If it feels as though there are new devices, products or processes designed to make life that little bit easier being launched every time you blink, you're arguably not far wrong.
One of the newest developments is the increase in voice search and the importance of properly utilising natural language processing (NLP).
Natural language is a term that simply refers to the natural ways in which we speak in our everyday lives. Importantly, when we use a smartphone or other smart device to conduct a search query, we use speech in the same way we would if we were talking to another human. This is why Google has ensured that its algorithms understand the relationships between different types of words, including objects, subjects, and modifiers.
In recent years, Google has invested in its understanding of content and its context without relying so heavily on keywords. After all, keyword stuffing quickly started to become a significant problem alongside a selection of other black-hat SEO tactics that abused keywords to artificially inflate ranking positions. So, NLP is excellent news for everyone who has been forced to look on as a competitor using nefarious techniques consistently secured a more prominent ranking position in search engine results pages (SERPs). We'll look at this in a little more depth in a moment.
Importantly, as voice search continues to increase in popularity, more search queries are being phrased using natural language and speech patterns rather than being so keyword focused. NLP allows Google to continue to deliver high-quality, valuable and relevant content to each query by looking at both sentiment and syntax.
The sentiment of a piece of content equates to its undertone which, like emotions, can be negative, positive, and neutral. Content with a positive sentiment will score between 0.25 and 1.0; content with a negative sentiment will score between -1.0 and -0.25; and content that contains both negative and positive sentiment signals will score between -0.25 and 0.25.
It's worth noting that the algorithm will calculate the sentiment value for both the subpage and subsection of content.
Understanding and centralising sentiment within your overall SEO strategy can be an excellent way to ensure you are consistently and efficiently addressing any pain points or complaints your audience may have. Taking decisive action and dealing with any problems as they arise can help you to boost your credibility and further impress your audience.
This term refers to a phrase or word which represents something that can be classified and categorised. This can include organisations, products, events, and individual people. As Google can distinguish such entities, it can utilise this information to provide more relevant and higher quality results that are better positioned to satisfy searcher intent. These entities are ultimately resolved to the Knowledge Graph, which is what ultimately enables searchers to obtain the precise information they are looking for.
The salience score ranges between 0.0 and 1.0. The higher the salience score, the more relevant and important the entity is to a webpage's subject. So, for example, the word "sweet" is likely to be more relevant than the word "savoury" in a piece of content about cakes or desserts.
Ultimately, Google wants to understand what a webpage is about and whether it is a good example of a webpage sharing information about this specific topic. After all, we've all visited many webpages that are too broad, too vague, or simply don't contain any valuable information at all. So, Google naturally wants to provide a solid user experience and point its users towards webpages that won't disappoint.
NLP and SEO are intrinsically linked in many ways, particularly because NLP affects both off-page and on-page SEO. So, there are a few things that digital marketing and optimisation professionals should keep in mind as NLP becomes even more sophisticated and continues to take on a prominent role in SERPs:
Black-hat SEO essentially seeks to secure higher ranking positions in SERPs with the use of strategies and tactics that go against the guidelines published by search engines. So, while keyword stuffing and cloaking once generated positive results, the syntax understanding capabilities of NLP make this approach far less attractive and more difficult to actually get away with.
Black hat SEO isn’t always a straightforward term either. As Paul Morris of Bristol based SEO agency, Superb Digital, explains “what constitutes black and whitehat SEO are changing all the time, as Google and it’s guidelines and algorithm evolve. [But] generally speaking, there’s a right way (white hat) and a wrong way (black hat) of going about securing those high spots.”
The general advice has always been to write for your audience and not for search engines, however, it isn't something that has always been adhered to. Now, though, it is actively beneficial to use natural language when creating content and you could see a marked difference in your ranking position.
Did you know that NLP can understand the content of a video or still image without looking at its alt text? So, it is becoming more important than ever to ensure that you are only integrating relevant visuals that genuinely complement and enhance your content.
Google is consistently making adjustments to its search algorithms and ensuring that your content can maintain a consistent and prominent ranking position certainly isn't easy. This is why it is important to keep up to date with the latest tools, approaches and techniques and ensure your strategy allows you to capitalise on every opportunity to out-perform your competitors.
Remember, although it can seem daunting to adjust the way you approach your content creation and optimisation process, keeping NLP at the forefront of your mind throughout will help you to create more relevant, highly valuable content that your audience will actively want to engage with.