Semantic SEO is an optimization method that helps search engines understand the content of your web pages. Learn how it works, how to use it to your advantage, and download our checklist to ensure you nail it.

Here, you’ll find:

  1. What is semantic SEO?
  2. How to optimize your website for semantic SEO and semantic keywords
  3. How does semantic SSEO work?
  4. What is the importance of a semantic SEO strategy?
  5. Checklist for semantic SEO

One of the top rules you’ll hear as a digital marketer is to “write content for humans.”

However, it’s still important to consider the ranking algorithms as well.

Semantic SEO is all about adding context, structure, and nuance to your web pages so search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo can understand them better.

Whether you’re a copywriter, marketing manager, or technical SEO specialist, it pays to understand the basics of semantic SEO.

We’ve put together this article to introduce you to semantic SEO and provide a handy checklist for optimizing your pages for the search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is semantic SEO?

Semantic search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your web pages to provide structure and meaning to the search engines. This helps the search engines deliver better results to search engine users looking for specific search terms.

In the past, the search engines were very basic. They’d only look at keywords to deliver search engine results to users. This meant there was a high chance that users wouldn’t get the exact results they were looking for.

Now, search engines are a lot more advanced. Google Hummingbird launched in 2013, and this rewrite of the algorithm changed how Google carried out searches.

Rather than using keywords to understand a query, Google now uses natural language processing (NLP) to understand the context and intent behind a search. This means more accurate results and happier searchers.

Since Hummingbird, additional changes to the Google algorithm have led to new advances in semantic SEO, including:

  • BERT: Google’s Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) model recognizes the connection between people, places, and things and uses this to promote the most relevant answers to user queries, even if the wording doesn’t 100% match.
  • RankBrain: RankBrain uses machine learning (ML) to process search results and provide the most relevant results for searchers. It prioritizes the user experience and how content fulfills users’ needs.
  • Knowledge Graph: Google’s Knowledge Graph is a database of facts and information that makes it easier for Google to serve relevant and factual results to searchers. By optimizing your content for semantic SEO and semantic keywords, you increase the chances of your page appearing in different formats. For example, a knowledge panel or featured snippet in the SERPs.

Featured snippet for the search query how to eat an artichoke

How to optimize your website for semantic SEO and semantic keywords

You can use semantic SEO no matter what type of website you have. Ecommerce websites, blogs, and service-orientated sites all benefit from providing additional context to prospective customers.

If you work in digital marketing and are new to semantic SEO, here are four expert tips to get started. Also keep reading to access a free checklist to stay on track.

Do extensive keyword research

Don’t overlook the importance of semantic keywords in SEO. Here’s how to do semantic SEO-friendly keyword research.

Understand your target audience

Semantic SEO keywords are all about understanding your customers and the pain points they experience.
Look at emails, social media messages, and live chat logs you receive from customers to identify what’s important to them.

The “People also ask” section of Google is a valuable resource for identifying questions and queries visitors are likely to ask.

People also ask section of the Google search results

Use clusters

Topic and keyword clusters are an essential part of the semantic keywords SEO process.

A keyword cluster is when you group similar keywords to go on a page together. This allows you to ensure all the keywords on your page have a similar search intent, which helps the search engines identify the purpose and aim of your page.

How big should a keyword cluster be? It depends on the topic, your target audience, and the length of your content. As a rule of thumb, we recommend at least five keywords.

A topic cluster is a collection of content grouped by a shared topic and related subtopics. This typically features a pillar page that talks about a main topic, with several cluster pages that cover related topics in more depth.

Everything is internally linked so that search engines understand the relationship between different pieces of content. This approach allows you to cover a wide range of topics and ensures you answer all your visitor’s questions in as much detail as possible.

This approach also gives you topical authority, meaning search engine users are more likely to trust and value you as a source of information. As a result, you earn more visibility in the SERPs.

Here’s an example of how keyword clusters and topic clusters can work together:

Topic Cluster table

“Clusters are highly valuable when it comes to semantic SEO,” says Nwabufor John, SEO strategist at

“A client was selling sustainable dog toys, so I created a cluster on eco-friendly pet care, with blog posts covering “recycled rubber chew toys,” “DIY dog treats with organic ingredients,” and “eco-friendly dog park alternatives.” As a result, organic traffic for “sustainable dog toys” grew 30% in three months.

Optimize your on-page content

After identifying the right related keywords, add them to your page. Here’s how to structure and optimize your content with semantic SEO in mind.

Focus on long-form content

Long-form content (articles and pages over 1,000 words) typically does better from a semantic SEO perspective. This is because it’s easier to integrate relevant keywords and answer visitor’s queries in-depth naturally.

However, sometimes short-form content is a better choice for achieving your marketing goals. Once you answer the query, no need to go further or risk being fluffy.

Avoid using the same keywords over again

One of the most common mistakes we see digital marketers make from a semantic SEO perspective is keyword stuffing. This is when you fill a web page with the same words and phrases repeatedly to manipulate the search engine rankings.

Semantic SEO prioritizes the meaning and context of words, plus, the search engines are smart enough to understand synonyms (for example, on-page SEO and on-site optimization).

This means you can focus on creating valuable and relevant content that answers user’s queries.

Write for humans

While semantic SEO is all about appealing to machines, one of the best ways to see success is by writing for humans.

Adopting a conversational, natural tone makes it easier for you to answer page visitor’s questions. This makes it easier for the search engines to understand what you’re saying.

This also makes it easier to use keywords organically, rather than shoehorning them in.

Take advantage of semantic SEO tools

Tools like Surfer SEO, Clearscope, Yoast, and Rankmath are great for identifying semantically related terms to use. They also recommend the optimal keyword frequency to avoid keyword stuffing.

