Natural Language Processing, Topic Modeling and SEO

January 8, 2019 - 7  min reading time - by Chris Giarratana
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The new era of SEO strategy & marketing

Traditionally, SEO has focused on optimizing content around a tight set of keywords or search phrases. These terms are placed strategically throughout content such as in headings, images, and metadata to help improve rankings in search engines.

While this approach is easy to understand and scalable from an operation standpoint, relying on this rigid strategy can leave a lot of value on the table for SEO teams.

Not only does this strategy negate the importance of contextual nuances, but it also means that your content will sink in online rankings as search engines interpret content based on topic modeling and linguistic systems used in Natural Language Processing.

What is Natural Language Processing (NLP)?

Each time someone types something into Google, they are asking a question. It is in Google’s best interest to deliver relevant content with answers for specific search queries, and this means that as SEOs we should do everything that we can to optimize our content based on the needs of our customers and how Google interprets content on the web.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is the complicated process of parsing text to find relationships between words, expression, and the meaning of words to gain a greater understanding of what is being asked.

There are over 11 significant components of NLP, and each approach is likely used by search engines like Google and Bing in different ways to categorize information around the world.

While the different components of NLP seem overwhelming, you can start taking actions today to improve your content to get found online.

1. Connect questions & answers in your content

Optimizing content for NLP should begin with simple sentence structure and focused on providing concise information for your audience. You should always try to submit the exact questions that people ask along with relevant answers since people will be typing those questions into search engines.

2. Use simple sentence structure

Google “crawls” content on your site to find the best information about questions people look for when they type something into the search engine. If the structure of your sentence is overly complicated, then you risk Google failing to create clear links between words or ideas in your content.

3. Keep sentences short

Many in the SEO community agree that long-form content tends to rank better than short-form content, so some SEOs assume that longer content is always better than little material. However, what they fail to realize is that it is not the length of material that matters as much as the quality of content.

Some copywriters will beat around the bush in an attempt to expand their content, but by doing this SEOs could make it harder for Google and their readers to find the answers that they are looking for. This means that you should keep your content to the point, organize content into related groups (like content silos), and always write for people and not search engines.

4. Make content easy to understand

Google and Bing have thousands of engineers and psychologists working to improve their algorithms to categorize and deliver the best content based on search queries. As the search engine algorithms continue to grow, you should make every effort to provide the most simple answer.

Not only will this help your readers consume your content, but this approach will also help search engines understand your content. Plus, you will be more likely featured in Featured Snippets and Voice Search results if you provide precise answers that are quick and easy to understand.

5. Use on-page SEO tactics to convey meaning

Most SEO copywriters already know the importance of on-page SEO to rank content, but this “old school” approach to SEO will be more critical than ever before as NLP continues to influence search engine results.

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You can use different tactics to amplify the semantic meaning of your content to convey an additional sense for NLP understand like:

  • Headings: Use H1, H2, and H3 tags to divide your content into logical sections. These help your readers and search engines understand where transitions in thoughts occur.
  • Build Relationships: You can use subheadings to different group ideas. These parent and child relationships help NLP link thoughts and topics together.
  • Create Lists: Lists help organize information quickly and easily. Not only do lists break up blocks of content, but they are also scanned easily by search engines and help improve your chances of getting showcased in Featured Snippets.
  • Word Placement: Search engines use different formulas to understand content and NLP considers the proximity of words and sentences in relationship to other words and phrases when building a context for an idea.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what Natural Language Processing is and how to optimize content for the future of SEO we should look at how SEOs can expand these tactics with Topic Modeling.

Using topic modeling to direct SEO efforts

Human communications follow a very complex set of rules that are based on social and cultural norms.

While no algorithm can take all variables into consideration to help deliver perfect content for specific questions and search queries, there have been recent studies show that there are reliable indicators that GoogleBot gives preference to content with semantic groupings and websites that are organized into topic clusters.

Topic modeling is a fantastic concept, and there is no way that we can dive deep into the idea here today. However, you can read more about this strategy with the fantastic research paper by the University of Maryland.

If you don’t have time to read the article, in a nutshell, topic models are static frameworks to help consumers (and search engine robots) understand large collections of documents, and process themes throughout each record in that collection.

This approach to SEO sounds complicated, and in reality, how the goal is accomplished has lots of variables that are considered, but we experience this process every day. Whether we are organizing Legos into piles of related blocks, or organizing photos for a photo album by face, topic modeling in SEO is just a larger version of these concepts across the Internet.

While we are not able to test the assumptions directly, we can use what we know about topic modeling, human communication, and Google’s goals to understand the benefits of topic models. You can accomplish this through work on both technical SEO and content creation.

Focus on technical SEO to:

  • Improve speed to provide fast and relevant results.
  • Make content on your site easier for GoogleBot to crawl and faster interpretation by algorithms.

Focus on content creation to:

  • Create more in-depth content to address the questions and needs of your customers.
  • Develop a wider footprint around core topics on your site.

What does topic modeling mean for SEO content & writers?

Adapting to the changing world of SEO and content marketing isn’t easy and you may find that it will take a lot of time and effort to modify existing content to the new systems and search engine algorithms. However, not all is lost since you can use a few tips to bring your content to modern day standards:

  • Optimize technical SEO: Look at Google Search Console and other tools to prioritize what content you should start with on your site. Instead of guessing or shotgunning your way around your site you can build a methodical approach to update the most important pages first.
  • Take inventory of each page on your site and organize a spreadsheet for Focus topics, User Intent, and whether you need to improve content.
  • Identify topic coverage gaps as you look through prioritized pages to improve the depth and coverage of topics that you feel are valuable to your business.
  • Optimize on-page SEO like titles, introductory paragraphs, and optimize internal linking to boost the power of each page.

Topic modeling and NLP will continue to play a significant role in planning, producing, and optimizing content to get found in search engines. As search engine algorithms continue to evolve, Content Marketers must understand how these elements will impact online marketing in both obvious and subtle ways.

If you want to boost your online rankings and engage with your audience then you need to organize content by topics in a natural and logical manner. This type of marketing strategy will help drive more qualified customers to your site by growing your relevance and power behind each piece of content across your site!

Chris Giarratana See all their articles
Chris Giarratana is a content strategist at StrategyBeam, where he works with small business and nonprofits. He helps drive conversions and boost sales through SEO marketing, freelance copywriting, and PPC management. Learn more.