April 18, 2014

Using Semantics for Keyword Research

Posted on 16. May, 2012 by in SEOchat

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Semantics concerns the meaning of words – historically a weak area for search engines. Over the years we’ve seen vast improvement in Google’s ability to understand what searchers mean when they enter keywords. You can capitalize on this fact by changing the way you conduct keyword research. Following these tips will also strengthen your website’s content.

Sujan Patel wrote a fascinating article on this topic for Search Engine Journal. After explaining how Google figures out what searchers mean when they enter keywords, he discussed five steps you can take in your keyword research that will help you get found more often by your target audience.

I’m unspeakably grateful that we’re passed the days when optimizing your keywords meant “pick a single target keyword and cram it into your web content as many times as you can,” as Patel characterizes the obsolete style. He correctly notes that “That ship has sailed.” Thanks in part to Google’s Penguin update, the search engine is better at spotting keyword stuffing. But more importantly, Google “understands” words used in context better than it used to.

Patel used the word “fan” as an example. Most searchers don’t use a single keyword anymore; they’ll put in several, which gives Google some kind of context. It knows that “stargate fan site” is not the same thing as “industrial fan review.” Because of this, it can return relevant results to searchers.

But it goes deeper than just returning websites with the specific phrase. Patel notes that “Google and the other search engines use their semantic indexing capabilities to pull results from related SERPs” and deliver the goods. What does this mean? A searcher entering the phrase “industrial fan review” will see results for that phrase, but the search engine might also include results for the phrases “industrial fan comparison,” “industrial fan guide” or “commercial fan review,” among others, to ensure relevance.

Does this mean that your website will show up for related phrases that you haven’t necessarily targeted? Quite possibly, but wouldn’t it be better to target those phrases anyway? Of course it would. The good news is, you can use the search engines’ own semantic indexing behaviors to help you do your research and plan your content around keyword phrases.

We’ll start by building what Patel referred to as “Level 1” core keywords. These are keywords that vary from our target phrase only slightly, without straying far from its meaning. We’ll enlist Google’s help for this task. Just put your key phrase into Google, and wait for the results to display. Then look at the left-hand sidebar; you’ll find a link for “Related searches.” Hit that, and Google will generate a list, complete with links. When Patel tried it for “industrial fan review,” he got 15 slightly different key phrase, including “industrial fan guide,” “”drum fan review,” “industrial fan manual,” and more.

Not all of these may be relevant, so you may want to click through to check any that look a little questionable. One “related search” Google suggested was “industrial fan lyrics;” that key phrase sounds a lot more like it’s related to music than commercial fans! But that caveat aside, the advantage of starting your keyword research this way is that Google recognizes all of these phrases as semantically related; you know it does, because it just said so. Patel notes that this makes them “a powerful starting point for our keyword research.”

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