In the early days of SEO, Google relied primarily on meta tags to understand what web pages were about. As long as the keywords you wanted to rank for were included in your meta tags, Google was likely to promote your content in relevant search engine results.
But Google’s crawlers have gotten a lot smarter since then. Thanks to natural language processing (NPL) algorithms, Google not only understands keywords but all of the other words and phrases that have a semantic relationship to any given search query.
Essentially, Google has gotten more literate. Google will now even rewrite page titles and meta descriptions when it thinks it understands the content on the page better than what the meta tags describe.
So if site owners want to improve their search visibility in the age of NLP technology, they need to create SEO content with both users and robots in mind. Here we’re sharing how to do just that by answering:
- What is natural language processing?
- Why does natural language processing matter for SEO?
- How can you improve your SEO writing by understanding natural language processing?
Let’s dive in.
What is natural language processing?
Natural language processing (NLP) is the technology that allows computers to understand human language. When a user enters a query into the search bar, Google relies on NLP to find them the exact answer that they are searching for.
Natural language processing algorithms understand human language via the following mechanisms:
- Entities: People, places, things, and proper nouns.
- Sentiment: Positive, negative, or neutral emotions represented in the language.
- Salience: The extent to which a piece of content is about the specific entities it mentions.
- Categories: An existing library of categories determined by Google. Google places every piece of content in its index within these categories.
For a helpful, fun exercise to understand NLP, try out Google’s Natural Language API demo. Add some of the content from your own website into the text box and you can see how Google’s robots work to understand it.
An example of how Google extracts entities from content.
Why does natural language processing matter to SEO?
Why should a small business owner or webmaster think about bilingual robots? Well, the reality is, most people use long-tail keywords or conversational queries when researching new products or services. Instead of a search term like “appliance repair,” a user is more likely to enter a search query like “how to fix a whirlpool washing machine.”
In fact, over 70% of all search queries are now long-tail. As a result, Google not only looks for keywords on the page, but synonyms, related subtopics, and answers to additional questions the user is likely to have after their initial search query.
Google’s robots are also able to understand whether a web page is high quality. Google looks for originality, comprehensiveness, expert authorship, and other quality signals when determining which content to promote in search results. Meeting Google’s quality standards is essential to successful SEO.
So regardless of your business’s or brand’s size, if you want your web pages to rank on page one of Google, you need to think like both a human and a robot.
5 tips for better SEO writing with natural language processing in mind
Understanding natural language processing can help you create SEO content that appeals to both your human audience and Google’s robots. Use these five tips for better SEO writing.
1. Optimize for keyword clusters instead of single keywords
Just like Google has gotten more advanced, so should your SEO keyword strategy. Most likely, your business has a specific keyword in mind when creating a landing page on your website.
But Google will most likely end up ranking your web pages for multiple keyword phrases anyway. So instead of optimizing your content for a single keyword, try to optimize for a group of related keywords that share similar search intent.
This is called keyword clustering. It can help improve your total number of keywords and get your web pages in front of even more potential customers.
For example, if your business offers plumbing and HVAC services, a keyword cluster would include multiple keywords that share similar search intent but have various search volumes, cost-per-clicks, and Keyword Difficulty scores.
Keyword clusters are a really effective strategy for newer websites or those with lower Domain Authority. If your website doesn’t have a lot of backlinks, your web pages are unlikely to rank on the first page for more competitive keyword searches.
Most users don’t go past the first page of the search results. That means ranking on page one is key to actually earning clicks from organic search.
By adding long-tail keyword phrases or less competitive keywords into your cluster, you can earn some short-term wins until you have enough site authority to reach your long-term keyword goals.
Here are some steps to create a keyword cluster:
- Do extensive keyword research. Try to come up with a list of 50 or so keywords. You can use tools to help you, or you can hire SEO strategists to do the research for you.
