Over the years, SEO has been a largely experimental and exploratory field, since Google still refuses to disclose the exact details of its ranking algorithm. Through intense research, astute observation, and solid deductions, SEO professionals have been able to formulate a number of techniques which satiate most of the algorithm’s parameters and earn their web pages high ranks on SERPs. Understanding each of these techniques and then fusing them with your own ideas is the best way to come up with a solid, unique SEO strategy.
Keywords and Their Pitfalls
The first and foremost pillar of support for SEO has always been the concept of keywords. Keywords are the most basic and easiest on-page optimization technique. The idea is simple enough- a page focusing on a particular topic should have specific, relevant keywords throughout, starting from the title tag and headlines to the images’ alt attributes and throughout the text. This allows the algorithm to decide how relevant and reliable the page is.
Yes, keyword optimization is still widely used, and several SEO tools solely rely on keyword placement for grading pages, but recent research has revealed that the influence of keywords on ranking has fallen steeply. It is a great place to start for any SEO enterprise, but one cannot solely rely on keywords for ranking anymore.
Close Variants and Synonyms
Google sees nearly six billion searches every single day and hence has access to tons of search data which its machine learning algorithms can survey to determine search trends as well as exactly what sort of data searchers are looking for. Google’s official metrics claim that synonyms actually work and are involved in 70% of all searches. All search engines gather a huge database of close variants and synonyms for billions of search phrases.
Every time a user conducts a search, his query is run through this database as well, which would allow the engine to return good, relevant pages which may use different words from what the searcher asked for. The term “Venice pics” could be interpreted as “Venice photos”, “Venice Photographs”, “Photographs in Venice”, “Photos of Venice” and so on. As an SEO professional, this means you will have to let go of trite and stringent keyword practices and repetition, and make your content a lot more natural.
Phrase-Based Indexing and Co-Occurrence
Google’s Hummingbird algorithm uses co-occurrence which is a way to handle disambiguation when it comes to separate meanings for a word when used in different phrases and contexts. It uses co-occurrence against its database to determine the correct meaning of a word and identify synonyms and the like. You can learn more about these algorithms at any online SEO training program.
Keywords don’t strictly have to be single words, as search engines make several provisions to search on the basis of entire phrases and generate pages based on their relevance through this. This concept is phrase-based indexing. Using co-occurrence, Google is able to generate a number of related phrases for a particular topic, and rank pages accordingly; the pages which contain most or all of the phrases are likely to have detailed, relevant content to the search key itself. If someone searches Game of Thrones, for example, the concurrent phrases are “HBO”, “fantasy show”, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, “George RR Martin” and so on. For Elon Musk, the phrases could be “Tesla Motors”, “SpaceX”, “Musk Foundation”, “Solar City”, “Hyperloop”, “OpenAI” and “PayPal”. Any sites which have these phrases will tend to be more informative on the actual topic.
Term Relationships and Semantic Distance
Semantic distance refers to the actual distance between phrases and words in your text and tries to establish connections between the same. For example, search engines are able to establish “Fantasy” as a connected phrase to “book genres”. They do this by measuring the distance between phrases in different HTML elements and have a scale of relevance based on the semantic closeness of the same. Phrases and words in the same paragraph are hence semantically closer than those far apart. Some things worth keeping in mind are that HTML can be used to explicitly manipulate semantic distance, for example, the document title is close to all terms in the document, and all list items are equidistant. You may use a Schema markup to structure your text to define semantic relationships and release a concise, optimized document.
As per Google research papers and more in-depth research, in the near future, search engines will also look to establish relationships between particular entities rather than keywords. Entities are distinct, well-defined parts of your document and techniques like TF-IDF are already in play to examine entity relationships and significance.
Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF)
This is a practice that has been employed by Google for a long time. The concept is the measurement of the frequency of appearance of a particular keyword against the expectations gathered from several more documents in the form of a generalized keyword set. For example, the term “tennis” is quite common, but “tennis players” is relatively rarer, as seen by Google’s Ngram Viewer. As such, a page which has “tennis players” on it will have “tennis players” as a more significant term, while “tennis” has a higher threshold or tolerance. By itself, it isn’t the most effective SEO technique, and must be coupled with other on-page techniques.
Every web page has several different parts, the title, header, footer, sidebar, content divs, and so on. Search engines are still conducting deep research into which portions of the page hold more relevance. For example, the body of text is given more importance than the sidebar. Moving towards mobile devices, segmentation becomes a lot more important, as certain sections get hidden to account for the smaller screen size. Since the search engines also have to return the most relevant portion of your pages to the user on the SERPs, you will have to ensure that the important bits are visible, accessible and not hidden under abstract segmentation. There are a number of dynamic elements in HTML5 like <nav>, <article> and <aside>, which work better to serve your purpose.
Besides creating high-quality, structured and informative content, using these advanced techniques together will go a long way in improving the ranking and relevance of your page in the eye of the search engines.
Nick Scanlon is a blogger and has been working as a professional SEO content writer for over four years. He has conducted several online SEO training courses in the past and is considered an SEO expert.