SEO and Google’s Semantic Search

To remain effective, SEO strategies must adapt to Google’s regular updates of ranking algorithms. Today, this process is driven — at least in part — by Google’s growing ability to understand topics and themes.


Because the search engines use computer resources to interpret online content and user search terms, they have been bound to a literal level of language comprehension. Today, however, machine learning and artificial intelligence have changed how Google interprets language.

What Is Semantic Search?

Semantics” refers to finding the meaning in words. When we speak, we use phrases that have meaning above and beyond the individual words they contain. We understand these subtle shades of meaning; however, a computer lacks the context and connotation that clues us in.

siriFor example, the phrases “couch potato” and “white lie” make sense to us. But imagine a computer algorithm attempting to interpret them. Google realized that its algorithms had to be more sensitive to context and connotation. And, thus, the RankBrain update was implemented.

RankBrain is Google’s proprietary machine-learning artificial intelligence system. This means it “learns” by analyzing historical data and making connections about the words that are used for searches and the words that are used in online content.

IBM’s Watson, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa all use similar machine-learning platforms. Over time, their grasp of semantics increases, thanks to “experience.”

The Role of Voice & Mobile Searches in Semantic SEO

One of the biggest drivers of Google’s shift to a semantic search focus is the growing popularity of mobile and voice search.

The stats on mobile search are mind-blowing. Siri, Cortana, Alexa and other voice search interfaces will dominate internet searches by 2020. Even on desktop computers, 25 percent of searches on the Windows 10 taskbar are voice searches.


When we do voice searches, we use natural language structure, similar to the way we would ask another person a question. But this type of natural search has begun carrying over to manual (typed) searches.

So while you may have typed the term “taco truck” into the search box in the past, now you probably type or say, “Where is the closest taco truck to me right now?” Instead of typing “brownie recipe,” you might say, “How do I make brownies?”

What Does This Even Mean for Keywords and SEO?

This means that today, Google goes beyond the strict dictionary definition of words to deduce the intent of search terms and online content. By doing so, the search engine hopes to provide search results that better match what the searcher wants.

thinkTo improve your site’s SEO results, you must match your thinking (and optimization efforts) to Google’s evaluation processes.

Although it’s a subtle difference, semantic search compels us to think as much about topics as we do keywords and key phrases, when creating content and optimizing your website.

Topics versus Keywords in SEO

But before you panic, let’s clarify that topics are not terribly different than key phrases, in that they typically contain some version of your keywords.

Let’s revisit our before-and-after examples above. If you own a taco truck based in West Jordan, Utah, your keywords probably include “tacos,” “taco truck” or “West Jordan taco Tuesday.” Translating these to topics is easy if you think like your prospects and customers.


If a prospect in West Jordan is hungry for some tacos, how might they search? Maybe, “Hey, Siri, where is the nearest taco truck to me right now?”

To tell Google’s semantic search function that you’re the best answer to the question, maybe you write a blog titled, “How to Find the Best Taco Trucks in West Jordan, Utah.”

We have been working with long-tailed key phrases for a while now, so semantic search considerations aren’t that much of a departure. But, as the natural language search trend continues to grow, we will definitely have to think about it more and more.

Be Locally SEO stays on top of the latest developments in SEO, to keep our clients relevant and prominent in the search engine results pages. If you would like to learn more about how you can increase your website traffic with our exclusive SEO strategies, contact us today for a complimentary consultation and website review.

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