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7 Ways To Use Semantic SEO For Higher Rankings

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7 Ways To Use Semantic SEO For Higher Rankings


Over the years, search engines like Google have utilized semantic analysis to more deeply understand human language and provide users with more relevant search results.

For this reason, a single-keyword approach to SEO is no longer sufficient.

Instead, semantic SEO considers the deep learning and natural language processing algorithms that Google relies on.

Site owners who utilize semantic SEO strategies are more likely to build topical authority in their industry.

They can also more easily outperform competitors for important keywords in their niche.

What Is Semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO is the process of building more meaning and topical depth into web content.

By doing so, you help Google crawlers better understand your content.

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You also help them see it as high-quality and thus promote it more often in the SERPs.

Semantic SEO And Google

In the early days of SEO, Google’s ranking algorithm was far less advanced.

Crawlers simply looked for specific keywords on a page to understand meaning and relevance.

But we all know that there is a lot more that goes into understanding human language than simply the words we use.

Context, facial expressions, tone, and the paragraphs before and after our words, all impact their meaning.

This is why Google has strived to take a more human-like and semantic approach to understand and rank web content.

Some of the biggest turning points in this effort include:

  • Knowledge Graph: A large, sophisticated knowledge base used by Google that helps crawlers understand the relationships between particular entities and concepts.
  • Hummingbird: A 2013 algorithm update that helps Google better understand the meaning and context behind queries, decreasing the emphasis on singular keywords.
  • RankBrain: A 2015 machine learning algorithm that helps Google better interpret search intent and thus provide users with more relevant search results.

With these advancements, Google can look at a piece of content and understand not only the topic it covers, but the related subtopics, terms, and entities and how all of those various concepts interrelate.

How Semantic SEO Improves The Search Experience

Why so much emphasis on semantic SEO?

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Well, Google is always trying to make search better for users.

The reality is, searchers aren’t necessarily just looking for one specific answer when using Google; they are often trying to understand a given topic with more depth.

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For example, say a user types in the keyword phrase “what are backlinks“?

Most likely, they will have additional questions that arise after finding their answer, such as:

  • How do I get backlinks?
  • Where can I get backlinks?
  • How many backlinks do I need?
  • Can I buy backlinks?
  • What’s the difference between white hat and black hat links?
  • And others!

In terms of the search experience, it’s far better for the user to find a single piece of content that answers all of those related questions rather than separate pieces of content for each individual question.

Overall, semantic SEO improves the experience of search for users.

It allows them to get more in-depth information without having to repeatedly return back to the search bar.

Benefits Of Semantic SEO

Although semantic SEO strategies require more time and effort on the part of content teams, the benefits are significant.

  • More keyword rankings in organic search.
  • Improved content quality signals in the eyes of Google crawlers.
  • Stronger brand authority and expertise in the eyes of searchers.
  • Helping Google see your brand as its own entity with expertise in core topics.
  • Passage Ranking or People Also Ask features.
  • More opportunities for internal linking.
  • Keeping users on your website for longer instead of returning to search.

By creating semantically- and topically-rich content, site owners can see significant improvements in their overall SEO performance.

7 Semantic SEO Strategies For Higher Rankings

Semantic SEO encompasses multiple strategies that you may have already heard about or incorporated into your SEO campaigns.

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Combined together, they are all centered on improving topical depth and better conveying the meaning of web content.

1. Optimize For Keyword Clusters

Because Google isn’t reliant on just one keyword per page, your content team should be optimizing your web pages for multiple keywords in the same semantic cluster.

Keyword clusters are groups of similar keywords that share semantic relevance.

By optimizing for these keyword groupings, you can improve the total number of keywords your content ranks for and build more meaning into your content.

Here is an example of what keyword clustering looks like in content strategy:

Screenshot from Google Spreadsheets, February 2022

The reality is, Google already ranks our landing pages for multiple keywords anyway.

