The increasing industry focus on semantic search and context based content has created some of the biggest upsets in SEO in years, as well creating a significant surge in social media marketing.

In general though, the only people really upset are old-fashioned SEO’s, who see the new Google Hummingbird algorithm as a giant free for all, potentially undermining the hard work they’ve put into addressing the ambiguity of search engine optimisation over the years. Most users online, and even many businesses, will find it a welcome change though, once they understand how to adapt to it.

Semantic Search – Search Engine as Person

For those who aren’t familiar with semantic search, it’s a concept being implemented by Google to allow them to connect search queries with results that are contextually related to the situation prompting the query, as well as using synonyms and associated ideas to bring users new content. Let’s look at an example:

Using voice search on your smartphone, you ask “Where is the closest good restaurant?”

Firstly, because it’s voice search, Google won’t consider the whole search as necessary to the result and it’ll add some terms of its own where necessary (example: ‘review’ instead of ‘good’), that’s context.

Secondly, it knows that Ed’s Diner is also a ‘restaurant’ even if it doesn’t say so, that’s semantics.

Lastly, because the previous ten times you’ve asked your phone that question, you’ve gone to Wimpy, it includes it even if it isn’t the closest, and that’s a judgement it makes based on your past.

Semantics and context working in unison to provide an answer to your needs, that takes your own preferences into account.

So What’s the Point of SEO?

Looking at how much of personal and unique experience each search query seems to be turning into, you’d be forgiven for thinking that marketing to search engines is becoming pointless, and that you should just market to people instead. Well, you’d be half right

The truth is, you get to work a lot less hard, but you have to work a lot smarter. Carpet bombing content and links all over the web won’t be as good as writing one contextually relevant post that goes viral in the right circles. You need to structure your content strategy in a way that predicts the way those using search engines in the right stage of the buying cycle, behave, and take into account their potential needs, interests and requirements.

But while this concept is all grand and exciting, it’s hard to translate this development into meaningful SEO activities for your business, going forward. Which leads you to:

Simple Tips for the Days of Semantic Search

Less in More

The simplest tip we can give you is: keep calm. If you have a high ranking site, your traffic might drop (significantly for some industries). But the traffic you do get will now be vetted by Google’s contextual breakdown of the query. This means higher buying intent for e-commerce channels, and a better quality of visitor for websites.

Semantic Markup

This allows you to use HTML code to give Google insights into what your content actually means. For instance you can indicate that your content is a review and specify its subject and the rating you gave. You can “tag” your address, or establish authorship to link your work to your G+ account and its profile photo.

While this isn’t a ranking factor, it can make your webpages or post look more enticing when they do show up on the SERP, an increase the perceived credibility For instance, a visible authorship has been known to increase Clickthrough-rates by 150% in certain studies.

Time to Get Social

If you’ve been resisting the age of social networking up until now, it may be time to relent. This doesn’t mean you have to get a Twitter account and hashtag and retweet everything related to your industry in a desperate bid to get a follower-base.

It means, if you’re an expert, prove it. Go onto Google+, industry blogs and public forums, or start your own blog. Discuss things that interest you, contribute your opinion where you can, ask some of the right questions when you don’t know, and share where it’s appropriate. In essence, it’s not much different from attending a large industry conference. Except it never ends and the bar is always cash-only

It’s also important to ensure that your SEO strategy is aligned with your social strategy, but with a little effort, that’s not hard to achieve.

Keep it All Linked

This once again relates to how Google sees you. In the earlier example, we spoke about a person looking for a local restaurant. Well for Google to know you’re a local restaurant, it first needs to know what your address is. Similarly, for it to know that the author who’s writing all those amazing articles being recommended on StumbleUpon recommendations works for your company, that author’s profile should be linked to your website.

Ensure that everything you do online, be it a YouTube channel or a Google Maps blip, is linked to your site, to help Google understand who you are, and why you deserve to be ranked.

Some Old Ways Are Still Good Ways

People have been saying ‘Content is king’ for so long that some of them forgot about the rest of the SEO royal family. So don’t let your content and semantic search take up all of your attention.

All your compelling industry musings and pages of semantic markup may all be for nothing if your website is horribly structured, and the pages speeds give your website a dial-up era feel.

Remember that in this context, the website is the product, and all the semantic optimisation in the world won’t help if it goes to a website that doesn’t give the visitor what they want.