Search engine optimization (SEO) techniques are constantly evolving.

Search engines continue to implement new algorithm updates to improve the user experience. Marketers and website owners must keep up with these changes to grab prime search engine real estate.

One of the latest technologies that have been impacting SEO is natural language processing (NLP).

How does NLP impact the search experience? Should you build an onpage SEO strategy to accommodate NLP? What’s it like to optimize your website for NLP?

In this blog, we’ll delve deeper into the answers to these questions and more. Let’s get started.

What Is NLP?

NLP is an application of artificial intelligence (AI). It uses linguistics and machine learning algorithms to help computers recognize, understand, and generate natural/conversational language.

The technology is used to help live chat tools understand and communicate in multiple languages. Also, it’s used to extract valuable data from text-based sources, such as sales reports, business agreements, tax summaries, etc.

From healthcare to digital marketing – NLP has found its way into a ton of industries.

NLP and BERT: Understanding the Connection

In October 2019, Google rolled out one of the most significant algorithm updates since RankBrain. 

Affecting 1 in every 10 search queries, the update was titled Bidirectional Encoder Representation from Transformers (BERT).

Simply put, BERT helps Google understand search queries the way humans do. It has two main components:

  • Pre-trained models – Sets of data from various sources, including Wikipedia and a book corpus
  • Methodology – Well-defined techniques to learn and utilize the collected data

So, what’s the link between BERT and NLP?

Think of NLP as BERT’s driving force. If BERT is the engine that improves Google’s understanding of search queries, NLP is the fuel powering the engine.

NLP and Search Quality: How Are They Related?

NLP is the technology that helps search engines understand the context of various words in a piece of content.

With NLP, a conversational sentence/question is broken down into smaller tokens, and each token is given a contextual meaning.

It delivers a better search experience by matching search queries to the most relevant content.

Here’s a glimpse of how NLP changes Google search results:

In a pre-BERT era, Google would struggle to understand the meaning of prepositions, such as ‘to’ and ‘from’, in relation to the entire search query.

The search engine would focus on keywords, such as ‘USA’, ‘Brazil’, and ‘visa’, to generate search engine results pages (SERPs).

NLP has improved Google’s understanding of each term in a search query.

So, why does NL matter to SEO experts, marketers, and website owners? Let’s find out.

Optimizing Your Website for NLP: A Closer Look

As NLP becomes an integral part of Google’s algorithm, simply focusing on keywords won’t take your website to the top of SERPs.

Similar to search queries, NLP helps Google understand the meaning and topical relevance of your on-page content. Stuffing a web page with high-volume keywords will no longer do the trick.

Instead, you need a more NLP-friendly on-page SEO strategy that combines the following techniques:

Consider User Intent

Your on-page content should satisfy the user intent associated with a target keyword.

Typically, keywords are associated with the following types of search intent:

  • Informational, such as “how to add internal links to a blog”
  • Navigational, such as “Moz SEO blog”
  • Transactional, such as “buy WordPress SEO plugin”

Run a quick Google search for your target keyword, and analyze the topmost results to get an idea of the associated search intent.

Understand Entity Salience

Entities are identifiable things, such as people, places, objects, etc., in your content. Make sure the most important entities in your content are tied to the target keywords.

It’ll help Google identify entities that are salient to the text, and improve the search engine’s understanding of your content.

Leverage Long-Tail Keywords

Did you know that nearly 70% of all online searches involve long-tail keywords?

Image via Search Engine Land

Long-tail keywords are more precise and increase the relevance of your content to the given topic.

Use the ‘People also ask’ section in Google search results to identify long-tail keywords associated with a particular search query. Address these long-tail keywords in your content to make it more meaningful and relevant.

Earn Backlinks and Brand Mentions

Apart from relevance, NLP also helps search engines identify the sentiments associated with a particular web page.

Use white-hat link-building tactics to position your website as an industry authority. Also, partner with influencers to earn positive brand mentions.

Focus on Consistency

Good old SEO practices, such as simplifying site architecture and improving site speed, continue to be important. Don’t ignore these aspects of SEO while trying to optimize your website for NLP.

Preparing for the New Era of On-Page SEO

The integration of NLP with Google’s ranking system has rendered black hat SEO tactics useless. Instead of optimizing on-page content for specific keywords, focus on making it more relevant to the topic. Utilize long-tail keywords, entity salience, and search intent to help search engines match your content with the right search queries.

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Lorenzo Gutierrez
Digital Marketing Consultant
Lorenzo Gutierrez is a Digital Marketing Consultant and a certified Google Partner. He helps small businesses and corporations grow their revenue online. He does this by mixing passion, innovation, & expertise.