How Natural Language Processing Is Changing On-Page SEO

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When we speak and write, we often take liberties with grammar, use slang terms and communicate with different accents or dialects. Natural language processors (NLPs) must be equipped to handle these traits of human language which do not conform to the same strict patterns of computer languages. 

NLP has many applications, but for online businesses, perhaps the most useful one to understand is how it impacts search engine optimization (SEO). If you are trying to grow your online business or if your web traffic has recently diminished, you should be looking for new ways to optimize how your site appears in search results. 

And since Google controls 92 percent of the search engine market, this means playing by Google’s rules to get to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). So, let’s explore how NLP works and how you can tailor your SEO strategies aided by Google’s natural language API. 

How Does AI Process Human Language? 

NLP is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI), so like any AI, it requires using machine learning algorithms to teach a computer to make decisions. Natural language adds a lot of complexity, though, because its irregularities and inconsistencies make it much more difficult to parse than other data. 

NLPs separate sentences or phrases into smaller tokens and assign meaning to them in context. Since you’re mainly here to boost your site’s SERP rankings, we’ll get right into how Google does this. 

As of 2019, Google uses an NLP model training method called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT). This is a lot of big words, so just focus on one: bidirectional. Looking backward and forward in a sentence helps BERT understand more nuances than previous NLP algorithms, meaning the results returned for complex queries will be more relevant to what is actually being asked. 

Applications of NLP

AI has numerous applications for data analytics, customer service and much more. And natural language processing is already playing a role in these applications, for example, adapting chatbots to translate, allowing them to communicate with customers in different languages. 

NLP is also used in applications like email filtering, such as when messages are classified as junk mail. If you use email as a content distribution channel for your business, you should be making sure your marketing emails reach your prospects and don’t get filtered out. 

The same goes for your website and its appearance on search engines results. Voice assistants are one recent example of how search queries must process natural language. While text-based interfaces parse the words typed, voice assistants like Alexa use speech recognition to parse oral communication. 

As NLP becomes more critical in business, you should consider hiring content writers who specialize in SEO. You can expect to pay a quality freelance writer at least $25 an hour in the United States, and it will be well worth it to get their expertise without having to hire full-time staff. If you want to do the work yourself, let’s look at some steps you can take to use NLP to benefit your SEO.

How Google’s Natural Language API Can Help

When it comes to website optimization, more content is not always better – it’s about the quality and the strategy that goes into it. So how can you cater to Google’s NLP algorithm? In short, Google’s API concerns itself with four main things: entity, sentiment, syntax and categories. 

Consider Entity Salience

To return to elementary school English class, an entity is simply a noun – a person, place, thing or idea. Entities help Google understand how different things relate to each other, so monitoring entity salience of your content is how you determine whether your site is appearing for the right search terms.

Entity salience is not the same as keyword research. An entity might be a keyword, but while most pages will have only a few target keywords, they will have numerous entities. Your goal should be to ensure the most salient – that is, obvious – entities are tied to keywords. Google provides a free demo of its API if you want to see a sample of how NLP impacts SEO using your content. 

Earn Backlinks and Brand Mentions

Sentiment is another aspect that Google uses to analyze text. Sentiment is scored from -1 to +1, representing a scale of negative to positive feelings (with zero considered neutral). Perhaps the most useful application of this is not in your own written content, but in analyzing what is said about your business online.

While you can certainly maintain a positive tone when you backlink to your own pages in blogs and such, most mentions will come from others. You should focus on dedicated customer service to get good reviews and getting positive mentions from influencers to build brand recognition. 

You can use sentiment analysis to see what people are saying about you in blogs, news and on social media. And you could even use an NLP algorithm to alert you when it detects significant negative press so you can respond to criticisms and avoid a PR nightmare. 

Don’t Focus Too Much on NLP

This may seem counterintuitive given the above advice, but it’s important not to overdo it when it comes to optimizing your content for SEO. In the end, humans are reading your content, so you should be tailoring it to your target audiences as well as search engine algorithms. 

One of the things Google’s API looks at – syntax – is something you might already be doing. Syntax analysis breaks down sentences into sub-parts and returns information about type, voice, etc. This gives some insight into how Google “understands” your content, but it isn’t much different than any AI-based editor your writers probably already use. 

Similarly, the categories aspect of Google’s NLP algorithm classifies text and gives a confidence score of how “sure” it is that the words fit in that category. The higher the confidence score, the more relevant to that category – and the more likely your content will appear in searches on that topic. 

The thing is, there’s not a lot you can do with it other than using high-scoring content as a model, so don’t spend too much time agonizing over this. Once you have some quality content, consider running a check to see how it ranks. If it gets a high categories score, consider writing on those topics more in the future.

Maintain Consistency 

On that note, content optimization isn’t the only SEO strategy you should be considering. Website structure, load time and other factors also impact rankings. In addition to auditing your content, you should also be auditing your technical SEO to make sure you have a high-performing site, especially if you are making a lot of layout or content changes as you optimize.

According to industry expert Nathan Finch of Best Web Hosting Australia, you must make sure your chosen web platforms allows for seamless site migration to avoid hiccups that might impact your SEO:

“In short, site migration is a fairly broad term often used by SEO experts to describe any significant changes to a website that can influence search engine visibility – such as changes to the content, URLs, UX or design.”

Consistency is critical to get web traffic, so if you are making changes to your website, be sure your site stays live and highly ranked as you migrate. 

Conclusion

Natural language processing is an up-and-coming field of AI, and it’s important that you understand how it can impact your search rankings. Understanding NLP and using Google’s API to your advantage will help you become one of the success stories of companies harnessing advanced SEO strategies to increase their web traffic and grow their online businesses. 

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