5 Ways to Align Content Marketing and Semantic Web Optimization

2014 has been heralded the year of content marketing. At the same time, we’re optimizing our search marketing practices for the semantic search environment. Together, there’s a need to merge the two different objectives into a unified strategy.

From a search marketing perspective, it makes sense to integrate content marketing and semantic search optimization practices. The introduction of Hummingbird has taught us to deploy search optimization strategies that contextualize queries. Digital marketing with content, on the other hand, is deployed to drive traffic and engage prospects. You can see where the two might combine to form a natural single-track strategy, right?

I’ve got five ways I believe content marketing and semantic search can be better aligned.

1. Google Authorship

It’s been talked about here on ClickZ, on the Adobe blog, on Moz, and on many search industry blogs. Google has stated that Author Rank is used as a ranking factor, especially for in-depth articles. Moreover, you can’t rank without content that is viewed, shared, mentioned, linked to, or otherwise distributed.

Google Authorship has been shown to significantly boost organic visibility, even for authors who exist in fewer than 100 Google+ circles. Authorship markup helps with ranking on Google but more importantly, leads to higher click-throughs. This will, in turn, support better organic visibility. By distributing contextualized content that can be indexed using snippets through a Google+ profile, your chances for high visibility are increased.

2. Sharable Content

Search marketing analysts have been implying for years that social signals will soon correlate to better search visibility. While Google has denied using social signals as ranking factors, there is still a correlation effect where content with higher social activity may also rank higher. Obviously, shared content is not about link building, but rather a strategy – using content that provides value – which seeks to have your content shared among social circles, authority sites, and others. As your subject matter authority (see #4 below) improves, search relevancy will likely improve as well.

3. Link Potential

I realize that, in many circles, link building is not an intentional technique most enterprise SEOs engage in regularly. Partly this is due to the spammy ways in which SEOs have acquired links, which are repugnant to search marketers who optimize in a natural way. Traditional link building also takes more action, effort, and commitment than a social sharing strategy. However, because links remain a high-impact ranking factor, it’s important to consider deploying semantic-centric marketing to build inbound links. In turn, this value will contribute to increasing your subject matter authority (see #4). Consequently, a robust content marketing campaign that is optimized for semantic search is more likely to yield page authority, thus greater search visibility, than simply deploying a social sharing campaign alone.

4. Subject Matter Authority

One intent of search engines is to provide searchers with the most likely sources of information for a specific query. In order to ascend to a position as a subject matter authority, your pages must reflect a combination of relevant information and popularity. The value you provide, when optimized for semantic search, can evoke higher search visibility because your site is recognized by engines as having domain authority, which is another way of saying you have become a subject matter expert, a “go-to” site for potential customers.

5. Structured Authoring

Many trends are pointing to structured authoring (SA) governing the future of mobile and local search. Every content marketing campaign should be developed with search results in mind IMHO. Therefore, content marketing that deploys structured authoring will be better positioned to have success in the space.

As background, I talked about structured authoring as the new normal in search optimization recently. Note, though, that SA has been noted by Bing and others to not affect ranking. However, because this siloing of data makes it easier for engines to index page data, structured authoring of information typically leads to greater visibility. The additional benefits include a consistent delivery of information and reuse of data and localization, both critical factors in the mobile search space.

Using XML to define attributes (called “resources”), we can assign a variety of subject, property, and object tags which, when used across multiple assets, produce a unified profile that searchers can approach through a diverse set of queries.

The content being distributed has to be specified (authored) with context in mind. Take the following example from schema.org that marks up a page for the movie Avatar:

< div itemscope itemtype =”http://schema.org/Movie”>
< h1 itemprop=”name”>Avatar < /h1>
< span>Director: < span itemprop=”director”>James Cameron < /span> (born August 16, 1954) < /span>
< span itemprop=”genre”>Science fiction < /span>
< a href=”../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html” itemprop=”trailer”>Trailer < /a>
< /div>

Supporting content related to this entry should provide additional context to the spiders. Here is an example of how a contextualized, related asset might be structured:

< div itemscope itemtype =”http://schema.org/Movie”>
< h1 itemprop=”name”>Avatar < /h1>
< span>Actor: < span itemprop=”actor”>Sigourney Weaver < /span> (born October 8, 1949) < /span>
< span itemprop=”genre”>Science fiction < /span>
< a href=”../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html” itemprop=”release date”>December 18, 2009 < /a>
< /div>

In this markup, we defined the actor Sigourney Weaver as an asset associated with the movie. You can see the variety of information that can be written into each snippet. There will usually be a robust set of resources that you can embed in each page. The more details you can provide in a structured author markup, the more likely your assets will be found in a semantic Web environment.

Rich Snippets

Content marketing for semantic web search success starts with creating rich snippets. Rich snippets are parcels of information displayed in various formats on search engine results pages. On-page markup embeds schemas, which provide standardized rules that engines use when crawling your pages. Look at the image below:


Notice there are four types of snippets in the image: reviews with image, local map, images, and traditional text snippets. Your content delivery approach should be structured in a way that leverages as many attributes within your content as possible. Meaning it’s best to structure your microdata, microformat, or RDFa formats to deliver one or more of the following resources that Google supports in every marketing asset you distribute:

  • Reviews
  • People
  • Products
  • Businesses and organizations
  • Recipes
  • Events
  • Music

Doing so ensures that, when indexing your pages, search engines can easily depict the details that searchers are looking for. To see how your structured data will appear in a SERP, use the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.


Let me provide a word of caution here. When you optimize your content marketing for semantic search, avoid conflicts around ambiguity. Disambiguation is required when spiders get confused about the use of certain language, and that can lead to ineffective visibility (i.e. high bounce rates due to irrelevancy). For example, the term board can mean an organized body, a piece of lumber, a set of connected circuitry, or the act of getting on a plane. Protecting yourself from ambiguity requires that you define on-page resources clearly and completely.

Content marketing for semantic search isn’t terribly complicated – but it takes an organized approach to creating content using on-page markup, which connects machine-readable attributes that meet a searcher’s intent. We must find ways to describe our business without embedding repeatedly the terms most directly used to search. With the dawning of semantic search following the Hummingbird update, content marketing has become more necessary in order to put what you have to say in as many ways as you can.

Content marketing gets much more interesting and valuable, to your prospects and search engines alike, as you continue to innovate in how that content’s structured and delivered. Implementing just a few of these strategies on your most valuable content can significantly improve the effectiveness of your overall digital marketing efforts.

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