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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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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.

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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Featured Image: pogonici/Shutterstock




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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

Understanding the impact of your content at every touchpoint of the customer journey is essential – but that’s easier said than done. From attracting potential leads to nurturing them into loyal customers, there are many touchpoints to look into.

So how do you identify and take advantage of these opportunities for growth?

Watch this on-demand webinar and learn a comprehensive approach for measuring the value of your content initiatives, so you can optimize resource allocation for maximum impact.

You’ll learn:

  • Fresh methods for measuring your content’s impact.
  • Fascinating insights using first-touch attribution, and how it differs from the usual last-touch perspective.
  • Ways to persuade decision-makers to invest in more content by showcasing its value convincingly.

With Bill Franklin and Oliver Tani of DAC Group, we unravel the nuances of attribution modeling, emphasizing the significance of layering first-touch and last-touch attribution within your measurement strategy. 

Check out these insights to help you craft compelling content tailored to each stage, using an approach rooted in first-hand experience to ensure your content resonates.

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Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or new to content measurement, this webinar promises valuable insights and actionable tactics to elevate your SEO game and optimize your content initiatives for success. 

View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

Competitor keywords are the keywords your rivals rank for in Google’s search results. They may rank organically or pay for Google Ads to rank in the paid results.

Knowing your competitors’ keywords is the easiest form of keyword research. If your competitors rank for or target particular keywords, it might be worth it for you to target them, too.

There is no way to see your competitors’ keywords without a tool like Ahrefs, which has a database of keywords and the sites that rank for them. As far as we know, Ahrefs has the biggest database of these keywords.

How to find all the keywords your competitor ranks for

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Organic keywords report

The report is sorted by traffic to show you the keywords sending your competitor the most visits. For example, Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword “mailchimp.”

Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.

Since you’re unlikely to rank for your competitor’s brand, you might want to exclude branded keywords from the report. You can do this by adding a Keyword > Doesn’t contain filter. In this example, we’ll filter out keywords containing “mailchimp” or any potential misspellings:

Filtering out branded keywords in Organic keywords reportFiltering out branded keywords in Organic keywords report

If you’re a new brand competing with one that’s established, you might also want to look for popular low-difficulty keywords. You can do this by setting the Volume filter to a minimum of 500 and the KD filter to a maximum of 10.

Finding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywordsFinding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywords

How to find keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter your competitor’s domain in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis reportCompetitive analysis report

Hit “Show keyword opportunities,” and you’ll see all the keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap reportContent gap report

You can also add a Volume and KD filter to find popular, low-difficulty keywords in this report.

Volume and KD filter in Content gapVolume and KD filter in Content gap

How to find keywords multiple competitors rank for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter the domains of multiple competitors in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis report with multiple competitorsCompetitive analysis report with multiple competitors

You’ll see all the keywords that at least one of these competitors ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap report with multiple competitorsContent gap report with multiple competitors

You can also narrow the list down to keywords that all competitors rank for. Click on the Competitors’ positions filter and choose All 3 competitors:

Selecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank forSelecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank for
  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Paid keywords report
Paid keywords reportPaid keywords report

This report shows you the keywords your competitors are targeting via Google Ads.

Since your competitor is paying for traffic from these keywords, it may indicate that they’re profitable for them—and could be for you, too.

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You know what keywords your competitors are ranking for or bidding on. But what do you do with them? There are basically three options.

1. Create pages to target these keywords

You can only rank for keywords if you have content about them. So, the most straightforward thing you can do for competitors’ keywords you want to rank for is to create pages to target them.

However, before you do this, it’s worth clustering your competitor’s keywords by Parent Topic. This will group keywords that mean the same or similar things so you can target them all with one page.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Export your competitor’s keywords, either from the Organic Keywords or Content Gap report
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
Clustering keywords by Parent TopicClustering keywords by Parent Topic

For example, MailChimp ranks for keywords like “what is digital marketing” and “digital marketing definition.” These and many others get clustered under the Parent Topic of “digital marketing” because people searching for them are all looking for the same thing: a definition of digital marketing. You only need to create one page to potentially rank for all these keywords.

Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"

2. Optimize existing content by filling subtopics

You don’t always need to create new content to rank for competitors’ keywords. Sometimes, you can optimize the content you already have to rank for them.

How do you know which keywords you can do this for? Try this:

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  1. Export your competitor’s keywords
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
  4. Look for Parent Topics you already have content about

For example, if we analyze our competitor, we can see that seven keywords they rank for fall under the Parent Topic of “press release template.”

Our competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" clusterOur competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" cluster

If we search our site, we see that we already have a page about this topic.

Site search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templatesSite search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templates

If we click the caret and check the keywords in the cluster, we see keywords like “press release example” and “press release format.”

Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"

To rank for the keywords in the cluster, we can probably optimize the page we already have by adding sections about the subtopics of “press release examples” and “press release format.”

3. Target these keywords with Google Ads

Paid keywords are the simplest—look through the report and see if there are any relevant keywords you might want to target, too.

For example, Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter.”

Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

If you’re ConvertKit, you may also want to target this keyword since it’s relevant.

If you decide to target the same keyword via Google Ads, you can hover over the magnifying glass to see the ads your competitor is using.

Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

You can also see the landing page your competitor directs ad traffic to under the URL column.

The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”

Learn more

Check out more tutorials on how to do competitor keyword analysis:

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Google Confirms Links Are Not That Important

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Google confirms that links are not that important anymore

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at a recent search marketing conference that Google needs very few links, adding to the growing body of evidence that publishers need to focus on other factors. Gary tweeted confirmation that he indeed say those words.

Background Of Links For Ranking

Links were discovered in the late 1990’s to be a good signal for search engines to use for validating how authoritative a website is and then Google discovered soon after that anchor text could be used to provide semantic signals about what a webpage was about.

One of the most important research papers was Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment by Jon M. Kleinberg, published around 1998 (link to research paper at the end of the article). The main discovery of this research paper is that there is too many web pages and there was no objective way to filter search results for quality in order to rank web pages for a subjective idea of relevance.

The author of the research paper discovered that links could be used as an objective filter for authoritativeness.

Kleinberg wrote:

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“To provide effective search methods under these conditions, one needs a way to filter, from among a huge collection of relevant pages, a small set of the most “authoritative” or ‘definitive’ ones.”

This is the most influential research paper on links because it kick-started more research on ways to use links beyond as an authority metric but as a subjective metric for relevance.

Objective is something factual. Subjective is something that’s closer to an opinion. The founders of Google discovered how to use the subjective opinions of the Internet as a relevance metric for what to rank in the search results.

What Larry Page and Sergey Brin discovered and shared in their research paper (The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine – link at end of this article) was that it was possible to harness the power of anchor text to determine the subjective opinion of relevance from actual humans. It was essentially crowdsourcing the opinions of millions of website expressed through the link structure between each webpage.

What Did Gary Illyes Say About Links In 2024?

At a recent search conference in Bulgaria, Google’s Gary Illyes made a comment about how Google doesn’t really need that many links and how Google has made links less important.

Patrick Stox tweeted about what he heard at the search conference:

” ‘We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.’ @methode #serpconf2024″

Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted a confirmation of that statement:

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“I shouldn’t have said that… I definitely shouldn’t have said that”

Why Links Matter Less

The initial state of anchor text when Google first used links for ranking purposes was absolutely non-spammy, which is why it was so useful. Hyperlinks were primarily used as a way to send traffic from one website to another website.

But by 2004 or 2005 Google was using statistical analysis to detect manipulated links, then around 2004 “powered-by” links in website footers stopped passing anchor text value, and by 2006 links close to the words “advertising” stopped passing link value, links from directories stopped passing ranking value and by 2012 Google deployed a massive link algorithm called Penguin that destroyed the rankings of likely millions of websites, many of which were using guest posting.

The link signal eventually became so bad that Google decided in 2019 to selectively use nofollow links for ranking purposes. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the change to nofollow was made because of the link signal.

Google Explicitly Confirms That Links Matter Less

In 2023 Google’s Gary Illyes shared at a PubCon Austin that links were not even in the top 3 of ranking factors. Then in March 2024, coinciding with the March 2024 Core Algorithm Update, Google updated their spam policies documentation to downplay the importance of links for ranking purposes.

Google March 2024 Core Update: 4 Changes To Link Signal

The documentation previously said:

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“Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The update to the documentation that mentioned links was updated to remove the word important.

Links are not just listed as just another factor:

“Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

At the beginning of April Google’s John Mueller advised that there are more useful SEO activities to engage on than links.

Mueller explained:

“There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall”

Finally, Gary Illyes explicitly said that Google needs very few links to rank webpages and confirmed it.

Why Google Doesn’t Need Links

The reason why Google doesn’t need many links is likely because of the extent of AI and natural language undertanding that Google uses in their algorithms. Google must be highly confident in its algorithm to be able to explicitly say that they don’t need it.

Way back when Google implemented the nofollow into the algorithm there were many link builders who sold comment spam links who continued to lie that comment spam still worked. As someone who started link building at the very beginning of modern SEO (I was the moderator of the link building forum at the #1 SEO forum of that time), I can say with confidence that links have stopped playing much of a role in rankings beginning several years ago, which is why I stopped about five or six years ago.

Read the research papers

Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment – Jon M. Kleinberg (PDF)

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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