What does Semantics mean and how does it apply to SEO?

Semantics is the study of meaning while linguistic semantics is the study of the meaning conveyed through language to represent thoughts and concepts and their variations.

Google has greatly implemented linguistic semantics into their Hummingbird algorithm to help people find web content based on intent and not simply keywords. Google uses keywords not as merely something to check against for such aspects as inclusion (usage), prominence (primary focus by usage at or near the beginning of the content/webpage) and density (quantity of usage) or from mere usage of related terms (e.g. synonyms). They are now seeking to define the conceptual intent of the user (via the query) in order to provide contextually relevant results. In doing so they can provide results that don't share the exact same keywords as those sought in the query string but they can show those which have been deemed to have the same contextual relationship to the terms searched. This is done via Latent Semantic Analysis or Indexing (LSI) which allows concepts to be drawn from content due to the similarity of their usage in the same context. This means that if some people use the words "we beat them" that this concept can be interchangeable with other terms which don't use the same words. This form of analysis can determine by usage of the terms "we beat them", "they beat us" and "are they going to beat..." in relation to other terms that refer to non-violent competition that the context of "beat" refers to "gaining victory over" or "winning against" and not only "striking with an object".

Prior to the use of LSI in search, engines used to rely heavily on keyword usage. It is now important to approach your website and its content in a different manner; based more on topics and the terms that are conceptually associated with that topic and related topics.

Using semantics in SEO means both an extensive and intensive approach to content creation and site categorization. Concepts lead to concepts so a general to specific, top-down approach is recommended.

It is best to look at your website in terms of topics that you relate to and wish to target. Let's use an example website. Let's say you're optimizing a website called Jim's Dog Walking. What you'll want to do is to layout on a document a bulleted list of those things that you offer (e.g. services, prices, location, etc). These are things that you must have on your site in order to provide the minimal amount of necessary information to potential customers. Next you'll want to build out content based on related topics that people proactively search for.

This sets up a good outline of the core necessity pages allowing you to build the topics. Turning these into concepts is done in the varied elements of the pages on which each piece of content will be found. These include the URL, Title tag, Meta Description tag, Image names and alt attribute, Schema markup, and other standard SEO elements.

Once this outline is done I like to transfer it to a visual sitemap and connect each page (node) using links based on the topic.

Click to enlarge

Using Google and their Keyword Research tools to Optimize using Semantics:

Now that you have a good essential outline for your site you'll want to use Google, their keyword research tools and those provided by others to search for the keywords and related topics that apply to your site and its topic/sub-topics.

A great way to start is with Google's Adwords Keyword Planner. Enter "dog walking" into the section marked "Search for new keyword and ad group ideas". You can also adjust the location field to suit your geographical area or city.

Once the results load you'll see two different sets of data separated by tabs. One is "Ad group ideas" and the other is "Keyword ideas". Begin with the former as it is used to show relevance where the latter is used to show usage data. The "Ad group ideas" tool originated as the Google Wonder Wheel and is a great tool to find semantically relevant terminology. Once the results load you'll see a concept relating to "dog walking" on each line. Next to each concept will be a list of related terms and phrases being each similar or different but related sub-concepts.

Semantic SEO using Google's Keyword Planner
Google's Keyword Planner

In the above image we see that one of the rows is for "rates for dog". Next to this we see related terms such as "dog walker rate" and "average rates for dog walking". Another row shows "walking price" and provides terms like "dog walking services price" and "prices for dog walking". Other related terms can be "cost", "expense", etc. You can create a page for each major topic ("dog walking prices" and "dog walking rates") or you can merge these related terms together to strengthen the semantic variance of the content.

Tip: You can use the Keyword Planner to find new avenues for both marketing and sales. In this example we see that there are people proactively searching for "dog walking harnesses". This could present either a new avenue for selling such a product or minimally a new topic for a review of current dog harnesses available. More content = more fishing lines in the water.

You can then enter one of these terms back into the Keyword Planer to delve deeper. Doing so with "dog walking price" I get a nice long list of related topics and terms including some with phrases posed as questions such as "how much to charge for dog walking" and "how much should you charge to walk a dog". These are actual questions that people have entered into Google in vast enough quantities for them to be considered relevant. "What to charge for dog walking" receives 30 searches per month according to Google.

Writing content around these semantic variations can be simple and very effective in stacking the odds in favor of your site coming up for one of the variations. Taking just the terms from the list provided by the Keyword Planner for "dog walking price" gives me a wealth of new terms. So that I don't repeat terms like "charge" I'll use terms such as "price" and "cost" and I'll intermix them with other related terms.

