For the last 3 months I’ve been trying to come to terms with the interesting and sticky world of the semantic web. I came to gro as a freelance writer, producing content for their client’s blog. I ended up an intern still producing content, but also receiving an introduction to SEO and methods of digital growth. Why did I take an interest in digital growth? Because the world’s future seems entwined with the internet, as Facebook has shown us all too well and so to learn about it and to try to understand this huge change to the web seemed logical. It was during my first steps into these processes that I came upon the concept of the semantic web. I studied the semantic web at every opportunity. It fascinated me. Through my research I came to view it as a process of transforming the internet into an encyclopedia for life. But a question that kept baiting my curiosity during my research was ‘How do you write for the semantic web?’
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Easing off the Keywords
Shortly before joining gro, I wrote for another digital marketing agency that I could only bring myself to stay with for a week. They gave me a talk on writing for SEO in my first hour of joining. They told me to use keywords as often as possible without making it seem like I was keyword stuffing. Include the primary keyword as one of your meta-tags, put the keyword in the titles, include a meta description that includes the primary keyword and keyword this and keyword that.
It was annoying. I wanted to write an interesting and useful piece of content without having to concern myself with how best to optimise it for search engines. I didn’t want to have to fit together all the bits and pieces that apply to SEO, like some ugly jigsaw puzzle. I just wanted to write.
The process of optimisation made it frustrating to do that. The keyword became a ball and chain I was dragging around as I developed a piece of writing. It quickly became stale using a keyword as the focus of my writing.
The Semantic Mountain
Thankfully, when I joined gro and learned of the semantic web, the weight of the ball and chain that is keyword density became lighter. The semantic web had instigated a movement away from the nonsensical process of embellishing writing with a keyword, which felt to me like it was losing meaning after so many attempts to ‘naturally’ manipulate it into an article. It looks hopeful. But while the irritating mole hill of Keyword density focus was eliminated, a mountain had just replaced it. The misty mountain of the semantic web.
I approached the base of this concept thinking that if I wanted my content and the ideas in my writing to get seen online I was going to have learn how to climb it. I’d taken on tough concepts and come to understand difficult processes before, to a degree of success (I have a piece of paper to prove it). However, those were ideas I had learnt about in an academic environment. The concepts were mountains with well-established path ways to explore them by; ones that had been carved out by many brilliant people before I had even been born. The semantic web shift, however, is fairly young (1). The idea of it may not be, but its implementation, so far as I am aware, is.
From my research using sources from experts like Bill Slawski, Cyrus Shepard and Gianluca Fiorelli, I have come to understand that the semantic web may not be the bullet that I want old school SEO practices to bite, but it’s a start. It’s a learning curve which has impacted the way in which I write online and the way in which I structure my articles. But should I have allowed my recent discovery of the semantic web to affect the voice of my writing?
Switching to the Entities
When I came to gro there was a word that I kept overhearing. That word was entities. I wanted to understand what was meant by this term in the context of the semantic web, so I inquired and in response received an overview of the term, along with a link to an article that helped guide me in terms of understanding their role in the semantic web. (2)
‘For many years, Google has been building up massive entity databases and knowledge vaults to try to understand the entities behind your search and to know how to answer your query.’
David Gross – gro (3)
Using entities in my writing was a concept that initially seemed obvious. Of course I was going to use the names of the things I was talking about. It wasn’t necessarily something I even had to try to do, it just occurred naturally as I spoke about a topic. However, as my research into them progressed, I came across some practices to be considered when structuring them in content.
I stumbled upon this informative article that discusses something termed as topical hubs.
‘In order to optimize your site for this kind of new semantic understanding that Google has of the queries (…) We have to think about the connection between the entities, and we have to be really sure about the context of the content that we are creating.’
Gianluca Fiorelli – Moz (4)
This gave me my first piece of guidance when it came to writing for the semantic web. It was my initial source of light to help guide me in my walk up the misty mountain of writing for the semantic web.
The fuel that made this light shine a little brighter I obtained during a workshop that David Gross ran for the writers at the Daily Express and the Daily Star. It was a great opportunity to get more insight into how to write content and optimise it for the semantic web. So, after sitting through the workshop and making some notes about the more technical side of writing for the semantic web, I compiled them into a set of key take aways. I had more of a base of knowledge to build from and some new tactics to apply to my online writing style. I felt like I was learning the lesser known strategies in a new game. Something that would give me an edge when it came to getting content to rank higher in the SERPS. This, however, was not the case. There are no quick wins or black hat magic tricks when it comes to semantic search. Honesty, it seems, has become the best policy.
More, recently in my wanderings around the misty semantic web mountain I came across this guide that reveals how to structure pieces of content for the semantic web to enable search engines to bring up more relevant responses to search queries. To me, this template has really shed some light on how to write for the semantic web. The article gave me further insight into mapping connections between the entities in my writing.
‘The stronger an entity’s relationship to other entities on the page, the more significant that entity becomes.’
Cyrus Shepard – Moz (5)
This could probably work quite well if you want to showcase yourself as an expert on particular entities. It seems these practices of building semantic connections between entities and adding extra factual information about entities are encouraging content to become entertaining, more contextualised and more share-able versions of Wikipedia pages. This is preferable to the SEO focused junk that used to boost a page’s SERP rank.
The article also brought the usage of synonyms to my attention. The use of synonyms or substitute terms with similar co-occurring terms can add semantic meaning to your content as well as provide further context to your keyword and entities.
Planting Synonyms for the Hummingbird
For me to give you a complete rundown of the Hummingbird revision to the Google search system, (being an intern and all) would be foolish. However, one element I know the update Hummingbird takes into account is the usage of synonyms. Synonyms are not new to Google, but nevertheless they are an element of the Hummingbird update which has been outlined by Bill Slawski, Cyrus Shepard and Gianluca Fiorelli.
‘Under Hummingbird, co-occurrence is used to identify words that may be synonyms of each other in certain contexts while following certain rules according to which, the selection of a certain page in response to a query where such a substitution has taken place has a heightened probability.’
Bill Slawski – SEO by the Sea (5)
This is something else that I found to occur naturally in my writing. When you’re discussing an entity you’re going to be using variables and co-occurring terms otherwise you’re probably not talking about the subject in detail. It does, however, seem as though Google wants you to plant more contextualised variations of the same primary keyword for the Hummingbird update to feed on. This will help it provide more relevant search results to a query.
These new rules to write by have lead me to believe that the semantic web is attempting to get humans to sound like humans again. This should avoid a staple format surfacing of the way content is produced and stop a constricting set of best practices emerging. People will be forced to get creative and experiment both with their content and the structure of their writing rather than having to manipulate SEO mechanics into a piece for SERP rankings.
Weaving Words for the Semantic Web
‘Just write naturally.’
Gianluca Fiorelli – Moz Webinar ‘Semantic SEO for the People’
So the art of semantic web word weaving is about learning how to write entertaining and informative pieces of content more than a technical process. The semantic web seems to be an asset to online writers who just want to write great pieces of content and worry less about (but not forget) the artificial touch that SEO practices can sometimes taint content with. A lot of them simply support factors that make it easy to identify the context in which you speak of an entity. This means you can focus more on the content rather than searching for a way to optimise it for search engines.
This does not mean, however, we can forget the old ways of making the primary keyword of an article a focus point. It’s vintage SEO, but like the white t-shirt and jeans combo it seems to be timeless. It does, however, seem that the semantic web is as much something we need to understand, as it is something that is attempting to understand us. Which is great, just so long as it doesn’t gain self-awareness and take over the world. Overall, I think you don’t need to write in a certain way for the semantic web, because the semantic web was written for you.