What is semantic structure and how can it benefit your SEO activity?
When writing any copy for the web, it is important that the copy is semantically structured in a way that allows search engines to easily understand how your content is structured, what is important on that page and therefore, how to rank the information on the page.
What is semantic structure?
Semantic structure relates to the way that html tags are displayed on a given web page. This can be done manually by a web developer/web editor or in most cases, a website’s content management system will have features built into the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text box which work rather like a program such as Microsoft Word. This will allow you to do standard things such as making words bold or italics, but it should also help you to define the semantic structure of the page by applying header tags <h1 – h6> to indicate breaks and subsections in the copy.
How should copy be structured semantically?
Typically, most bits of content on the web will be copy. In and around that, you will also get things like video, images, infographics etc which help to add value to the copy and make it more shareable and engaging. When writing copy for the web, you should first identify the keywords and phrases that are relevant to the content you are producing (see previous post on keyword/phrase research). Once you have this list of words and phrases, it is important to include these not only in the copy, but also in the structure on the content you are producing.
Most pages will begin with a title tag. This will usually be generated for you using your content management system and this gives you the title of the content you are producing. It is important to include keywords and phrases in the title tag as this is the information that appears in search engine results pages (SERPs), when the content is shared via social media and also at the top of your web browser. This is the most important tag for the search engines as it tells them in an instant what the page is about and therefore should be optimised with your phrases identified in your search phrase research.
The Meta Description used to be another key indicator to the search engines about what your content contained and again should be optimised with your search phrases. However, due to overkill by spammers and over-enthusiastic SEO companies, this is now much less relevant in your ranking. However, it is still very important in another sense – it is still displayed in the SERPs so can be used to encourage a higher clickthrough rate. If the meta description is empty, Google will use the first line of the content so if you can ask users to “We are the Country’s leading stockists of X at very low prices. Visit us today!” it will be much more effective than “Welcome to our store. Feel free to browse, blah, blah, blah…”
The next important thing to ensure you do is add the correct header tags <h> throughout the copy. Every web page should have a <h1> tag. This is usually (but not always) found at the very top of the document and can sometimes (but again not always) be a duplication of the title tag – however it is much more effective if this is unique. Google sees this as another key element on the page and you should ensure that you add relevant keywords and phrases into the <h1> tag.
When producing a copy heavy piece of content (anything over 200 words), it is important to break that down for two reasons: 1) it makes it easier for the user to pick out the information they are looking for and 2) it allows Google to see what you feel are the important elements on a page – which therefore affects rankings for the keywords that are in these header tags.
A lot of copywriters will typically use subheadings to break up large bits of copy which is great. One problem usually comes though when they simply use bold to identify the subheading. This is your opportunity to semantically structure the content and make Google aware of the important things contained within the next bit of copy. The addition of header tags should be done logically i.e. the first subheading should be identified with a <h2> tag. If there are any further subheadings within that section of copy, a <h3> tag should be used and so on. If you have a number of subheadings on a page that all carry the same weight, then <h2> tags should be used throughout. Never jump or miss out header tags as this will only confuse Google i.e. <h1> tag jump to a <h3> tag because it looks better when displayed on screen. Visual presentation can should always be done separately; there is no excuse for not adhearing to a correct document structure. It is the backbone of good content!
Why is it important to semantically structure copy?
By adding the relevant title tags and header tags, it allows you to highlight to Google the keywords and phrases you feel are important within that piece of content. Google adds weight to keywords and phrases located in title and header tags (more so than those that have just had bold applied to them although this does add some weight).
In addition to the key area of header tags, you can also make sure that you apply the correct html tags for things such as bullet points. Many copywriters will replace bullet points with stars which is presentational mark-up but it is not semantic mark-up. Again bullet points help to break up copy and when marked-up correctly, also allow you to highlight keywords and phrases to search engines.
So, in conclusion, it is important for you to get the semantic structure of your copy right. At Digital Hothouse, we can help to make sure that all your content is structured in the right way and that you have optimised for the keywords you have identified.