It seems as if every month, search engines announce a new algorithm update that sends SEO specialists into a frenzy. In reality, it's not that often that an update actually changes everything. By adding semantic search into the equation, Google's Hummingbird algorithm is the exception. It points to a swiftly approaching future in which search results aren't determined by simple keyword matching and are instead determined by the intent and context of the keywords used.
Speaking Naturally for Search
With this new development, search engine results pages (SERPs) provide more relevant results than were traditionally possible. This type of algorithm is often referred to as natural language processing because the search results are based on the way people naturally speak and phrase things. This push for this type of search is largely driven by the shift toward voice-based search on mobile devices.
When you search for information about the weather using voice recognition, you don't say, "Weather Los Angeles." Instead, you'd say, "What's the weather in Los Angeles?" The search engine can now process that naturally phrased query to provide results that match based on an understanding of the phrase itself, not the keywords it contains. More meaningful results abound, and over time, Hummingbird can predict your search queries based on your previous searches.
All of this is designed to make the searcher and end-user's experience more robust and more accurate. Of course, this does depend to some degree on your ability to optimize a site to suit these new search methodologies. Basically, you've got to up your SEO game.
SEO for Semantic Search
Thanks to an August 2013 patent filing entitled "Interactive query completion templates," we know that Google uses template queries in order to answer searcher's questions as they ask them. Template queries are a way for Google to process search queries that fit within certain parameters, such as weather requests or hotel locations.
Businesses should construct their Web content to ensure that it includes all the information that would be contained in a search for their industries. A company in the wedding industry, for example, should include content centered around this topic as well as relevant location information, vendor listings and travel resources. Because context is now key in search, good SEO requires the creation of relevant content more than ever before.
That being said, traditional optimization tactics should still be employed. It's important for your site's pages to load quickly. Image optimization is especially important for reducing load time. You should ensure that your site is optimized for all browsers and mobile devices, which often means utilizing responsive Web design. You should also create a site map and employ an intuitive site structure.
While SEO was previously synonymous with keyword stuffing, those days have long passed. Now that semantic search has arrived, Web professionals must pay more attention to improving site accessibility and relevancy.