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Keyword clustering is all about leveraging Google’s strong semantic capabilities to improve the total number of keywords our content ranks for.

That means more opportunities for organic clicks.

2. Improve Topical Depth And Length Of Content

The most simple semantic SEO strategy is to increase the length of your web content by offering a more comprehensive exploration of your topic.

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Although content length is not an official ranking factor, longer content is more likely to display stronger semantic signals.

Also, several studies have shown the strong correlation between longer content and higher-ranking positions.

bar chart comparing content length and ranking positionImage from sweor.com, February 2022
But simply relying on keyword stuffing or repetition to improve content length is not going to prove effective.

Instead, the best way to increase the length of your web content is to be more specific, nuanced, and in-depth with the information you’re providing users about the primary topic.

3. Include Synonyms, Related Terms, Or LSI Keywords

With Google’s improved algorithms and NLP models, there is no need for users to stuff their content full of their keyword target in order to rank.

Thanks to semantic analysis, Google is smart enough to understand synonyms and related terms.

In the SEO community, these are also referred to as latent semantic indexing (LSI) terms.

Adding these terms to the content, as well as page titles, meta descriptions, h1-h6s, and image alt text can improve topical depth and semantic signals, while also making the content more readable and nuanced for searchers.

4. Answer People Also Ask Questions

Another way to improve the semantic depth of your content is to answer the common questions that users are asking in relation to your primary keyword.

example of people also ask questions in google searchScreenshot from Google, February 2022

According to a recent study of 2.5 million search queries, Google’s “People also ask” feature now shows up for 48.4% of all search queries, and often above position 1.

By answering those questions in your web page content, not only do you improve your semantic signals, you also give your page the opportunity to rank at the top of the SERPs.

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Web pages can show up for PAA questions even if their blue link result appears on page 2!

5. Add Structured Data

Although not often thought of as a semantic SEO strategy, structured data is all about directly conveying the meaning of content to Google crawlers.

Structured data makes clear the function, object, or description of the content.

For example, when you use the products schema on a product page, you immediately convey to Google a variety of important details.

That includes information like type, dimensions, color, size, etc.

Paired with other semantically relevant or topically rich content on your web page, the purpose and meaning of your web content is unambiguously clear to search engines.

6. Use Content Optimizer Tools

Content optimizer tools do the hard work of identifying all of the semantically-related terms for you.

They essentially provide the “cheat codes,” to improve topical depth.

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content optimizer tool that can help site owners improve semantic seo signalsScreenshot from SearchAtlas, February 2022

An SEO content writer could certainly investigate the content ranking on the first page to identify the important terms.

But content optimization software does the same work in a matter of seconds.

By adding those terms, topics, or questions onto the page, you improve topical depth and thus practice semantic SEO.

7. Build Out Topic Clusters On Your Website

Unlike keyword clusters, topic clusters are focused on more than just a single piece of content.

Topic clusters are groups of content pieces that are centered around a central topic.

For example, the keyword cluster pictured in strategy #1 is a part of a larger topic cluster focused on link building.

The various articles (each targeting their own keyword cluster) all link back to a primary “pillar page,” that is focused on the larger topic of link building.

example of a topic cluster content strategy outline in spreadsheetsScreenshot from Google Spreadsheets, February 2022

The goal of these topic clusters is threefold:

  • First, improve semantic SEO signals and meaning.
  • Second, improve the total number of keyword rankings.
  • And third, establish this website as an authority in “link building.”

The number of topic clusters on your website will depend on the products or services your brand offers.

Final Thoughts On Semantic SEO

Again, semantic SEO encompasses a variety of strategies and concepts, but it all centers on meaning, language, and search intent.

SEO experts can leverage semantic SEO strategies to highlight the semantic signals that Google algorithms are trained to identify.

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By doing so, Google will not only associate your website with a few keywords but several larger topics – and the thousands of keywords and search queries that are related to them.

