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3Aug 2017

Google’s semantic search and the future of SEO

We know that SEO is constantly changing and evolving, mostly in response to two key factors: developments in how search engines work and developments in how websites work. One of the current challenges facing SEO is coming from the first of these categories – developments in how search engines work. And by ‘search engines’, what we really mean is Google.

The summary of the change is simple – Google is changing its search algorithm away from a solely keyword-based system to also include semantic search – but the consequences for SEO will take a little time to work out, although it is clear that it will become increasingly difficult to ‘game’ results with so-called black-hat SEO techniques (last year’s Panda update also aimed mainly to reduce the ranking of poorer websites – although what this category included was tricky to define and somewhat controversial with some legitimate businesses crippled by the changes).

The semantic search update will have the same goal – improving the quality of search results – but will go about it in a different way. Panda retained the focus on individual keywords for Google search, but just reconfigured how they were interpreted. Semantic search will be fundamentally different, focusing instead on the semantic relationships between search terms in order to establish user intent at a deeper level. As many have already pointed out, this is nothing new – semantic search has been around since 2008 – but it’s now being taken a lot more seriously for SEO with Google’s decision to introduce it.

It’s still early days for understanding the impact of these changes for SEO, but I feel confident in making one prediction regarding consequences of the changes.

Content which is designed to superficially match a search query – but is basically rubbish once a human actually looks at it – will hopefully, finally, be consigned to the dustbin of web history. In other words, those articles that try to boost SEO by name-dropping popular search terms in the title to attract traffic for something completely unrelated will no longer achieve anything – and will hopefully disappear.

So no more making reference to Barack Obama, Lady Gaga or David Beckham in an article about fly fishing, the weather or some other third-rate celebrity in order to boost traffic for this weak offering. No more lazy content designed only with the search ranking – and not the reader/user – in mind. This is surely a desirable goal and if semantic search builds on the earlier work of Panda, then it’s all good as far as I’m concerned. Anything which prompts content creators to look beyond individual keywords and work out at a deeper level what it is that users want should, presumably, deliver higher standards of content since the alternative (to drop down Google’s search ranking) will equate to a business disaster.

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