Semantic Search And Your Website

Semantic Search And Your Website

What is semantic search and why does it matter for dental SEO?

One thing which strikes me when I talk to dentists about search engine optimisation is just how out-of-date their knowledge actually is. This is understandable of course, as SEO is a fast-moving subject and consequently an area where if you don’t stay close to it, you’ll soon be well behind the curve. So the days of just adding a few keywords and adjusting your page ‘h’ tags are long gone – unfortunately there’s now a lot more to it, and achieving and then maintaining excellent Google ranking results can be a long and drawn-out exercise.

So what are the main things which have changed and what do you need to understand and implement today for a dental website which outranks the competition? First, let’s take a very quick look at the history of SEO and how, in the past, you could actually achieve top search rankings quite quickly without too much knowledge or experience. Then we’ll take a look at how Google has evolved significantly and how experienced SEO teams have had to re-learn and evolve their own techniques to keep their clients ahead.

SEO – 2010 style

Back then, optimising a website was primarily about including targeted keywords, optimising on-page features such as page titles and ‘h’ tags and then seeking out some back-links. Most companies with any acumen at all could do this and it was those who were able to generate the most back-links who typically won at the ranking wars. But Google quickly realised what was happening and developed updates to its search algorithm to combat this type of over-zealous SEO. As we’ve written before, these Google updates were quite punitive and really penalised those websites where crude SEO measures had been employed. Please search in our blog for more information about the ‘Penguin’ and ‘Panda’ updates to understand more about what happened and why Google did it.

The introduction of semantic search

Over the last 8 or 9 years, Google has introduced a number of features which have collectively resulted in the concept of “semantic” search. It’s no longer about simply adding keywords to your website and hoping that does the trick; now you need to understand the user’s search intent and provide optimised content which answers those questions. Google surfaces those web pages which it feels provide the best answers and it is much more adapt at understanding search queries, irrespective of how they are asked.

When you ask a question using the Google search box, Google is essentially trying to understand the following before it presents you with results:

  • your actual search intent
  • the context of your query
  • the relationship between the words you used and what appears on the web pages it has stored in its index of information

In basic terms, Google is using algorithms and artificial intelligence to try to understand language as another person might. All clever stuff and you may have noticed just how good they’re getting at this. If you’re smart and have experience in how Google works, you can optimise your website and blog content accordingly to take advantage of this search evolution.

The Knowledge Graph

Google began laying foundations for these huge algorithmic changes by launching the Knowledge Graph back in 2012 – you can read more about it in our blog here. This is when the concept of “things not strings” was introduced i.e. less of a reliance on simple keywords and more of a swing to the concept of entities and context. This huge library of associated information is arguably the foundation for Google’s shift to sematic search.

Hummingbird – 2013

Google introduced the Hummingbird update in 2013 with, amongst other things, the intent that web pages which were most contextually relevant to a user’s query would rank better than those which simply matched a string of keywords.

Rankbrain – 2015

A further layer to Google’s understanding and matching of search queries arrived in 2015 – Rankbrain. This built on Hummingbird by introducing machine learning and Google advised us that a page could now rank well even if it didn’t contain the specific words mentioned in a user’s query. As long as Google’s systems deemed that the web page was most useful to answer the question asked, it would be presented first in the search results. This “layering” of understanding further evolved semantic search.

Voice Search

Over the last few years, voice search has become increasingly important and has driven the progress of semantic search even further forward. Google is striving to understand less-specific user queries and respond to them quickly and accurately. These are the types of queries which are often generated via intent-based voice searches and consequently your web content needs to be tuned to adapt.

What can you do to leverage semantic search for your dental website?

Before we move into this, let’s be totally clear that keywords and ‘on-page’ optimisation do still matter but need to be done subtly and above all, naturally. Link-building, technical optimisation and elements such as structured data all help too. But overall you need to understand the concept of semantic search and ensure that your web content is generated firmly with this in mind.

Shift away from keywords to topics – don’t simply rely on minimalist content with a few strings of keywords, it’s not going to work. Instead develop insightful, in-depth content on the topic of the expected queries.

Examine which queries generated your website traffic – then generate website and blog content to answer these queries in depth.

Determine searcher intent – so was the searcher looking to buy or simply checking available options? You can determine this by looking at queries which resulted in web traffic and then use it to create a suite of articles tailored specifically to answer those questions. We are now talking about topic segmentation and targeting rather than old-style keyword targeting. Here’s where your practice blog comes into play.

Further changes are on the way!

As Google continues its quest to deliver the best user experience, it recently announced new changes which are in the pipeline. These are related to “page experience” metrics and you can read more about them here. So nothing is standing still and we need to understand and adapt as the new changes are introduced.


To win at SEO, you need to understand how Google handles and processes data. There have been several huge developments to this over the last 8 years or so and a user’s search experience has benefitted significantly as a result. The days of old-hat keyword stuffing and simple on-page structural tricks are long gone and don’t cut it any longer; it’s way more sophisticated than that.

If you understand what Google is trying to achieve and generate your content expertly for Google and for users, along with an excellent technical website infrastructure, you’ll be well on your way to great ranking results!

Do you need help with your own dental practice website SEO or are you simply keen to know more about the topics above? If so, one of the search engine experts at Dental Media will be pleased to help on 01332 672548. Please call for a chat and no-obligation advice.