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SEO

SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

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SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

The SEO industry will be forever changed with the loss of Bill Slawski, owner of SEO By The Sea, Director of Search at Go Fish Digital, educator, mentor, and friend.

Bill was a great many things to a lot of people. He has been a contributor here at Search Engine Journal since 2019, and a friend and mentor to many of us for decades more.

It’s not often you can say that someone has influenced and shaped an entire industry. But this is one of those times.

On May 19, 2022, the SEO industry learned that Bill Slawski had passed away.

The loss and sadness across our community were palpable.

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend
Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & FriendRemembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

A search patent expert, colleague and mentor to many, and a friend to many more, Bill influenced the lives of everyone in the search industry.

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If you hadn’t read one of the thousands of articles he wrote or contributed to, watched one of his interviews, attended one of his talks, or listened to a podcast he was a guest on – I guarantee that someone you work with, learn from, or work for has.

This was due in no small part to Bill’s vast knowledge and expertise, combined with an unequaled passion for the nuances and technological advances that make search engines tick.

I spoke with Bill a few weeks ago as we were planning a feature article on the patents he felt are most impactful for search marketers.

In that interview, he explained his love for patents.

“One thing I always say about patents is they’re the best place to find assumptions about searchers, about search, and about the web. These are search engineers sharing their opinions in addition to solving problems,” he said.

He loved getting to see what engineers were thinking, and what they had to say when it comes to different problems on the web.

“One of my favorite types of patents to look up is when they repeat a patent and file a continuation,” Bill explained. “I like to look at these continuation patents and see how they’ve changed, because they don’t tell you, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”

That innate curiosity and true passion for unraveling the complexities of the search algorithms we work with each day made talking with Bill and reading his work a real joy.

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Bill or referenced his work in mine over the years, as have so many others.

He had a real talent for making complex concepts more accessible for readers and marketers of all stripes. As a result, his contributions to our collective understanding of how search works are unrivaled.

Bill Slawski’s work and knowledge are foundational to the practice of SEO as we know it today.

I speak for all of us at SEJ in saying we’re incredibly grateful for what he generously shared with each of us.

He was a close friend and respected colleague to our founder, Loren Baker, as well.

“Bill Slawski was a true friend of mine in more ways than one. First of all, he was a surprising mentor who helped me out quite a bit early on in my career, even before the days of social media or Search Engine Journal. He was my buddy and workmate,” Loren said.

Loren Baker and Bill Slawski

Loren Baker and Bill Slawski

Bill and Loren worked together for a couple of years and spent a lot of time out in the parking lot in Havre de Grace, Maryland, smoking cigarettes and talking about Google patents.

“If anything, I would say that Bill taught me that there was much more to SEO than just ranking alone,” Loren explained, adding that Bill taught him the importance of incorporating a narrative into all of the work that you do.

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“He taught me the ethics and workmanship behind creating a piece of digital art that people will want to read, will want to share, and will ultimately search for and click on–touching their lives,” he said. “I will miss Bill deeply. It’s very difficult losing friends.”

Having started in 1996 and launching SEO By The Sea in 2005, Bill was the go-to source when you wanted to understand how search engines work or how they change the way we search or live our lives.

But it was so much more than that.

Bill was generous with his time and eager to share his knowledge of search, information retrieval, NLP, and other information technology with any and all.

He had a gift for taking complex patents, algorithms, concepts, real-world behavior, and search engines and explaining how the world of search and information retrieval worked in a way that everyone could understand.

Bill seemed to have an instinct for understanding what you knew and didn’t know or where you were confused. He could fill in the gaps without making you feel silly for having asked. Even if it was the millionth time he’d answered that question.

You didn’t have to be an SEO rockstar or an experienced professional, either.

If you didn’t understand something or had questions, he would happily spend hours explaining the concepts and offering (or creating) resources to help. And as many in the industry who encountered Braggadocio can attest to, you always felt like a long-lost friend, even if you had just “met” him in text.