- Choose four to five keywords with various metrics to make a stronger cluster. Choose a combination of short-tail, long-tail keywords, high and low search volume, as well as varying difficulties.
- Optimize your web page for the keywords in the cluster. Use on-page SEO best practices like including keywords in page titles, meta descriptions, and H1 to H6 tags.
- Use other primary pages on your site to target other keyword clusters. If you have multiple products, service offerings, or areas of expertise, use each pillar page to target a different keyword cluster.
2. Increase the topical depth on your web pages
Although content length is not an official ranking factor, there is a strong relationship between longer content and higher rankings. Google certainly prefers quality over quantity, but more often than not, content that is in-depth and comprehensive is also much longer.
If Google crawlers see that your content includes lots of relevant, in-depth information about the many keywords that relate to the user’s query, they will perceive it as higher-quality, and therefore promote it more often.
Here are a few tips for increasing your topical depth:
- Look at your competitors. How long is their content? How in-depth? By examining the top-ranking content, you can get a better understanding of what it takes to rank.
- Aim higher. If your content is only 500 words, see if you can get it to 1000 words. As long as your additional content is valuable and relevant to the keywords in your cluster, longer content will likely improve your total keyword rankings.
- Get a little help. Consider hiring a seasoned SEO writer or try using a content optimization tool to assist your content creation process.
3. Use semantic SEO best practices
Semantic SEO is the process of building more meaning into the words you include on your web pages. Just like Google’s robots understand how certain queries are related to others, semantic SEO is all about trying to answer all of your user’s questions before they even ask them.
This on-page SEO strategy involves thinking about the true intent of the user. What valuable, informative content will not only meet their search intent now but their long-term goals or needs?
Here are a few suggestions for semantic SEO.
- Think about the true intent of the user. What are they really looking for? A how-to guide? A comparison? A tutorial? Make sure that your on-page content matches their search intent.
- Add an FAQ to your landing page. This allows you to directly answer other related questions that the user likely has about products or services like yours. (Get tips for how to create an FAQ page here!)
- Look at Google autocompletes. What other related phrases is Google populating in the search bar? Can you also provide answers to those related queries?
4. Build topical authority through blog content and thought leadership
Natural language processing helps Google not only understand what your web page content is about but what trends and topics are important in your industry.
Expertise and authority are really important to ranking in Google. Your business should focus on displaying your expertise with both on-site and off-site content.
Here are some ways you can show Google’s robots that your business is an industry authority:
- Create blog content on a consistent basis. It not only shows Google that your website has lots of helpful, informative content, but a business blog can improve your total keyword rankings and get your web pages in front of a larger audience.
- Contribute thought leadership to other sites. This is a great, Google-compliant link-building strategy. It shows your team is full of industry experts.
- Ramp up your social media presence. Strong social media signals are a sign to Google’s robots that your brand is up-to-date on industry trends and practices and has an active audience that’s engaging with your content.
5. Add internal links to show Google how your content relates
In addition to looking at all of the words on the page, Google’s robots are also looking at the links, where they point to, the anchor text being used, and the content on those linked pages.
By using internal links more strategically on your website, you can help show Google that users can find all of the information they need without having to return to the search engine results page to get answers to their additional questions.
Here are a few tips for using Internal links to your advantage:
- Use blog content to link to your primary pillar pages. Blog content can explore longer-tail keyword phrases or subtopics that relate to your products or services. Link back to those pillar pages to elevate their keyword rankings and organic performance.
- Use contextual anchor text. Avoid generic anchor text like “click here,” or “read more.” Contextual anchor text gives Googlebot specific information regarding the subject matter of the linked content.
- Link to important pages in your navigation menu and footer. This helps Google understand your website hierarchy. You can also use navigation links to direct users to your highest-converting pages.
Improve your SEO writing for humans and robots
For over two decades, Google has continued to improve upon its technology with one primary goal in mind: to provide the highest-quality results for users. As long as site owners prioritize doing the same, they will create content that both humans and robots love.