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How Semantic Search is Shaping Content

Don Broekelmann
How Semantic Search is Shaping Content

All marketers face the same never-ending plight: climbing the ranks of search engine results to cross paths with the searchers who need their services. But to no avail, the black hat SEO magicians sneak their way through, leaving both you and potential customers empty-handed.

Although rising to and staying at the top of search results is a constant struggle, content marketers are familiar with a special brand of frustration these shady characters inspire. You produce relevant content in an honest effort to educate and impress potential clients, but it never reaches the eyes of potential customers who could actually benefit from it.

Fortunately, as more search engines manipulate their algorithms to favor relevance and intent, the days of keyword stuffing and link manipulation are limited. But this also means that content marketers need to understand and practice semantic searching.

The Evolution to More Relevant Search Results

Google and other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing have consistently refined the search process to weed out and punish sites using black hat SEO tactics to improve their rankings. Now they and other search engine companies are ramping up their game with semantic searching, which scans content to decipher whether it actually answers a searcher’s question before including it in the results.

Semantic searches use a process called disambiguation — analyzing all the information a user has typed in and other factors to interpret her intent. This increases the chances that the results will answer the user’s question rather than return a hit-and-miss list of links based on keywords alone. Semantic search is changing the depth at which people can search and receive meaningful results.

This switch is a game changer for content marketers. Rather than worrying about stuffing keywords in articles and hoping for a solid ranking, they can focus on publishing high-quality material that addresses the questions their customers and prospects are asking and trust that it will get in front of consumers who need it.

How to Win at Semantic Search

Writing content with semantic search in mind requires its own kind of strategy — one that guarantees results and delivers on what customers want to read. You can have the most masterfully written prose in the world, but it won’t mean a thing if you’re not meeting customers’ needs or inspiring them with new insights. The key to excelling at semantic search is getting inside your audience’s head.

To boost your content rankings with semantic search, implement these best practices into your content strategy:

  1. Focus less on keywords. Semantic optimization takes care of keywords. If you’re writing meaningful content with hearty, detail-rich information, your keywords will be built into it. You want to consistently publish compelling, easily shareable content. Keywords are still important, but they should occur organically in your articles — never at the expense of quality.
  1. Answer meaningful questions. Use your internal knowledge management system to identify questions you can answer for your audience. Anything that helps them improve their businesses’ performance or makes their lives easier could be worth a blog post, article, or study. Talk to your sales team, find out the questions customers are asking, and incorporate this information into your strategy.

You’ll also want to tap into the wealth of data your customer service team has amassed. Creating content around past customer problems helps you head off the same issues in the future and lets you teach prospects how to be good clients. You’re preparing prospects for potential hurdles so they can easily anticipate and overcome them.

  1. Take the long-tail keyword approach. Rather than tagging content with popular keywords, use phrases that people are actually using in their searches. Find out which ones are most valuable, and naturally develop content around those. It’s about anticipating how your customers will search and the answers they’re looking for.

You can also use tools like Google Keyword Planner to find out what phrases and questions people are using to search. This shouldn’t be your only avenue for inspiring new content, but it’s a good starting point for digging deeper into some of the topics you may want to cover.

Semantic search is raising the bar for content marketers. You’re prioritizing content value over keywords and building consumer trust while you’re at it. Search engines are getting smarter in how they deliver results to users. Now marketers must learn to follow suit.

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Don Broekelmann is executive vice president at Influence & Co., a content marketing firm based in Columbia, Missouri. Don works with Influence & Co.’s brand partners to develop content marketing plans to create authentic engagement with specific customer segments.
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Matt LaClear
Thanks for sharing Don. While there’s plenty of buzz surrounding semantic search and its merits, where’s the information that points to the right tools to use? For instance, if you queried the words, “semantic analysis tools,” you’d likely be taken on a journey to never-never land. Eventually, you might find the information.

It would be great if you could share some relevant resources. I used to work with a process called latent semantic indexing. I was able to compare my content with the most relevant content for any search query. The tool disappeared though.