Semantic Mapping, Because a Keyword Isn`t Good Enough

So you’ve built a webpage and pulled it to the top of Google. You may not want to hear it, but that might not be enough. You can sit in the top tier or results for your keyword and lose all your clicks the guy below you. Optimizing for search engines means far more than simply getting a high ranking; it means getting people from search results to your site.

Being in the front should only be viewed as an opportunity to get a visitor. Not an end goal. It may get a few “dumb” click-throughs just by being there, but rank is not the sole factor in determining how much good exposure you will be getting. There are other aspects of SEO in the works here too.

There are a couple things that can keep a searcher scanning right past your result. First is that the person searching often has more on mind than two keywords and page rank. There is a whole world of reasons that person is searching, which you need to appeal to. At this point, search engines aren’t powerful enough to really understand what people want to find, so you will have to help your searchers find you.

The second thing that keeps people scanning past entries and moving onto ones with lower rank is that they do not read every word of description. They may scan titles. If a title seems promising, they scan for a phrase or word that pops out of the description. After being burned too many times by high-ranking link farms and irrelevant sites, web searchers with more than a day of experience are going to be moving through results similarly.

This is where many blackhat SEOs fail. This is where not optimizing your page means failure. Not only does your page have to return a legible listing in the SERPs, but you have to be fairly certain it will really spark interest in somebody who is searching for you. The idea has been loosely termed “semantic mapping.”

The idea of “search semantics” or “semantic mapping” is all based on the idea that a person browsing the web is not a dumb clicker. They have entered your keyword but may not be interested in your page. There is an overlying concept behind the words the person chose which is more than those words can express.

Semantics, the study of meanings and connections between words, can prove to be a friend to a good SEO. After all, search engines are textual programs. Their ability to judge context and meaning in the items they index is severely limited. While Google Labs is debuting a My Search History feature (to track browsing patterns and supply customized results), it is still a far cry from a truly intelligent search. This is where your job as an SEO comes in.

To make up for the shortcomings in search engines, a responsible SEO has to understand how sites will appear to human searchers. To clarify, I’ll recall a recent report from Enquiro, an eye tracking study. It raised questions about how people view search results. You may have heard about Google’s “golden triangle,” which is derived from the report. Basically, it shows that people view the full width of search results at the top of the page, then they scan down the left side of the page.

The scanning follows an F pattern, moving down the left of the page and shooting over to the right if something catches their eye. As they get lower down the page, it takes a bit more help to get their eyes over to the right of the page. This is how the lower arms of the F are formed.

The search engine users in the study moved their eyes quickly between results and used their peripheral vision to notice appealing words and phrases. They did not click top results simply because they were at the top. Likewise, simply because sponsored links were there, surfers did not necessarily even see them.

So optimizing for search engines is great, but useless unless you consider how the page will look to a human being. A search engine is not going to browse your page and buy 500 widgets a week. People who are attracted to your result will, though.

Naturally, you cannot always predict precisely what Google or other engines will pull as the description of your site, but you do control it. Look at your page to find what text search engines see. Look at what would be unappealing to a person if the search engine randomly cut a few words for the search results.

Also, read through the important parts of your webpage where your keywords appear. Make sure the keywords are in good context and that the search engine can pull information from before or after them. Do not put unrelated ideas near each other without transition. You know search engines can’t tell one paragraph from the next, and neither will people checking search results. We’ll start looking at more detail of this later.

The problem is that the initial idea of a search is often bigger in scale or less defined than what can fit into a search box.

Let’s take a look from the perspective of a searcher. Say I want to make a nice dinner and want to find a new recipe. I loosely know what I feel like and what’s in my fridge to work with, but I just don’t care at this point to try narrowing down the search. So, in the search box, I type “dinner recipe.” When going to search for something, people often start with broad terms.

The idea is larger than what I have typed. Even though I am searching for a dinner recipe, it doesn’t mean I want to see anything that is returned on it. The keywords I chose are simply my best attempt to express what I want to find.

A few of the high ranking results have “turkey” and “meatloaf” in the titles. As I scan down the page, I know I don’t have any turkey in the fridge, and meatloaf makes me cringe. I see a result with pasta in the title, which sounds good. But the description has nothing that catches my eye. Upon further inspection, I see that is because it is declaring the date and name of pasta cooking award. I move to the next page. I almost click on a link to a Mexican layered dinner, but the description looks like an email header.

“Dinner recipe” is a rather broad term to optimize for. Once I have decided that pasta sounded good, I may refine my search above: “pasta dinner recipe.” Now we have gotten more specific, as searches often do. Though this search is more specific, it faces the same issues as the last. For instance, there will be plenty of results that I don’t really want and plenty that don’t attract a click. One site was definitely optimized (arguably over optimized) and returned this description:

“Easy Gourmet Recipes Entertaining Dessert Recipes Seafood Recipes holiday recipes pasta recipes dinner recipes party holiday party party recipe party…”

That’s a keyword dump, if I ever saw one. Keyword dumps and other obvious over optimization often make web surfers ignore SERPs. This site is pushed to the top, and is seen as less relevant as something that reached the first page legitimately.

Even if the page has the perfect dinner recipe, I would never find it if the search results looked like garbage. The result listing has to trigger a match with the semantics of my search. If the title doesn’t appeal quickly, it’s passed. If the description is poor, it’s ignored.

To attract people, you want to optimize your site for ideas, not keywords for web spiders. Of course, your ideas will bring about keywords. Search these keywords and make a list of what good, eye-catching phrases and terms stick out among your competition. Keep these in mind when organizing your site. When placing your keywords in context, you’ll know how to distinguish yourself yet provide significant phrases for the SERPs to pick up.

When you have a draft of your site finished, read it as if you were a search engine. Are there any sentences around your keywords that would not attract a click for any reason? Keep an eye on unrelated ideas being near each other in the text even if an image or horizontal rule separates them. Watching keywords within content can be difficult, but it can pay off.

Of course you’re aware that you need to be thinking of what a person typing your keyword is thinking. Sure, somebody typing “dinner recipe” is probably hungry, but what situation are they in? Obviously, they don’t have a specific dinner in mind. Providing a general description is okay. But when I typed “pasta dinner recipe,” but of the follow appeared:

“Thousands of recipes submitted by home cooks. Searchable database, and menu ideas. Most recipes are reviewed and rated by users.”

“Pronto Pasta Dinner … Sodium: 550 mg Carbohydrates: 35 g Dietary Fiber: <1 g Protein: 13 g. Recipe and photograph provided courtesy of Land O Lakes”

Which one is more click-worthy is obvious. Would you rather start hunting for pasta all over after clicking on a general description, or just right to what looks like the desired content?

I don’t mean to ignore titles while I talk about descriptions. They are also important. In the general search, “turkey” and “meatloaf” in a title will draw some attention from a few people. But because it was so specific it easily clashed with what I wanted. If your keywords happen to be “turkey dinner recipe,” that is a pretty pathetic cry for attention. It achieves no distinction from other turkey dinners.

You want to watch your title on these kinds of pages. Although the title is great for getting high on search results, it can cause somebody to quickly skip reading your results. This is a balance you have to play with.

There may well be more possibilities for semantic search to cover, but this is a starting point. Suffice it to say that optimizing for search engines means more than looking good to a machine. It means getting clicks from humans.

Eventually, we may even see more intelligent searches that rely on highly complex Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), and keeping your content and keywords relevant and integrated like this will help you rank well in them. It is those who try to trick search engines and those who don’t optimize properly (or at all) that look very bad to people staring at SERPs and LSI searches.

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