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“It’s like when you go to a conference and you’re one of the first people there. And all the seats are still empty and there’s not a lot of discussion going on. That’s what the SEO world was like back then…I remember happening upon an SEO forum and just being a lurker. Just looking at what everybody was talking about and thinking, ‘this is a strange career. I’m not sure I can do this.’ In the end, I did it.

I started out working and promoting a website for a couple friends who started a business. And so helping them succeed in business was a pretty good motivation.” Bill Slawski, cognitiveSEO Talks interview, April 5, 2018

Bill’s wealth of knowledge extended far beyond search, too.

With a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware and a Juris Doctor Degree from Widener University School of Law, Bill spent 14 years as a court manager, administrator, technologist, and management analyst with the Superior Court of Deleware.

He loved nature and plants, and the ocean. He loved traveling and search conferences, but he ultimately found peace in nature and took advantage of it often. And he shared it with us all.

Bill pushed everyone to look beyond the headlines and keywords.

He was quick to add words of support and congratulations when someone shared an achievement. He encouraged everyone to explore the possible, to not be intimidated by new things, and to better understand the search ecosystem, not just the technology, so we could better serve our families, communities, colleagues, and clients.

His kindness, generosity, loyalty, and love of the industry knew no bounds.

The King of Podcasts on Twitter

The King of Podcasts on Twitter

Marshall Simmonds on Twitter

Marshall Simmonds on Twitter

Here at Search Engine Journal, Bill was a familiar face on social media and a VIP contributor, but he was much more than that.

Matt Southern, News Writer

One of the things I’ll miss most about Bill Slawski is the outdoor photography he shared on Twitter.

As deeply entrenched as he was in SEO and online marketing, he always took time to step back from the keyboard and admire life’s beauty.

I think that’s something we could all benefit from doing more of.

Roger Montti, News Writer

I knew Bill Slawski for almost 20 years, from the forums and search marketing conferences. He created a stir with all the things he discovered in the patents, which went a long way toward demystifying what search engines did.

What impressed me the most was his generosity with his time and how encouraging he was to me and to everyone. I feel privileged and honored to have been able to call him a friend.

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He will be profoundly missed.

Brent Csutoras, Advisor and Owner

So much of our marketing journey has been in understanding not only how something works with Google but what they are trying to accomplish over the coming years so we can be prepared and ready to pivot when needed.

Bill’s work with patents provided valuable insight very few individuals were capable of distilling and yet everyone benefited from.

He was instrumental in getting us to where we are as SEOs and digital marketers today.

Bill Slawski Was A Man Of Quiet Impact

“My first interaction with Bill Slawski was on Kim Krause Berg’s Cre8asite forum. I was trying to learn what SEO was all about, so I just lurked, soaking up knowledge from bragadocchio, Black Knight, Grumpus, Barry Welford, and others. I know that Bill started more 10,000 threads there during his time as one of the admins and one of the first things that struck me was his willingness to patiently share his knowledge. At the time, I had no idea who he was, but it quickly became obvious that he was someone who was worth listening to. ”

~ Doc Sheldon, Facebook

That he was.

Atul Gawande once wrote that life is meaningful because it has a story–one driven by a deep need to identify purposes outside of ourselves and a transcendent desire to see and help others achieve their potential.

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This was the very essence of Bill’s life.

Not just in the wealth of unparalleled knowledge and resources he has gifted to us, but in the inspiration, guidance, and encouragement he has instilled in us all. That is his legacy and one that will live on.

It’s been difficult to hit Publish on this piece as I don’t feel anything we share could do that legacy justice.

Search Engine Journal will leave Bill’s library of content here untouched in perpetuity, and we’ve left comments open below for all to share your contributions to this memorial for Bill.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your intelligence, passion, and knowledge with the SEO community.

You will be sorely missed.

Written in collaboration with Angie Nikoleychuk.

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