When Optimizing for SEO and the Semantic Web, Don’t Forget Your Audience

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When you optimize a site for the HTML Web and the Semantic Web, you’re performing two different tasks that can complement each other, and both of them can be very helpful. But not if you forget whom you’re doing it for.


I had an opportunity to watch a Webinar a couple of weeks ago, and it was about using some software that looked at your messages on your pages and the words that you were using on landing pages and your advertisements and suggesting semantically related terms to include in those landing pages and your advertisements.

During the Webinar, we had the chance to ask questions, and I had noticed that the word “audience” hadn’t been mentioned once.

I asked about the audience.

In my opinion, not addressing audiences in any way was a serious oversight.

I don’t believe that you could write a landing page, an advertisement, or even consider offering people something without spending some serious time thinking about who you are offering your products or services. Or at least do a decent job of creating such an offer. Having some software that can tell you several topically related terms to the words in your content might help make it easier for a search engine to find and understand your pages.

But a search engine doesn’t “like” something and probably won’t share it with others on social networks.

A Search Engine won’t become an “evangelist” for your products or services and talk about it with others or send their friends to see it.

It’s unlikely that a search engine will laugh at any jokes that the semantic software might insert on the page (OK, it probably won’t have any jokes).

Semantic Software may do a great job of describing words and phrases that should ideally be on a page written for a specific industry and potentially cause more people to visit a page or a site because it’s using the right words to help people get to that page.

But is it answering the right questions?

Is it persuading people that you are the one that they want to do business with?

Without any thought to your audience and the problems they might need to solve or the aspirations they would like to climb to, it’s not likely.

I think that addressing both HTML-based search focusing upon the content found specifically upon web pages and upon Semantic-based focusing upon collecting and sharing information about data that might be found on web pages is a smart approach.

But without creating information on web pages knowing about the audience, they are intended for is a mistake.

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20 thoughts on “When Optimizing for SEO and the Semantic Web, Don’t Forget Your Audience”

  1. Thanks, Chris. I just couldn’t believe that I sat through that webinar, and no one described who they were creating pages for and how the software would benefit those people.

  2. So true Bill. So many sites I review now that are “optimized” seem bland and I don’t think their audience would bother to stick around.

  3. Great points Bill. Sounds like they are using this software in a manner akin to wielding a rubber chicken as a weapon. Why. Because, I just don’t believe adding a few semantic keywords into some content makes a lick of difference. Don’t get me wrong though, I think rubber chickens can serve a specific purpose, but just not as weapons is all. Besides I didn’t attend the webinar, so maybe other uses were described ? For example, why not marry this type of data to expand ppc keyword build outs , & / or leverage the additional insights to refine content development opportunity forecast models, and / or test impact of their use in meta data, and / or leverage this data to improve upon recommendation engine platforms, & / or, improving product categorization and faceting capabilities. The list goes on. Please anything but keyword stuffing content fir heavens sake! Then again, I wasn’t on the webinar, so maybe they covered some of that?

  4. Absolutely right, first of all we should think about audience what he/she wants from you website, while mostly people optimize website for search engine.

  5. 1. Great (highly relevant) content
    2. User Engagement
    3. Clean pages NOT stuffed full of adverts

    What does this mean? The average business owner gets easily confused abut what exactly designing for the user REALLY means?

    A while back we had this mad rush to create new content. “It’s all about the content” we heard said many times. But writing content for the sake of content is NOT the way forward.

    Google (Panda 4.1) is now ranking (in a BIG way) on hard data, think bounce rates as a start point. Does your website landing page actually deliver what the searcher asked Google for in the first place.

    If the searcher can’t find what they are looking for and simply bounces right back to Google, then over time your entire site will be demoted. Panda is a site-wide penalty.

    Here’s an example. Lets’ say you run an insurance affiliate website. On your page you will probably have a banner linking through to the insurer. BUT, does your page include the phone number; e-mail address; postal address of the insurer. You have to provide the searcher, landing on your page with each piece of information they could be needing – SO THEY DO NOT BOUNCE RIGHT BACK TO GOOGLE!

    Lesson: Design and write your web pages FOR THE USER….

  6. Great article. This is such a basic point missed even by experts. They tend to forget the audience in their obsession for rankings. thanks.

