When Google renewed its algorithm with Hummingbird end of 2013 to make a semantic-holistic search possible soon, the concern started a revolution in search engine optimisation as well which hasn’t finished yet. The core of this revolution is a paradigm shift. Before Hummingbird Google was satisfied by giving recommendations for sites upon search requests that were recommended by other sites – this was the principle of backlinks and the meaning of PageRanks.
Since Hummingbird Google aspires to understand the search requests in regards of its meaning and intention as well as the offers on the net that might be suitable for it. This is no less than a full 180 degree turn with associated consequences for all SEO disciplines. Whether Offpage or Onpage SEO, technical SEO, content marketing, or the usability of sites – all SEO relevant topics of a website have to focus on the requirements of a semantic-holistic search in order to be successful.
The semantic-holistic search is like an iceberg in the ocean
As is generally known, only the smallest part of a freely floating iceberg can be seen above the water surface. Similarly this is the case with the semantic-holistic search by Google. Many webmasters and SEOs – understandably – concentrate on the search itself. Since Hummingbird three steps precede the search, however.
- Crawling: Google scans with its bots the net and collects information
- Organising: The search engine organises collected information and sorts/categorises it according to semantic units (e.g. information about a product, news about a product, reviews on the product, etc.).
- Indexing: Google indexes collected information (of websites) with already known search requests (the RankBrain even delivers indices to search queries never entered before).
- searching via the Hummingbird algorithm, which:
Only on the basis of this groundwork following actually takes place
- analyses the meaning of the search request
- considers information from previous search requests or site views (especially to understand the intention of a request better)
- sorts out unsuitable sites with filters such as Panda (too little content) or Penguin (suspicious, seemingly unnatural link profile)
- weighs all qualified results and prioritises the best of them
- displays the search result on the result page and determines which individual description is shown to the user is response to their query.
For pushing a site in the ranking, therefore it is not enough anymore to attend to the often cited 200 ranking factors to be on top in the SERPs. These factors are tested by Hummingbird only in point 4, the actual search.
A website, however, will only rank if it has satisfied all four steps of Google’s algorithm successfully. If Google founders on any of these steps with a website the site has no chance to rank well anymore. While it is SEO standard to notify Google with an optimised robots.txt which sites and directories should be read, points 2 and 3 are often neglected.
The semantic-holistic search calls for well –structured contents
If talking about semantic within Google context, the two semantic levels of this term should be differentiated to be clear about how Google works:
– The logical semantic serving to make rules in formal speech
– The lexical semantic aiming to capture the meaning(s) of words as precisely as possible to describe their relation to other words
Schema.org, a consortium project of the search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex, is the obvious evidence how important logical semantic is to the search engines. Schema.org lays down rules, mark-up schemes to be more precise, for structured data like events, products, recipes, reviews, etc. With the various mark-up types, Rich Snippets can be generated, so that for instance in the Snippet of a musician’s website his next tour dates are already included on the SERP.
Pure semantic is not only of importance for these structured data. Search engines like Google depend on the formally correct mark-up of the HTML code of a website. Errors and inconsistently used mark-ups lead (exaggeratedly said) to Google disqualifying those sites as being illogical and consequently grading it as a bad offer.
A well thought through site construction helps Google & Co. to index contents
The lexical semantic is of great important for Google to tag websites. Successful websites are usually constructed in a way that captures a topic in lexical entities. On the first level these are simply the different categories of a site usually. Website owners set in them how they handle their topic or how they sell their offer.
When offering sport footwear for example, categories can be set up for brand and/or customer groups (ladies, men, children). From a semantic viewpoint these categories determine the ontology of a site – or simply said they highlight what is offered on the domain at all (a shop, videos, news, request forms, information, etc.). Thus, Google receives a first critical cue via these categories what the site is about and also learns how this topic approached (purely sale focused, informative, entertaining, etc.). That’s exactly why the right choice of categories for the own site is so crucial for the SEO success.
These categories have to be classified more precisely for Google’s semantic-holistic search. This taxonomy is ensued by describing texts, photos, videos, internal and external links as well as other contents that Google can read itself or whose meaning Google can translate by using logical semantic (for example by filling out alt- and title
attributes). By reading all single content elements Google now is able to understand the context of the site’s contents. The better the contents fit together lexically and logically the better not only Google understand the site, but also the normal user.
The semantic-holistic search copies human understanding
Because this is exactly we all do when we say something is meaningful to us. We analyse contents, put them in context and recognise sensible connections that way. Google paradigm shift in 2013 relates to this human approach to meanings (therefore semantic-holistic; holistic = human-related). The semantic-holistic search by Google basically only copies our semantic thinking.
The progress that has been made by the concern from Mountain View within a few years demands from SEOs efforts on a technical and content-related level.
This also means that SEO should be included in planning a website in the future. Under the conditions of the semantic search ranking success can rarely be achieved with only a few tricks and knacks. SEO is already a task ranging from structuring a site to the positive design of search experiences (SXO). Put in other words: since Google puts the user into the centre of attention SEO is left to achieving ranking success by focusing particularly on the user as well.
The article is inspired by the article worth reading “Wake Up, SEOs – the NEW New Google ist Here” by Gianluca Fiorelli and follows in some aspects but not all his argumentation.”