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SEO for PR and Content Marketing: Is Semantic Search Enough To Help You Rank Well?
Posted on February 13th 2014
I love last week’s Wired article about semantic search – which is Google’s shift from only recognizing specific keywords and phrases to ranking content for terms relevant to a larger conversation. It’s the difference between ranking for one phrase, versus ranking for multiple phrases that are worded differently but all mean the same thing.
“Consumers increasingly expect search engines to understand natural language and perceive the intent behind the words they type in, and search engine algorithms are rising to this challenge. This evolution in search has dramatic implications for marketers, consumers, technology developers and content creators — and it’s still the early days for this rapidly changing environment,” states author Kerstin Recker (@MsKtia).
The changes are both a blessing and a curse, and I have concerns that the dialog happening is very one-sided. Without understanding the bigger picture and realizing the technology is still in its infancy, it is easy to be mislead and complacent that content will rank well organically with no added effort.
The truth is that leaving your SEO to chance will take FOREVER to deliver real results.
It’s like the difference between having enough gas in your car to get from Phoenix to Las Vegas, or running short and being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Someone may eventually come along and give you the gas you need, but it’s pretty risky, it takes longer and it isn’t reliable. It’s hit or miss.
There are specific tactics you can leverage to help it rank faster and higher.
All of these tactics have one thing in common: be intentional about your search engine optimization. It makes an enormous difference.
Myth: Quality content will naturally rank well because of semantic search.
TRUTH: Semantic search just isn’t there yet, and it isn’t enough.
While it is very true that great content, social sharing and a targeted audience all make a difference in whether or not something ranks well, wrapping SEO tactics intentionally into a piece of content make a difference.
Most hype about Google algorithm changes and penalties revolve around black hat SEO tactics, reducing the deluge of poor quality content and keyword stuffing or spam tactics. There are also statements by Matt Cutts about the value of content marketing that are being taken out of context and misinterpreted.
If you are following the same best practices Google has ALWAYS recommended to webmasters (read them here), you have nothing to be concerned about.
Traditional tactics still work, the changes simply mean there are just more pieces to the puzzle than in the past.
As outlined in the post,”How to Transform Your WordPress Blog Into A SEO Machine,” using an appropriate plug-in for WordPress sites or ensuring your webmaster puts certain pieces of information in the code of your article or page is still important.
The single most influential SEO tactic you can leverage is focusing each piece of content (such as a blog post or article) around one keyword or phrase. If you use an SEO plug-in, put it in the headline, the page title and the page description using your plug-in. (I recommend WordPress SEO by Yoast.)
If you don’t use WordPress but have the ability to edit HTML code for your site or a webmaster that does, make sure it is integrated manually.
This trifecta approach makes a huge difference, assuming the body of your content is relevant to that keyword/phrase.
Social signals also have an impact, so be sure to share, share, share.
Are there other things you can wrap into the tried-and-true tactics that are somewhat new? Yes. Social signals and engagement are growing in importance. The more a piece of content is shared and commented upon, the more important it becomes in the eyes of Google and the higher it will rank.
So share the new content on your social media platforms. Think of it as marketing your marketing. Tweet it multiple times on the day it is published, share it on Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn, then pin it. Share it wherever you can, and encourage comments to improve engagement.
Don’t let semantic search shifts lull you into lazy SEO. We still have to work at it and we should not abandon what is still working in favor of what lies ahead.