Semantics and Relevance: Even Keywords Need Support Sometimes

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semanticsSemantics: the study of language meaning

Analysis: an investigation of the component parts of a whole and their relations in making up the whole

David Harry over at the SEO Training Dojo wrote an excellent article entitled Semantic Analysis for SEO: Going Beyond LDA. For you search geeks that understand… well, search geek, just click the link, head on over and have yourselves a good read. For our readers who aren’t search geeks, have no idea what LDA is, and are now throwing their hands up in the air saying, “oh crap, now what”, stick around.

I bring up David’s article because he makes a very valid, very interesting point about keyword vs. word usage. These tidbits of information can be of huge value to you, who may be reading SEO blogs to learn how to create your own campaign (or, at the very least, to understand what your SEO company representative is saying when they tell you how the campaign is going). It’s just one more piece of the puzzle you can use to gain the whole picture.

Adding Meaning to Key Terms

There’s this thing; It’s called semantic analysis (SA). As David mentions in the article, SA isn’t necessarily about synonyms and plurals – and here’s where this article really begins…

In content, you have synonyms, plurals and related terms. When you read a sentence, you get the meaning of a word based on the context. You get the meaning of the sentence based on the surrounding sentences. In fact, a lot of our reading comprehension doesn’t come because we’re walking dictionaries, but because we use surrounding information to support our understanding of the written word.

Take, for instance, the word pilferer. Do you know off the top of your head what it means? Some of us may see the word, not recognize it and go find a dictionary. Others “guess”, using the surrounding text…

“He’s a compulsive pilferer. Everywhere he goes, stuff disappears into his pockets. Last week, he walked out of the store with a pack of gum without paying for it. He doesn’t even like gum!”

Okay, so maybe you wouldn’t use the word in a normal conversation, but using the surrounding text, you’ve probably guessed a pilferer is a thief. How do you know? The surrounding text:

…stuff disappears into his pockets… walked out of a store… without paying for it

Yet, none of these words are synonymous with thief.

Like Human, Like Search Engine

Search engines work much the same way. They using surrounding text to “understand” how relevant a page is to the search term. Apple is a good example. With just the word without surrounding context, you could mean:

  • The fruit
  • The company
  • A color
  • A desert

The SEs decide what you mean by surrounding text:

  • The fruit – Granny Smith, Jonathan, Autumn Gold
  • The company – iPhone, iTunes, MacBook
  • Color – Candy Apple Red, paint, color
  • Desert – Candied apple, cake, cobbler

Without these surrounding words, all you get on (at least) the first two pages is information about Apple – the company.

What does this mean to you?

When you write an article, blog or web page, reread with an eye on semantic value. Consider what you’ve written about when linking. The worst thing you can do for your site and your visitors is write a whole bunch of words and then throw a keyword or two in there. Frankly, it just makes for crap.

It’s all about relevance, but relevance doesn’t necessarily mean just similar words or even words that mean the same thing(i.e. SEO and search engine optimization). Create a list of words you might use to support your key terms like using:

  • exercise to support Pilates
  • PPC to support conversions
  • cat to support jaguar (David’s example)
  • Granny Smith to support apple

If you take the time to make sure your SEO efforts – whether it’s writing Meta data or building links – include supporting words, you’ll end up building a rare thing: a tightly focused website with excellent links, strong ranking and content your readers (and the SEs) can understand.

So, right now, I challenge you to look at your site, your articles, your blogs, your links, what have you, keeping semantics in mind. Do your keywords get the support they need?

By |2017-05-29T05:00:29-07:00November 29th, 2010|Content Development, SEO|

About the Author:

All around SEO coding geek; AKA "Bulldog" I'm a long-time Internet Marketing veteran specializing in organic SEO. I love the whole process of online marketing: developing the website, writing the content, optimization, data analysis, and (of course) the actual marketing itself. I've done it all and love it all. At the moment, I spend most of my time happily buried in SEO, website design/coding, and lovely, little regex redirects.