Gone are the days of “if you build it, the search engine (and rankings) will come.”

The fact is, search engines such as Google have been in a constant state of flux, evolving how information is found, categorized, and ultimately “ranked” given a specific search query.

At inception, search engines primarily looked at optimization for singular keywords and phrases such as “best CRM system.” Those times have since passed, and businesses that relied on “keyword stuffing” and over-optimization have felt Google’s wrath in the form of decreased rankings, and in some cases, even a penalty.

Today, Google is now capable of interpreting the context of those keywords, with search becoming more intent driven, conversational and interactive. As Google continues this trend towards semantic search, SEO so too must adapt to keep pace.

What is Semantic Search?

Semantic search aims to enhance the user experience by providing an individualized set of search results for a query based on the contextual meaning and “intent” behind that query.

In layman’s terms, “semantic” refers to the words’ meaning. As it relates to search, such as on Google, semantic search looks at the words on a page, their use, organization, context and underlying logic with each other to determine what the page is about and the “intent” which it might fulfill.

A few basic elements Google uses to determine this include:

  • GEO location
  • Trends data
  • Synonyms
  • Contextually relevant keywords and topics discussed
  • Types of vernacular
  • Natural language elements
  • and more

In this article we’ll dig into semantic search, what it means for you as a marketer, SEO specialist or agency, and how you can leverage the use of semantic relevancy and optimization on your webpages to outrank, outpace and outperform the competition.

Strategies for Optimizing your Webpage for Semantic Search

1. Semantic Markup

In part, semantic search relies on a network of related entities such as contextually related concepts, ideas, people, places and things. One way to capitalize on this is through the use of structured markup.

When search engines crawl your pages, structured markup can help those crawlers to better understand the concepts and context of the content on those pages.

The most widely adopted formats for markup are microdata: RDFa and JSON-LD. We suggest Schema.org as a good starting point for learning how to implement this tactic.

2. Keyword and Conceptual Tiers

A primary focus when optimizing webpages for semantic search should be on context. Consider breaking up your keywords into the following tiers:

Core Keywords

These keywords represent a tight cluster of words that don’t deviate much from your primary keyword or keyword phrase. They likely include synonyms as well as those provided by Google’s own “related searches” feature.

Thematic Keywords

These keywords are not direct derivatives of your primary keyword but are categorically related. For example, if your primary keyword was “Digital Marketing,” thematic keywords may include: social media, search engine optimization, web design, pay per click, and so on.

Stem Keywords

Stem keywords are those secondary keywords that serve the purpose of answering the question behind the “intent” of the search query. Let’s use the “Digital Marketing” keyword example, stem keywords may include: digital marketing cost, digital marketing ROI, types of digital marketing, and so on.

3. Audience Profiling

While considering your audience seems like a “no brainer,” there are elements that many marketers often leave out of the actual content itself- factors that could improve semantic optimization on-page. Aspects of your audience that are understood or uncovered should be strategically incorporated into page content when and where relevant.

To understand your target audience, first start with the following:

  • Industry/Niche
  • B2B or B2C
  • Customer Avatar – demographics such as gender, age, income, and so on.
  • Geography – where do they live and what areas will you serve
  • Sentiment – both towards the industry as well as your brand and products/services

Once you have completed the above, it’s time to dig deeper with psychographics (i.e., those elements that help business owners and marketers understand the needs, wants, desires, and motivating factors behind customers’ decisions).

Data gathered should include that on: 

  • Values and beliefs
  • Lifestyle and habits
  • Personality types
  • Online and offline behavior
  • Interests and hobbies

All these elements and more should weave into the fabric of your content.

4.  Intent-Driven Content

According to Alexa, 80% of online searches are conducted by individuals looking for an answer. With the remainder comprised of 10% in search of a specific product and services and another 10% in search of a particular website or brand.

Given that 80% of all searches seek an answer, your goal should be to position your content as the best answer on the web for that particular inquiry.

Providing the best answer can be done by:

  • Creating long-form content over 1000 words (ideally 1500+)
  • Using questions as meta tags on a page
  • Providing clear, concise and valuable information
  • Thoroughly covering all aspects of the subject and addressing potential follow-up issues to the core question

5.  Leverage Internal Linking

Internal linking is a tried and true method of indicating to search engines the conceptual nature and topical relevancy of a page, as well as for supporting a positive user experience as they navigate your site.

Strategies to optimize for semantic search include:

  • Identification of thematically relevant pages for inter-linking opportunities
  • Reference to important pages in main navigation and footer
  • Reference to important pages in HTML and/or XML sitemap
  • Inclusion of contextual links within pages linking to other categorically relevant pages
  • Remember to link to end-state canonical URL and not the URL with a parameter
  • Remember to fix any 3XX and 4XX errors that may exist

6. External Links

Similarly to “internal” linking, those links earned from external sources can also enhance the semantic optimization of your pages also known as backlinks.

While strategies on earning links is a much too broad topic for this particular guide, below are a few tips on the types of links you should focus.

Best Practices for external links relative to semantic optimization: 

  • Links from categorically similar sites matter more than non-relevant websites
  • Anchor text should utilize semantically relevant keywords from the three “conceptual keyword tiers” discussed earlier
  • Links should provide value to the user/reader
  • Closing Thoughts
  • For decades SEO optimization specialists have spent countless resources on earning Google’s favor. With hundreds of micro-algorithm updates and a few significant updates every year, keeping up has been no easy task.
  • As Google and other search engines become better at understanding context and intent, so too must those in charge of SEO adapt to give both the users and search engines what they want.

Closing Thoughts

By implementing the tactics in this article, agencies and business owners can take a clear and impactful step towards improving the semantic optimization of their webpages, earning them higher rankings, targeted traffic, visibility and growth.


Anthony Atkins is a seasoned and growth-minded digital marketer and entrepreneur – a purpose-driven leader with a proven track record for translating dreams and visions into practical concepts. He has managed and motivated interdisciplinary teams, both as a manager and CEO of his inbound marketing agency, CixxFive. Anthony enjoys the struggles in business and considers them as “challenge accepted.” He has helped build and manage brands from the ground up.