  7. Hi Paul,

    While I agree completely, what you are describing doesn’t quite capture the point I’m making, which is that even though tools and programs can be used to try to capture additional data on a page such as through the use of Schema markup, it’s still important knowing who your audience is and what their needs and pain-points might be, to truly be effective.

    You’re right too, that people were in such a rush to create content, they were forgetting “context” in the creation of pages. As you and I probably both would say here, understand the intent of a searcher whey then are searching for the content that would be found on their pages and they are much more likely to stick around and become a customer. 🙂

  8. Hi Dan,

    It can be really easy to overlook creating a user experience that people value once you expended a lot of energy in getting people to your pages. 🙂

  9. Hi Warren

    I don’t think the intent was to keyword spam content, but rather to try to help people make sure that they were putting words and content and ideas on pages that likely made it relevant to the content.

    Much like schema might do.

    That there was no discussion of audiences and how they might be accounted for by content creators for these pages and these ads did bother me, which is why I ended up asking about it. I don’t think they anticipated that.

  10. I agree with this article. Just to add a small point regarding content, I find that service websites like plumbers for example need content to rank however the user won’t read this content in most cases. I do believe that the content itself needs to be high quality in case a user wants to read it however it should be more more or less important depending on the industry.

  11. Absolutely Bill. But here is the conundrum that breaks a search engine’s pursuit of AI. In order to be interesting, you often want to create tangents, like similes, metaphors or other non-contextual mental images. What is Google going to make of this departure from its surgical ‘want’ of everything tidy and digitally-understandable? The 10 blue links worked well, the computer understanding the nuances of one language, like English, is light years away – never mind the hundreds of other languages and dialectic corruptions.

  12. Hi Jon,

    In Google’s patent’s on phrase-based indexing, they discuss how the search engine might identify meaningful phrases, and how some phrases don’t have meaning within a specific context, such as similes or metaphors. It doesn’t break the search engines understanding of a page to have content such as that.

    I’m not so sure that the difficulties you write about are that difficult a task to overcome.

    Regardless, I also don’t think the point that I’m making of writing not only to include meaningful words on pages, but also to focus upon audiences and audience experiences is a problem.

  13. Hi Bill

    Thanks very much for your reply.

    I suppose the point I am labouring is that of ethereal information. With hard facts and within a narrow entity band, of course it works. But if you build in emotion or textual mind imagery for your audience, then the whole pursuit is lightly to break. Imagine what AI would make of Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll if it was not a famous poem? Does this mean it is of a lesser value to a searcher? This is a facetiously extreme example with which to illustrate that there may be less to be gained than Google realises in the value of the results it wants to return using AI. A balance between its original indexing technique and ‘the new way’ must be difficult to parallel in test.

    In 2007 I canvased over 120 of the world’s experts on AI’s use in text analyics. Over 60 replied, not one thought that a machine would be able to deal with anything beyond hard facts – this includes the use of entities and categorization.

    In summary, my point is building for an audience is dead on. But don’t expect that the search engines will necessarily get the meaning of your content right. Meaning is the Holy Grail after all.

    Kind regards and thanks for a smashing blog.


  14. I think Audience is more important than Search Engine, Beacause Search Engine Also Gives Priority to the Audience..

  15. Hi Bill,

    Very well written article. I think knowing your audience is the base of any marketing and SEO campaign. Understanding user search intent plays a key role to the success of an SEO Campaign.

    Best Regards
    Miraj Gazi

  16. I think optimizing for search intent and understand your target demo and know what content they desire in terms of information, about your brand, and why you are an authority in your vertical is important. Appeasing only search engines will leave you with organic traffic no little to none desired action. Good article.

  17. Honest question: What is the future of the Semantic Web. Adoption is slow. Serious problems may be present. I love the idea, but how feasible is it?

  18. Hi Logan

    The rate of adoption of Schema markup added to pages on the Web has increased tremendously over the past year or so, see: https://plus.google.com/+KenichiSuzuki/posts/4EpsxVcv742 We are seeing more rich snippet implementations at places like Google,and Bing and Yahoo, with signs that we will continue to do so. Google is showing off Direct Answers, and Bing has added online ordering for local restaurants. We see new additions to search results almost daily when it comes to how those might display data added to pages using schema Markup.

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