Semantic Search Basics

There comes a moment for those who run a business on the web that they realize a couple of things: first that search is incredibly technical in terms of how it works and second that their efforts to understand what they need to do in order to gain more visibility on search are hampered by this apparent technical complexity. 

It wasn’t always like that. Ranking in search used to revolve around ‘simplicities’ such as keywords, links and volume of content and it used to include some arcane practices such as Pagerank sculpting, link-juice building and text-to-code web page ratio. 

Although it’s true that the complexity (from a purely technical perspective has increased) there are still simple things that every website owner should be doing to help them rank better in search, help them increase visibility on the search results and help them on their quest to grow their business. 

Much of this of course is covered in my book on Google Semantic Search but for a quick crash course on basics in the run-up to the all-important Christmas period. To get there fast the best way to start is from the top down (i.e. how search works to present an answer to a search query). When a search query goes into a search engine like Google there are three distinct elements that need to work in order for a satisfactory answer to be supplied: 

  1. Denotation – defining the meaning and/or concept of the search query
  2. Indexing – of all the relevant data that goes into the making of the semantic web
  3. Presentation – the data indexed must be suitably formatted for easy inclusion in the search index

Indexing and presentation have been there from the very beginning of search. A website that isn’t indexed cannot be present and once the search index has all the information it needs in order to successfully answer a query the problem becomes one of presentation, i.e. how to pull it all together in a way that will quickly and successfully satisfy that search query. 

So, it’s denotation that’s really new. In semantic search the meaning of the search query, the concept behind it and its intent shape the direction of what’s presented. While each of these steps represents a complex sub-series of actions for our purposes each can be simplified sufficiently to present a reverse-engineered blueprint of actions for the average webmaster, to follow.

These then are: 

  • Create depth and detail in the organization of the information you present. Don’t just put up a post about what your business does. Link it to valuable, existing resources in other parts of the web, bring in information that helps it go deeper and link it to other parts of your website that help establish further value for the reader. (Like the three basic steps of semantic search: Classification, Validation and data)
  • Spread the love. Don’t rely on keeping your information only on your website. Go where your audience is. Share insights, ideas, suggestions, exciting news and the latest developments with them. Have a conversation about what you do and why you love doing it. Create a connection that’s based on the sharing of information that is of real value. Build relationships. Make the connections you foster matter.
  • Be clear. Don’t try to be everything to everybody in the hope that in volume you will retain the percentage of conversions you have and therefore increase business. The web never truly worked like that and it certainly doesn’t now when search engines can actually discern quality and expertise in the websites they index. Achieve clarity not just in the “What” of your content but also in its “How” and “Why” and, obviously, the “Who” of its audience. (And if you really need help with that consider going through SEO Help: 20 Semantic Search Steps that Will Help Your Business Grow

If you do nothing else but these three things on your website, you will notice an improvement in the relevance of traffic you get which will lead to higher conversions. If you also want to look at some of the more technical aspects of search but are not technical yourself consider improving these three areas: 

  1. Website loading speed. Check your hosting for uptime and fast server response time, especially during busy (i.e. high load) times. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights to help you
  2. Optimized images. Check to make sure that the images you serve are the lightest possible you can use without compromising quality. A handy Moz blog post tells you how to perform an image optimization audit on your website but if even this is too technical then just use one of the online image compression tools and reduce the file size of your images before you upload them
  3. Responsive design. Make sure your website works well at all screen sizes. Use an online screen size checker to see how your website looks to visitors using mobile devices. Fix issues that affect display and accessibility. 

None of this is hugely complicated. Most depend upon having a structured approach to your business that usually delivers data in ways that make it either easier to structure by Google or have already structured it (due to the way it is organized). This is why thinking about what you do, before you do it is now so critical. As technology evolves and the tools we use surface more and more data what appears is not so much what we do as to why we do it.