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What Is Semantic SEO: How To Use Context To Control Your Rankings

Header Image for Semantic SEO
Header Image for Semantic SEO

Google has changed a lot over the last decade.

Semantic search is one of the big reasons why.

Search engines are more adept at understanding the context and intent behind a user’s query.

Keywords are no longer the all-important element for SEO.

Instead, what matters is the way that search engines understand the context of your page’s content.

Semantic SEO strategies are how you build topical authority and rank for competitive keywords.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What semantic SEO is
  • How to use semantic SEO to improve search ranking
  • Technical considerations


What Is Semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO is a search engine optimization strategy focusing on creating content with topical depth and meaning.

FATJOE graphic explaining What Is Semantic SEO?It’s about understanding the intent behind a search query and delivering content that satisfies that intent.

It leverages search engine updates that ensure relevant pages can be displayed to users, even if they aren’t optimized for a specific keyword.

Google Updates

To understand semantic SEO, we need to quickly cover the evolution of Google.

Around 15 years ago, Google used to take a search query and find web pages that used the same keywords.

It was a simpler system.

But it didn’t always provide a great experience to search users.

That changed in 2013 with the Hummingbird update and the move toward natural language processing. It shifted the focus from individual keywords to understanding the intent behind the search query.

Then, we had the E-A-T update (now E-E-A-T).

This update emphasized the importance of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

Google rewards trustworthy sources that users can rely on with higher rankings.

Then there was the BERT and MUM updates. Both of which further enhanced Google’s understanding of information on the web and enabled more accurate results for complex search queries.

These updates led to the more semantic search engine we have today.

It means even if a page doesn’t contain an exact keyword match, it can still rank well if it covers the topic comprehensively and satisfies the user intent.

A semantic SEO approach is vital to keep up with evolving search algorithms.


Understanding Search Intent

Search intent is a crucial aspect of semantic SEO.

By understanding the reason behind a search, you can optimize your content to show Google that your page is the most relevant result.

Catering To The Right Intent

Once you have identified the search intent, you need to create content that caters to it.

That starts with the content type.

Which types of content appear in the SERP for the search query?

For example, videos dominate the SERP for the informational query “How to build an outdoor pizza oven.”


Search for How to build an outdoor pizza oven.

Depending on the user intent, the dominant content type could be a video, blog post, category page, or landing page.

Next, you need to identify the most appropriate content format.

That could be a how-to guide, listicle, opinion piece, tutorial, comparison post, or another format.

The goal is to create content that matches the format and type that best meets the end user’s goal.

Optimizing Your Content for Search Intent

Optimizing your content for search intent is all about experience and relevance.

You want to create content that aligns with your audience’s needs and provides them with the best possible experience.

Informational Intent

When it comes to informational searches, people can be seeking quick answers or more in-depth content.

They typically use “How to” and “What is” question-based keywords.

According to a recent study of 2.5 million search queries, Google’s “People also ask” feature now shows up for 48.4% of all search queries and is often above position 1.

That shows just how important question-based keywords and semantic SEO are to your search strategy.

You want to show both users and search engines that you have the information they need. Answer the question or explain how you will show users what they want to do in the introduction of your content.

Instead of focusing on keyword density, use semantically related keywords naturally throughout the content. There are tools like Surfer SEO which can help this process with their Content Editor’s NLP Analysis.

Navigational Intent

Create separate landing pages for your products and a detailed homepage highlighting what you sell and who your target audience is.

You can use on-page SEO elements to help Google understand the relevance of your website. Make sure you include your product name and brand in page titles, subheadings, and meta descriptions.

Google uses these elements to determine if your page is a relevant match for the search query.

Transactional Intent

These searchers are ready to convert and make a purchase.

You can optimize for transactional intent by creating dedicated product and category pages. Include clear calls to action that encourage visitors to take that next step.

Make it easy for users to complete their transactions by streamlining the checkout process.

Commercial Investigation

Users searching for this type of query want guidance on making a purchasing decision.

They could be comparing products or looking for an expert review.

You can create content that evaluates the key features that users look for in the product.

For users that want a quick comparison, include a table of key data or a star rating system.

Check out our search intent guide to discover more ways to determine the intent behind a search query.

