If you’ve been on the internet for the last decade then I’m certain that the words semantic search have come up in passing. As a consumer, you are striving to find the most relevant information on a search engine based on a specific search query. As an SEO provider you are most likely making every attempt to focus on ensuring targeted visibility. Regardless of whether you’re a consumer or an SEO provider, it’s imperative to comprehend the nuances of search.

What is Semantic Search?

According to the Wikipedia definition and one that Google also utilizes, it states the following:

Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable data space, whether on the Web or within a closed system, to generate more relevant results.

Let’s break that down for a minute. Due to changing search trends and patterns based on consumer behavior, queries in search have taken a drastic shift. For example, in the early days one might search for ‘restaurants in st. louis’ and be able to find local hotspots.

Restaurants in St. Louis legacy SEO search

During that time, Google put an emphasis on identifying the specific search query of a user and make an attempt to return the results of most relevant sites.

Hummingbird Enforces Semantic Search

Back in September 2013, Google rolled out the Hummingbird algorithm which changed the face of search. An algorithm that put an emphasis towards individual words within a single query. So, instead of searching for ‘restaurants in st. louis‘, the algorithm focuses more on searches such as ‘italian restaurants in st. louis‘ or ‘what is the best italian restaurant in st. louis‘. Therefore, SEO companies have been forced to adapt their content marketing and organic optimization initiatives to adhere towards this new algorithm.

Notice how Google attempts to be suggestive by showing recommendations on ‘best italian restaurants in st. louis‘ as well.

Italians restaurants in St. Louis search query

And the search query ‘what is the best italian restaurant in st. louis‘ shows the following. See how the local search results are slightly altered with focus on the ones that address the query more precisely. Additionally in the organic listings we are seeing headlines of pages that start with the word ‘best’.

What is the best restaurant in St. Louis


As you can see the information returned on the different queries varies. Specific queries are now returning more relevant results as part of the new Hummingbird algorithm.

Comprehension of Semantic Search

The Consumer

Searching for information on the web has become an integral component of our daily lives. Nowadays we are bound to seek specific information about products, services, research, or even comparison shopping. Therefore understanding the fundamentals of semantic search in the way that it pertains to us as consumers is of utmost importance. For example, how do you leverage search more strategically to identify the information you’re looking for? Google has put a strong emphasis on semantic search and its recent Hummingbird algorithm with attempt of identifying closer with consumers intent.

The SEO Provider

Media companies and more precisely those offering SEO services have been bound to adapt towards this algorithmic shift. However, the challenge for most is the full comprehension of the semantic search nuances as result of Hummingbird. For one, contextual messaging has taken a shift with a stronger focus on more detailed messaging. Simply due to the fact that consumers are looking for information on the web with more specific intent. An excellent article on advanced SEO concepts outlines in further detail how keywords and semantic search intertwine.

Identifying Searcher Intent

Every wondered how Google identifies searcher intent? How does it know to display the most relevant results based on a specific search query? In essence, Google leverages user search history in relationship to specific documents and information available within its index to identify with the searcher. Therefore, able to return the most relevant results based on the searchers intent. An oldie but goodie article by Bill Slawski discusses the relationship between search entities in further detail.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the search entities that Google evaluates to gauge a better understanding of searcher intent.

  • User’s search history. Where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, and how you interacted with that piece of content.
  • Location. Google leverages GPS technology or the user’s specific location to determine, evaluate, and return most relevant content as it pertains to their geographical positioning. This is where local search/SEO plays a large factorial role for small businesses.
  • Domains correlation. The evaluation of relationships between different entities on the web as it pertains to the searcher’s interest and level of interaction.
  • Global search history. Google uses this information to pinpoint specifications as they pertain to the user’s search criteria.

There’s other factors that Google particularly evaluates to determine and return the most relevant search results. The article I mentioned above is a great resource including in-depth knowledge about other factors. It’s precisely one of the reasons why Google now dominates nearly 70% of the search market due to its holistic process of content evaluation, quality guidelines, and return of information.

Why Does Semantic Search Matter?

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

That’s a fairly tall order to fill if you ask me. A statement that Google emphasizes upon strongly in its about sectionFocusing on the user first and the rest will follow. In a world of semantic search there are a variety of determining factors that attribute towards a succinct user experience. Something that Google values strongly. So much that it has invested in the development of Google Ventures that supports companies like Medium. In essence, indicative of their firm belief that content attends to consumer trends, interest, and intent to search.

Not too long ago, Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex came together to form an HTML markup standard now referred to as Schema. The development of this markup ensure discovery of content by search engines and ability to deliver it in a succinct fashion to end-users using rich snippets.

How to Leverage Semantic Search

The search landscape continues to evolve. There is no doubt in my mind that another shift will come about sooner rather than later. For the time being though, it’s imperative to understand how as a personal brand or a company you can better leverage semantic search. Ultimately allowing for better communication with your target audience by delivering a message in a more cohesive fashion.

  • Content.Content is king” but only true if it has purpose and connectivity with the end user. This is where a content marketing plan investment would be beneficial to outline the parameters of communication. Also, figuring out the long-term investment towards community development.
  • Semantic Keyword strategy. One of the areas that every brand should focus upon strongly. As I outlined above, the search intent has become more specific and therefore content should be optimized in such fashion to meet their needs. Therefore, an extensive keyword research exercise indicative of important terms can ensure that brands are capturing the right audience in search.
  • Linkage. As part of a content marketing strategy it is imperative to ensure that online relationships are leveraged to their utmost ability. One of the things that stands out of critical importance in semantic search is the ability for search engines to identify other supportive entities of such messaging. In essence that helps build credibility and authority from a brand perspective.
  • Social Sharing. Many brands are still not fully leveraging the full potential of social media networks. For example, the Facebook OpenGraph which can significantly enhanced the contextual value of content. Twitter cards are an additional way to enhance the visibility of content in a promotional type of way. And last but least we can not forget about the Pinterest rich pins that can significantly increase clout with the female demographic.