The Inigo Montoya Guide to Semantic Search

In the wild, wild west of the World Wide Web, understanding how to utilize SEO is the aim you need before you pull that trigger. However, understanding what you want to say are the bullets you need to hit a target (audience).

During English class, you may have heard of a word that many people tend to confuse, which is the focus of this SEO 101 post.

se·man·tics [si-man-tiks] noun
The branch of linguistics that deals with the study of meaning, changes in meaning, and principles that govern the relationships sentences or words and their meanings

The word's origin in Greek is semantikos, which means, "to show or give signs." In other words, there is subtlety in meaning to what you're trying to say. These slight nuances of how someone perceives what a word means determines if they choose to express what they think that meaning is -- and how it applies to them.

 Yeah, that's this guy! Shout out to 'The Princess Bride' fans.

Yeah, that's this guy! Shout out to 'The Princess Bride' fans.

A Lesson of Semantics

For example, if you say that you have reached your final stop to one person and you have reached your destination to another, it may be inferred as two separate things.

  • "Destination" is the location you targeted as where you needed to be.
  • "Final stop" could be the location you arrived before you get to your destination.

Those are semantics and that is the wonder of the human language, at least in English. The Internet has figured that out, which is why semantic search matters so much. The keywords you entered into your copy and those algorithms were crucial, but now, the intent with which you wrote those keywords are equally as important.

If the Web is not Siri, how in the world does Google know what I meant to say instead of what I just said? Two reasons -- intent and context. Intent is the object of the search. Context is everything that surrounds that search via meaning and understanding.

So how has these two things changed the way we write for the Web and search on the Web? The answer means everything to what we need to know about the Web.

Explicit Semantics (Woodworks Communications)

The Answers about Semantics

SEO still matters. Just because Google spiders can read intent into your context doesn't mean you should take that for granted. People search "conversationally" and they do across all platforms (e.g., desktop, tablet, mobile, social). Traditional search is a dinosaur because people presume the Web can understand them. They type in questions, not words. They ask the Web for advice, not hope they know the right URL.

Why does this matter? Because all those articles you may have read that come across as an obituary to keywords is so wrong. Content with core keywords matter more than ever because how you want them to come across matters more than ever. Consider a true value on what questions people will ask to find your content, and how those keywords will help that navigation. This is semantic in a nutshell.

Provide solutions, not sales. Some companies can't help themselves. All copy should be the hard press on sales. It should "move the needle" and all that other brain-numbing jargon jibberish. Copy should answer questions -- nothing more. People don't search for "the most advanced, state-of-the-art widget on the planet." That's what your boss wants. They search for "where can I find this widget for my home." That's what your consumer wants. To rank well in search, you need to provide your consumers direction and information. There's some education most brands need these days.

Google wants a "meaningful" relationship. Ever feel like the Web is just not that into you? There's probably a very good reason for that and it all starts with that brochure copy you call a website. Native or natural language, rich in keywords and context, is what the Web rewards. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and spinning poor content. The new world of search has everything to do with the meaning your users place into your content. How can they find you? What questions do you answer? Where do they look for you? Why should they care about your widget?

Keywords are still key. What used to happen is the senior marketers would put their heads together and determine the best sales terms for their widgets, open up the corporate catalog, point and highlight, and then a master list of keywords was created. Google algorithms have changed the rules to the search game and gave the power to the consumer. Quantity doesn't matter as much as quality. The context is more important than the content. Your website should not only speak to the user but also listen to them as well. Those terms being used to find your widget are probably more important.

I. Am. Not. Inhuman. When search engine optimization was first a thing, people wrote Web copy for Google spiders and esoteric algorithms. If the robots liked you, Google welcomed you to better 'PageRank'. Now that PageRank has gone the way of friendship pins, tribal armband tattoos, revival disco halter tops, and giving two craps about what is happening with the Kardashians, we have to think about search and content differently. You know, like humans instead of robots, people instead of brands. More content is not the answer because better content has always been the root of the question.

Semantics Successory (Woodworks Communications)

The Words Behind Semantics

The art of finding keywords used to be so easy that anyone could do it. The boss wants the brand to be known for this widget, so that widget monopolized every page and ad online. Yeah, not so much. No one enjoys the used car lot experience of reading through your shill for them to bounce in :30, which is the equivalent of the ubiquitous "Uh yeah. We're just looking."

These days, those keywords have to carry purpose and position the thought of what you are online to do in the first place. Do you know your purpose? Then communicate that. Do you know your brand? They will communicate that. If those keywords don't present the context of your content, that real importance of your website will be as valuable as those leather pants and that diamond toe ring you had to have.

A random list of keywords no longer matter. How those keywords are prioritized matter. Here's how:

Primary or 'Core' Keywords. What is your widget and how do people talk about it? This is the premise of your primary or core list of keywords. A strategic list of keywords that make a dent on the semantic Web must focus on the top words that communicates your brand promise, products, purpose, and presence. Don't have enough money to research how people search for those things? Google has you covered with its "related search" function. Basically, enter any semantic question and scroll to the bottom of the page. See there? Related searches... and semantic ones too. These help you understand what you may be missing on that coveted list.

Secondary or 'Thematic' Keywords. There's only so many times you can say 'Widget 1' and 'Widget 2' and 'We love our widgets.' Most of those words in the primary list become synonymous or related, which is where it gets tricky in the world of contextual writing and the Web presuming your intent. This is why your list of secondary or thematic keywords are just as important. What if someone can't remember your widget? They will describe the industry, the aesthetic, the process or even the concept. This is why knowing how to fine-tune a search for your brand is important. What are those reasons people have for using the core keywords? Those will be your thematic keywords.

Tertiary or 'Stem' Keywords. The user experience (UX), or what has been called the consumer experience (CX) lately, is always important to the brand when it comes to building the best website. Ultimately, the user wants to be led on a journey to make a decision. And of course, the brand would like that decision to purchase a widget. How do you really answer those search questions? How is the search integrated with the experience? Stem keywords connect those dots. Someone who searches for "blue shoes" is browsing online. Another person who searches for "blue shoes with a gold buckle" is thinking about their closet. Someone else who is searching for "blue shoes gold buckle on sale in my city" has a wallet out and is ready to buy. See the primary and secondary working together? Welcome to semantics.

Consider this process in summary: A primary keyword gets their attention. A secondary keyword provides the information. A tertiary keyword creates the inspiration. If you remember anything about semantic search, commit that to memory. You need them all to do your job. Welcome to semantics... or whatever word you choose to use.