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With semantic search seemingly looming large over us all, it’s difficult to ignore the likely impact it will have on the way we optimise websites and market businesses online.
Unfortunately, it’s equally difficult to predict exactly how big this impact will be and which areas will be affected most.
So, rather than making a host of bold predictions, this is simply a quick review of what the Semantic Web is likely to bring and how SEO will need to adapt in the coming months and years. Equally, if you have any views (the more controversial the better), please take a couple of minutes to add them in the comments section below.
What is Semantic Search?
There’s been a lot written about the dawning of the age of Semantic search in the past, including here on the Koozai digital marketing blog. However, to quickly summarise (if that’s possible), it is essentially an evolution of the algorithm that will enable search engines to evaluate queries more effectively and index sites based on authority.
Whilst authority is already measured, semantic search would incorporate more sophisticated methods of determining relevance – potentially making results more personalised. So for instance, rather than simply using on-page factors and inbound links, search engines will be able to map out the content that has been created, where it’s been published and determine relevance and authority from this. Very complicated, but much more effective.
In terms of results, the search engines will be able to better understand user intentions by connecting words and meanings. At Brighton SEO, Philip Sheldrake gave a presentation on Future Vistas for SEO, in which he talked about the Resource Description Framework at the heart of semantic search. He also suggested that ‘triples’ would inform results, with a subject, predicate and object used to remove ambiguities. However, he explains this all in much more detail, so if you’re interested in a little further reading, I recommend his blog post on his talk – including full slideshow.
So What Does this Mean for SEO?
Doom mongers will probably believe that this is the final tolling of the bell for SEO; but as with most major algorithm changes, optimisation techniques will simply have to adapt. Here’s a quick look at a few key areas:
In a world where connections are built through profiles, externally published content and on-page semantic relevance, links are potentially going to have less of an impact on search results. However, that isn’t to say that they will have no value at all – probably far from it.
Links from authoritative and relevant domains are likely to be far more prized, whilst weaker citations from low value sites may have no impact going forwards. To an extent this is logical. If you get a link from a leading news site, blog or industry website, this is a clear indication of authority. However, if you are skimming thousands of links from low value directories, blogs and content sites, this just indicates that you’re engaged in SEO. So by negating the impact of these links, results should improve.
So more link signals may be switched off over time, which could well impact a wide range of sites. But this is not a reason to panic and stop all link building activities. You have to optimise for the here and now, not for what may come tomorrow. The Semantic Web is still a theory that is only just about to come into some form of practice. Building your online profile, writing for other sites and ensuring you adhere to Schema practices should be enough to future-proof optimisation efforts as well as delivering positive short-term gains too.
The lifeblood of Semantic Search is content. Keywords may not be quite so important, but building relevance around a subject or theme is certainly going to become increasingly crucial. This should be entirely natural though; after all, if you’re writing a product review, then there’s a good chance that you’ll mention the item, compare it to similar products and discuss the brand throughout. That’s all you need to do.
Abandoning keywords, or at least worrying less about them, is going to be a major change for the industry. Copywriters and SEOs alike have always had to focus on squeezing in certain terms, creating anchor text links and researching which words generate most traffic. This may not die out entirely, but it could certainly become less important as semantic search develops.
For authors this should be a massive opportunity. Even if you’re not proficient with technical SEO, your name will be attached to work which will be linked back to other content. As such, everybody can build an individual profile, developing authority and expertise in the eyes of the search engines. This should help your content to rank better for certain queries. Quality content will be rewarded above everything else due to social connections and context, which can only be a good thing. So it’s well worth investing the time now.
Whilst not officially under the umbrella of SEO, social factors are likely to be significant in semantic search. Therefore, it will need to become part of the remit of any online marketer to nurture strong social links to promote sites effectively.
With searches becoming more personalised and dependent on context, getting involved in conversations whilst receiving retweets and mentions from authoritative social users will become even more important. Again, this is another way of building your own authority and credibility in the eyes of Google and co.
So rather than just quantity, quality is going to become all the more important in an age where search engines look for more than just links and keywords. This will mean that people have to get smarter with how they optimise sites and publish content online. The cream should rise to the top and search results ought to be far more accurate and comprehensive; however, the proof will be in the pudding.
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