We particularly like Clearscope as it offers semantic grouping, meaning you can organize your keywords within your page content.

Example of semantic keywords and semantic grouping in Clearscope

Improve the readability of your page

Clear headers, bullet points, and internal links don’t just provide value to page visitors. They also help search engine crawlers understand the structure of your content, giving you a semantic SEO boost.

If you’re creating long-form content, jump links can help too.

Use structured data

The keywords you use and the structure of your page can provide search engines with significant clues about your page’s content. Structured data takes things one step further by providing search engine crawlers with explicit information about your page’s content.

Structured data markup (or schema markup) is specific code you add to your page that tells the search engines where to find key data.

Say, for example, you have a web page with a recipe. You can use structured data to identify information including:

  • The recipe title
  • A photo of the finished recipe
  • A list of ingredients
  • The instructions
  • How long the recipe takes to prepare and cook
  • How many people it serves
  • The calories

Example of structured data markup for a coffee cake

Structured data makes it easier for search engines to serve your web pages to the right searchers. As the data for this coffee cake recipe says it serves ten people, Google knows that if someone searches for “coffee cake recipe for ten people,” your recipe could be an ideal match.

You can add structured data to a range of pages on your website, including articles, event listings, job postings, and reviews. We recommend using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to create your schema. You can then add the code generated to the relevant web page.

Keep up with the latest semantic SEO trends

Semantic SEO is frequently evolving and changing, and there are frequent algorithm updates to contend with.

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is making it even easier for search engines to understand the context and meaning behind pages. This video by Koray Tuğberk Gübür advises that this may make using technical SEO mainstays like canonical tags obsolete.

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT also have an effect, making it easier to create large amounts of content that cover multiple topic clusters.

While using a semantic SEO strategy makes it easier to future-proof the content on your website, it’s still important to keep up to date with what’s happening in the sector. Here are our favorite semantic SEO experts to follow on LinkedIn:

How does semantic SEO work?

Let’s take the keyword “ring” as an example. This simple keyword has a lot of different meanings. It could be a piece of jewelry, the ringtone on a phone, a place where you may go and see a boxing match, even a brand of smart doorbell.

In the past (before Hummingbird) the number one result in the search engines would likely be the page that used the term “ring” the most. Chances were that this page would not be helpful!

Now, Google uses a range of factors, like context, search history, and user behavior, to understand the search intent behind the query. For example, if a searcher has searched for wedding-related queries in the past, Google may surmise that they may be interested in engagement or wedding rings.

Next, Google uses this intent to prioritize results that align with the searcher’s needs, using keywords and page data. If it believes a page is most likely to answer a search query, it will rank higher in the results.

What is the importance of a semantic SEO strategy?

Let’s look at some of the benefits of semantic SEO.

  • It boosts your website ranking. As search engines focus on context and meaning rather than keywords alone, a semantic SEO approach means you’re more likely to appear on the first page of Google. It can also increase the odds of appearing as a featured snippet or knowledge panel, increasing the chance of clicks.
  • It drives relevant traffic to your website. Semantic SEO means your page will likely rank high for relevant search queries. This means more targeted organic traffic and, as a result, more clicks and conversions.
  • It increases trust in your content. As you’re focusing on a broader range of keywords, you’re more likely to answer visitor’s questions. This means visitors are more likely to come back to your website and consider you a reliable and authoritative source of information. Authoritative information can also lead to more backlinks, another SEO ranking factor.
  • It future-proofs your content. Search engine algorithms frequently change, which can potentially cause your page to drop in the rankings. Adopting a semantic SEO strategy can help your website in the long term, as you’re optimizing for meaning and context rather than specific keywords.

Semantic SEO is at the heart of what we do at HawkSEM. Sam Yadegar, CEO at HawkSEM, has this to say:

“When working on SEO and content marketing for our clients, we don’t just write articles to rank for a keyword. We show the search engines that we’re covering a certain topic in depth to ensure the search engines, as well as customers, see our clients as industry experts. Being comprehensive, strategic, and adding value are critical when using semantic SEO.”

Checklist for semantic SEO

Need to prep your pages for semantic SEO? This easy-to-follow checklist will help ensure your website is optimized for search queries.

Know your target audience. This means you’re more likely to understand user intent and what your page visitors want to see

Do extensive keyword research. Multiple keywords make it easier to implement your SEO strategy

Use topic and keyword clusters. Sort your keywords into piles and create multiple pieces of content

Optimize your pages. Headings, bullet points, and internal linking make it easier for both humans and search engines to understand your web content

Keep it conversational. Use human language and avoid stuffing your content with keywords

Use structured data where appropriate. This tells the search engines more about your page

Track your results. Tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz can help you see how your content is doing in the SERPs

Don’t forget traditional SEO. Semantic SEO is important, but so is high-quality, trustworthy content

The takeaway

While it’s important to optimize your content for humans, it’s just as important to optimize it for machines. Semantic SEO helps search engines understand the meaning and context of your web pages, meaning they can signpost the right people to your website.

While semantic SEO may sound daunting and overly technical to some digital marketers, it’s not as hard as you may think. By focusing on a wide range of keywords, structuring your web pages accordingly, and using natural, conversational language, you can reap the benefits of a semantic SEO strategy.

Still unsure how to use semantic SEO to your advantage? Our team of SEO experts is here to help, no matter what industry you’re in. We’ll identify the right keywords, create topic clusters, and build highly optimized pages that increase the chances of reaching the first page of Google.

Take the SEO work we did for NorthStock. By developing an SEO strategy focused on semantics and high-quality content, we increased their conversion rate by 53%.

See how we can help with your semantic SEO strategy and drive better rankings for your website today — contact us for your free, no-obligation consultation.

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