Based on Semantic Intent
For years I’ve been interested in the idea of Semantic Search. As a
user of Search I’ve always been one to type in full questions as part of my
In fact my first favorite search engine used
to be Ask or if we go way back Ask Jeeves.
I’ve always like the concept of directly asking a question and receiving
a direct answer.
I’ve often said that
ASK was ahead of their time when it came to search.
I remember being at a Search Engine
Strategies conference in San Jose
back and a gentleman by the name of Keith Hogan
, who was then the
VP of Search at ASK
at the time, presented
some material on how searchers were becoming more savvy and were typing longer
term phrases as part of their search queries.
His data suggested that 8+ word phrases saw the largest increase in
volume based on data he shared from ASK.
To me this totally made sense.
search because they are looking for answers.
The search engines are the mechanism people use online to find their
Case in point, in the
summer of 2013 you have Google releasing Hummingbird with a shift in focus to
more of a conversational search based in part on the shifting trend towards
mobile search activity. It all makes sense; Search is morphing into an entirely
different way to find relevant information.
It is all about convenience and still about relevance… semantic
across this article from
Nathan Safran of Blue Nile Research where he discusses some of their recent
research that may change the way you conduct keyword research. This is something that I have been coaching
our SEO teams on for a while now as we refine how we conduct truly effective
The Difference between
Traditional Keyword Research & Semantic Keyword Research
keyword research used a combination of looking at a client’s site, their
analytics and leveraging tools such as Google Keyword Planner, WordTracker,
SEMrush, Ubbersuggest, Soovle etc to compile a list of keywords that the client
would optimize for. Keywords would be
placed on the page, in tags and other page elements and regardless of whether
you admit to it a certain density formula was used to help optimize a given
piece of content for a given key phrase or two, or three… and this process used
However like many optimization tactics, some site owners and
marketers abused this tactic and used keyword spamming techniques to try and game
their search results. Google in their
ever-long fight against webspam released updates to help combat keyword spam
and the manipulation of their search results.
The end result is that traditional keyword research has become less
A more modern approach to keyword research is Semantic Keyword Research. Semantic keyword research still involves
components of traditional keyword research, but it takes a deeper dive into
intent. It focuses on semantically
relevant topics that are based more on conversation. As a result the need to become an authority
for a given topic that is supported by multiple relevant terms becomes
increasingly important. Semantic
keyword research allows us to gain more insight into how people search for a
given topic or a certain product or service.
One of the interesting findings from the Blue Nile Research
of Psychology of the Searcher: Patterns in How Searchers Formulate
Queries is the idea of fragment queries (2-3 words) vs full queries (4+
The study suggested that there
is roughly a 50/50 split in the type of queries that searchers use to find their
This goes back to what I
mentioned in the findings from ASK earlier in that there is a shifting trend toward
longer phrase search queries.
this suggests that many users are typing in longer queries in order to get the
specific answer that they are looking for.
Perhaps this illustrates the difficulty in a search engine such as
Google being able to consistently return the most relevant result.
If you factor in that my semantic map when I
search for a “tablet” is much different than what your semantic map is you see
just how difficult it is for Google ro provide the most relevant result all of
I may search for “ipad” or
“ipad reviews” or “Samsung tablet” or “when is the new iPad coming out?”
Whereas you may be searching for “tablet
magazine”, “tablet reviews”, “tablet simulator”, “what is the cheapest tablet
out there?” etc.
You can see two
distinct searching or semantic patterns.
Semantic Keyword Research means that as marketers you need
to leverage a strategy that includes understanding a varied and distinct way
that your audience is searching for your brand, product or service.
How many brands are guilty of using their own
marketing lingo only to find that the vast majority do not know or care about
The Blue Nile Study showed
that 27% of searchers phrased their query in the form of a question.
This actually seems low to me as I would
expect that the number of question related queries out there is closer to the
The study took it one step further breaking down the
distribution of question type.
to their data, users searched for “how” the most often (38% of all questions)
and “what” the least often 11% of questions.
I was surprised to see “Where” in the middle at 15% of question
If you think of the trend towards
mobile search, searchers are looking for convenient and quick answers, “where
is the nearest Tim Horton’s?” as an example.
So I would expect that in the future we may
see more searchers using the “where” query more often.
The question of “How” will always be the most
asked question type phrase on the Internet simply because people are seeking a
solution to their problem/issue.
have a lot of questions: “How much is the new iPad”, “how do I reprogram my key
fob”, “how do I make Greek style potatoes?”, “how much does a chiropractor
Source: Blue Nile Research
It becomes easy to see that understanding semantic intent is
- Not easy and
- Critical to providing the right content at the right time to your
If you look at some of the innovations form Google in recent
years you can see how they have been leading up to better understanding user search intent . At the heart of what they do, Google is
attempting to return the most relevant result in the quickest manner possible:
Google has made great strides in understanding the intent
behind a query. While still not
perfected the “Google A.I.” is taking a closer step into becoming that Star
Trek computer that they strive to become.
The need to shift from traditional keyword research is upon us, in fact
if you are just now paying attention to things like semantic search and entity
search you are a bit behind. Your
keyword selection process should be based around the intent of your
audience. It may mean some extra effort
from your part in understanding the search habits of your desired audience.
I’ll leave you with three tips for conducting semantically
relevant keyword research:
- Understand the intent of your audience. Here are a couple of great sources for this:
Monitor your audience on social media. This is where you can gain invaluable insight
as to topics and terms that your audience is using to engage with your
industry, your brand or your products/services.
It’s not just about search volume. Long-tail keywords which are typically longer
in length (such as a question based query) can deliver tremendous value even
though they may have less search volume than more generic or branded terms.
- Review your internal site search – what
questions are people asking?
- Use the Search Queries report in Google Search
Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
What are some of the top questions being searched for?
Slapping a keyword within your page copy four or five times is
simply not going to help your website gain visibility in organic search
results. In some cases you do not even need
the keyword to appear on the page to “rank” for it. Your focus should be on creating relevant
themes for your audience and becoming an authority around these themes.