Creating Relevant Content

Semantic SEO is all about providing relevant, comprehensive content that satisfies user intent

Here’s how to do it:

Identify Relevant Keywords and Topics

Instead of building a list of diverse keywords based on competition and search volume, we’re going to start by identifying relevant topics.

Targeting topics allows you to create topic clusters.

A topic cluster is a collection of interconnected content pieces around a central pillar topic.

The pillar page covers the main topic in-depth while supporting content pieces dive deeper into subtopics related to the central theme.

You can use keyword research tools like AnswerThePublic to discover the questions and sub-topics related to your main topic.


AnswerThePublic screenshot

This approach strengthens the relevance and authority of your content.

Users can find comprehensive information and answers to their questions all in one place.

Understanding the Knowledge Graph and Linked Data

The Google Knowledge Graph is an extensive database of structured information. It’s a collection of people, places, and things – and the relationships between them.

Google uses the Knowledge Graph to understand the meaning of queries and to provide more relevant search results.

Here’s how Google describes it:

Screenshot explaining Google Knowledge graph

Image Source

If you type a search query into Google and get a relevant answer without clicking a result, that’s because of the Knowledge Graph.

Here’s an example for the actor Joe Pesci. You can see a summary of information about the actor and his films:

Screenshot of results for Joe Pesci

Google uses the Knowledge Graph to make sense of all the indexable content posted online.

You can make it easier for Google to understand the context and relevance of your content by providing data that can be used in the Knowledge Graph.

That’s where Linked Data comes in.

In simple terms, Linked Data is a way of representing information in a way that makes it easier for search engines to understand.

Think of Linked Data as helping search engines to understand the relationships between different pieces of content on your website.

You do this by adding structured data to your web pages.

It may sound complicated, but you don’t need any technical expertise. We’ll show you how later in the guide when we discuss the technical aspects of semantic SEO.

Writing In-Depth Content That Addresses Broader Topics

When it comes to creating content, aim to cover topics in-depth.

Instead of skimming the surface, provide comprehensive coverage of the topics and sub-topics you’re targeting.

This means going beyond basic information and exploring the nuances and different perspectives within your niche.

Think “The Ultimate Guide To” style posts, rather than specific keyword-focused posts.

You can still have specific sections to address individual questions, but the post as a whole will display semantic relevance by covering multiple aspects of the same broad topic.

It’s about delivering high-quality, informative, and engaging content that meets the needs of your audience. Focus on relevance and value rather than churning out multiple shallow pieces.

This will also help with your link building strategy.

High-value resources can attract backlinks from third-party authority websites. It’s the kind of content that organically generates links and shares on social media.

Optimizing Internal Links

Internal links are an essential aspect of semantic SEO.

By using internal linking to create semantic connections between your pages, you can help search engines understand the meaning of your content and the relationships between your pages.

The Impact of Internal Links on Semantic SEO

Internal links are like signposts. They help search engines crawl and index your content.

They also establish connections between different pages.

Here’s how Sam Poyan describes it:


But it’s not just about sharing link juice and highlighting the value of a page.

Linking relevant pages together tells Google about the topical relationship between your content.

This can increase the chances of ranking for related keywords and search queries.

Strategically Placing Internal Links in Your Content

There are two critical elements of internal linking for semantic SEO; relevance and contextual anchor text.

First, make sure that links to other pages are relevant to the content of your current page.

This will help search engines understand the context of your content and the relationships between different pages. It also helps you to build topical authority.

By more extensively covering subjects, both within single comprehensive posts and multiple posts on related topics, you’ll establish your topical authority in the eyes of Google.

Semantic SEO and Topical Authority go hand-in-hand as working on the former builds the latter.

Here’s an example in a Search Engine Journal post.


Screenshot of SEJ Amazon article

As you can see, the topic of the post is Amazon SEO.

If we scroll down to a subheading on Amazon keyword research, we can see an internal link with the anchor text “keyword research.”


Screenshot from in the SEJ Amazon article

The anchor text sends a message to Google that this is relevant supporting information.

If we click the link, we can see the linked page covers Amazon keyword research strategies.

Screenshot of SEJ AmazonKeyword Research article

The linked page is highly relevant to the current page.

