Now that Google is making fundamental changes to its algorithm and looking at content semantically, you have real opportunities to make your copy more effective.

In my last piece, I talked about why you need to do more than just write for your audience to make your site successful. This piece looks at how you should be researching and writing SEO content in the world of semantic search.

Before you go too far, if you’re looking for information on semantic search algorithms, semantic graph search and other technical ephemera, you are unfortunately in the wrong place. This piece is The Writer’s Guide To Semantic Search, and like most of my writings here, it’s unapologetically stripped of as much technical stuff as I can manage.

Semantic Search vs Semantic Web

Someone asked me if semantic search was the same as semantic web. From a writer’s point of view, they are entirely different. Very simply, the Semantic Web is a way of coding page content to make it more easily processed by machines (primarily search engine spiders).

And here’s Semantic Search 101: Semantic Search seeks to improve search accuracy – that is, deliver the most relevant search results by understanding:

  1. the user’s intent when making a search
  2. the meaning of content through its context.

…as a writer, the real power of interaction with semantic search is through content

While you can – and perhaps should – understand something about schema and other technical aspects of the Semantic Web, as a writer, the real power of interaction with semantic search is through content.

Themes. Tuck the idea away safely

It’s something I’ll keep coming back to. In this post and in the follow-up.

Good writing demands organisation. Otherwise it’s just a random collection of thoughts that people will struggle reading.

It demands a structure and a theme.

And a theme is what’s at the heart of writing for semantic search.

Changes to SEO Writing in a post-Hummingbird world

Although it seems the SEO industry is only just getting around to really understanding and acting on semantic search, it’s been around for some time, since Google’s Hummingbird update, announced on 26 September 2013.

I wrote about it and its impact on SEO writing shortly afterwards.

Although the web quakes at the thought of Panda and Penguin updates, Hummingbird is the more important moving forwards. Panda and Penguin are, by comparison, extensions of Google’s older-style algorithm updates, and there has been much talk about the end of Panda and Penguin. But that’s outside this post’s scope.

“there are some important refinements that we can use to make our content work better with today’s Google”

Many SEOs see Hummingbird as the first proper version of how Google sees search developing over the coming years. And although I still stand by my claim that Hummingbird doesn’t really change much about the way we write copy for the web, there are some important refinements that we can use to make our content work better with today’s Google.

How does your Semantic SEO content work?

So Google is now looking at meaning and intent in our searches and content – trying to understand what’s behind the expressions we type into the search box and what’s on websites. Not simply matching the words in the query with pages that contain those words.

The change in the role of key phrases has been another opportunity for those who say ‘SEO Copywriting is dead’, ‘Just write normally for people’ and other advice to trot it out again. If you read Writing For SEO or listen to the Dumb SEO Questions expert panel, you’ll know my view.

Not giving key phrases a role in writing for semantic search is like not understanding the importance of the baby when throwing her out with the bath water.
Key phrases and semantic search
I think semantic search is great news for everyone with websites. It means Google is moving closer to seeing content in the way we do. And we can use this information to make our copy more powerful in organic search.

Let’s look at how you write for semantic search.

Find key phrases for your content

Start off the way you’ve always done when writing SEO content. Do your research and find out which key phrases you’re going to optimising on – if you’re about to throw your hands up in horror and accuse me of old stylee writing for search engines, I’m not. I’m working out what my readers are interested in and writing for them as much as for the search engines.

“I’m working out what my readers are interested in and writing for them as much as for the search engines”

  • Do your key phrase research using your favourite tool or tools – here are Key Phrase Research, if you’re unsure
  • Choose your priority terms – my favourite tool is SEMrush, which gives very accurate assessments of how competitive a key phrase is. To the extent that I seldom go any further with my research
  • Plan to use these key phrases in your Title tags and your h1 headlines

That should all be pretty familiar.

