Keep the above tips in mind and remember your website needs to appeal to both the search engine and your users to really work. As semantic search evolves, so to will semantic SEO.

Keep coming back to our blog for the latest updates and tips!