And the use of anchor text makes it clear to Google this is what the page is about and why it is valuable.

Structuring your internal links like this can help Google understand the context and meaning of your content.

Technical Considerations for Semantic SEO

It’s important to consider the technical aspects of your semantic SEO strategy.

These technical considerations ensure that Google can effectively crawl and interpret your content.

Structured Data and Schema Markup

Structured data provides search engines with additional details and context about your content.

Here’s how it’s described on Google Search Central:

“Google Search works hard to understand the content of a web page. You can help us by providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page to Google by including structured data on the page.”

This is done with schema markup.

You can add tags and tiny pieces of code to your webpage to tell Google what the page is about.

It provides a standardized way to describe different types of content like articles, recipes, ratings, products, and more.

Google uses schema markup to enhance search engine result pages (SERPs).

For example, you’ll sometimes see additional information like prices, reviews, and star ratings directly in search results:

Screenshot of Rotten Tomatoes result for Last Of Us

Structured data isn’t a direct ranking factor. But it can make your listing more enticing to users and boost your clickthrough rate.

The easiest way to add structured data to your website is to use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper tool.

Enter the URL of your webpage, and you can highlight different elements of your page and assign tags.

Screenshot of structured data markup

Once you’ve finished, you will have created the schema ready to paste into the source code of your page.

You can use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to validate your structured data markup.

The tools highlight any errors and provide insights into how search engines interpret your structured data.

Building out your semantic SEO via schema ensures that search engines have the best possible idea of how your pages relate to each other.

Schema can allow you to define a whole range of attributes about a page, as Daniel K Cheung explains here:

Daniel K Cheung Schema Screenshot

This goes beyond simply relying on the visible content on the page and provides direct signposts for search engines to understand what the page contains, who produced the page, and how it relates to other pages on your site.

This builds out both a broader semantic understanding of the page and the concept of defined entities within your site.

This leads us to Entity SEO.

What Is Entity SEO, And How Does It Interact With Semantic SEO?

Entity SEO is its own discrete, well, entity.

Where Semantic SEO hinges upon the content and topics you cover, entity SEO is concerned with where you cover them.

It’s obvious that you cover the topics on your site, but location here refers to distinct profiles, personas, or boundaries for different entities on your site.

This can extend to people, places, things, or concepts covered on your site.

Lawrence Hitches provides a great analogy in his blog post:

Screenshot from Lawrence Hitchens

Semantic SEO and Entity SEO go hand-in-hand. The more clearly you define the content you cover and the relationships between your pages and pieces, so too will you inherently build out a clearer profile of the entities on your site.

Entity Salience

A follow-up to the concept of entities is the idea of entity salience.

This excellent post from SmartInsights tackles this in more depth, but the fundamental idea of entity salience is how much a given entity stands out as important within a given text.

Through NLP (natural language processing), Google can determine the prevalence of an entity within the text, either directly or through inferred references. This more advanced understanding of the intratextual context of an entity means that old-school tactics of keyword stuffing are not necessary for Google to understand that your article is relevant to a given topic.

Take an example of an article written about the band Porcupine Tree.

In the days of keyword stuffing, the text would need to be riddled with mentions of the band’s name to make it abundantly clear the article was relevant to them and anyone looking them up.

Thanks to advances in NLP and entities, articles no longer need to do that. Due to contextual clues within the text, an NLP model would be able to understand that phrases like “the band” or even “they” refer to Porcupine Tree without the need to constantly mention their name.

This leads to a much more natural writing style that doesn’t need to focus on SEO keywords to still achieve the same goal of being relevant to the user’s query and to achieve good SEO results.

Let Google Make The Connections With Semantic SEO

No page is an island.

Instead of focusing singly on individual keywords per page, your SEO approach needs to adopt a holistic and semantic approach.

Google wants domains to demonstrate a depth of understanding and expertise in their content.

Focus on user intent alongside both topic depth and breadth as you create informative and quality content to build your semantic SEO.

SEO isn’t just about the external links you acquire, or the internal links you create.

It’s also about the connections that search engines can draw across your content and pages to best understand what your content offers and how it can help searchers.



Daniel Trick
Daniel Trick

Head of Content

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