Focus on one theme for each page

Here’s where, perhaps, things start to change. If you’ve been used to using, say, up to three only loosely related key phrases, you’ll need to adjust your thinking a little. But if you’ve followed my advice and themed each page by using related key phrases in your content, you’re ready for writing for semantic search.

  1. Find your main key phrase for each of the pages you’re planning to write by assessing its fit with your site and business, competition and potential traffic levels
  2. Bolster the theme by using related key phrases (topics) within the page’s theme.

Find semantically connected key phrases

But now we know that Google is doing its best to understand the meaning, and is associating search expressions with content and other factors such as location. While there isn’t a specific tool for finding out about semantic associations, it’s easy enough to find them.

The basic way

Start by searching on your main key phrase. Pop it into Google and see the results in the Google Instant drop-down.

Semantic search 1

Make the search and scroll down to the foot of the page, where there’s a list labelled ‘Searches related to…’

Semantic search 2

In my experience, you’ll see varying degrees of overlap, so it’s worth checking both top and bottom of the Google page to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

If you want more information about Google’s suggested related key phrases, you can always put them back through Google Keyword Tool to see how many searches there are on each of the phrases.

However, I’d put fit with your business above search numbers when you’re considering adding semantically related key phrases. You’ll save time, too.

The smart way

You need just two tools:

  1. – saves so much time and has a pretty good free version that should enable you to get more than enough data for semantic SEO copy
  2. SEMrush – the indispensable Swiss Army Knife of competitor analysis tools gives you competition analysis so you can be really smart with your choice of related key phrases

First –

Type your main key phrase into the search box and hit return:

Semantically related searches

As you can see, gives you many times the choice in just seconds.

Scroll through the list, checking off anything in the Keywords column that interests you.

Then copy your selections to the clipboard.

Copy results to the clipboard

And don’t forget to have a look at the second tab – Questions. You’ll see questions people are asking about, in this case, semantic search. Imagine how important that could be for your content development.

Second – SEMrush

Paste your list of key phrases into the Keyword Difficulty Tool and click Show difficulty:

Find out the keyword difficulties

Here are the results:

Which key phrases should I use?

While this may look like a whole lot of nothing, it’s actually almost as useful as having the data, inasmuch as the way ahead is clear.

We know that every key phrase but ‘semantic search engine’ almost certainly has very few searches, and even that has just 90 on average each month on

With nothing to distinguish one from another, I can just choose the ones that fit best with the story I want to tell. The key phrases I’ve chosen to use support the main theme of the page, whether or not they are likely to deliver search traffic themselves.

Think Theming

In the past I’ve focused on between one and three key phrases per page, ensuring that if I was using two or three, those key phrases would be closely related to the theme (or story) I was telling on the page.

On reflection, this isn’t so far away from thinking semantically, but these days I can be more sure about using theming to make the content work better for Google.

Writing the copy

Now you’ve decided on your key phrases, it’s time to write your copy. Structurally, you’ll find things are much the same as ‘regular’ SEO copy.

You’ll need to take care of your Title tag and h1 tags. But when it comes to h2 tags and the body copy, you’ll find things are less regimented, and for that reason, easier to write.

Your main key phrase

Use your main key phrase – think of this as your semantic focus, if that helps – in your headline, and a close relative in the title tag. This will give you tight focus, yet also save you repeating the key phrase in the two most important positions on your page.


Look through your list of semantically related key phrases and see how they can support the story you want to tell. Use them, in the right order, for your subheads.

Body copy

If you can use any of the remaining key phrases naturally in the copy, go ahead and use them. Don’t worry how many times (within reason) you’re using the key phrase, as long as it sounds natural.

Let me know how you’re getting on with writing for semantic search

How are you approaching producing effective content for semantic search? Do you have any tips to add to mine?



As a member of the Dumb SEO Questions Expert Panel on Google Plus, the kind people at SEMrush provide me with a Guru account. There are no affiliate links in this post.