Terms suggested by the Keyword Planner:

How much to charge for dog walking, what to charge for dog walking, how much should i charge for dog walking, how much should you charge for dog walking, how much to charge for dog walking services, how much do you charge for dog walking, dog walking charges, what should i charge for dog walking, dog walking how much to charge, how much do i charge for dog walking, how much to charge for walking dogs, how much should i charge for walking dogs, dog walking charges per hour, how much to charge for walking a dog, how much should you charge to walk a dog, how much should you charge for walking dogs

Tip: When you go to use a word that has popular synonyms it is wise to check all of them in the Keyword Planner to see which receives more traffic and to use that one as your primary unless you're seeking to try to rank well for one that gets less traffic by specifically tailoring your content to cater to that niche term. A review of the terms "dog walking cost", "dog walking price" and "dog walking charge" and "dog walking rates" shows that they receive 30, 20, 10 and 1,000 monthly searches respectively showing that "rates" is far more commonly searched.

Keywords targeted:

average dog walking rates, dog walking service rates, dog walking rates, dog walking rate, rates for dog walking, average rate for dog walking, rate for dog walking, going rate for dog walking

Additionally related terms (variants not listed):

"cost", "charge", "price", "fees" "going"

My content example:

Content URL:



"Dog Walking Rates | Jim's Dog Walking"

Meta Desc:

"Dog Walking Rates: What are the average rates for dog walking services in Los Angeles. A breakdown of average costs and associated fees for dog walkers in L.A."


"Dog Walking Rates: A breakdown of the average rates for dog walking in Los Angeles

{Begin content}

What are the average rates for dog walking services in Los Angeles? The average dog walking rate can vary depending on where in L.A. you wish to have your dog walked. Costs will differ greatly between wealthy areas like Beverly Hills, Brentwood or Malibu versus areas like Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley or Downtown.

The going rate for Los Angeles is $10 per hour though this doesn't include additional fees for extra services like pick-up and drop-off, feeding, taking to the dog-park, etc.

Other variations in dog walking costs can be based on such things as the size and breed of the dog. Bully breeds like Pit Bulls and Rottweilers or large breeds such as Mastiffs and Great Danes may come with extra charges as dog walking insurance rates and the need for different transportation measures can sometimes be greater for such breeds and sizes.

Dog walking costs can also change due to the rate of dog walking, meaning that if you only need your dog walked once a day or you have a need for multiple walks per day; the charge can vary. Some people sign up for package deals like monthly or weekly package rates.

I find that a good rule of thumb is to go with a reputable dog walker who knows your area and has a good list of client reviews.

Here at Jim's Dog Walking we employ only experienced walkers who are themselves total dog lovers.

For more information on our dog-walking rates and associated fees please click here or give us a call at 888-555-1212.

Get your first hour free plus an awesome dog bowl when you try us out!

{end content}

Tip: Although Google can determine the relationship between singular and plural terms like "dog walking cost" and "dog walking costs" they still return varied results for each. Each also has different search volumes (cost = 30, costs=10). It is advisable to use both singular and plural variations as well as stemmed variations (e.g. "cost" & "costing").

As you can see by my content example, I've used essentially the same semantic meaning over and over yet I've done so in a way that appears natural, not forced, and I've used plurals, stems and semantic variations as well as restructuring of the phrasing to accomplish the goal. I've also included various geographical targets in the document that our hypothetical Dog Walking company wishes to target.

I began the content with the primary phrase, in the form of a question, and then followed with a descriptive answer to the question thus providing Google with two variations of the same phrase (average rates for dog walking and average dog walking rate) at and extremely near the beginning of the content. I continued this practice in the first and successive paragraphs without over-using the terms or outright keyword stuffing. In fact in one instance I used "rate of dog walking" to refer to how often it happens; a semantic variation of the term which further allows me to use the term/phrase while not keyword stuffing.

It can of course be argued that I've over used some terms but a reasonable comfort zone is going to be based on the individual and each usage is relevant. This is one of the great benefits of using this form of semantic writing as you can say essentially the same thing over and over but with different terms and be neither repetitious nor blackhat.

This method also allows for a wider array of terms and phrasings that will target people's specific searches thus increasing your specific topical relevance in Google's eyes.

It's all natural language usage!

The last part of the content is primarily for conversion - turning the focus of the article to Jim's Dog Walking business and ending with a few calls-to-action. Not illustrated in this example are links to specifically relevant pages from within the content. One example could be to have a page on "Beverly Hills Dog Walking" and link to it from the usage of "Beverly Hills" in the content so that you can take advantage of Local SEO. Another way is to have related links near the body of the content.

Building your website out based on topics and using context and generality to categorize those topics and using semantic variations of terms to build out the content can provide you with a wealth of content ideas and the ability to both cover, and be relevant to, a wide range of topic-centric keywords.

Good luck!