Why Natural Language Processing (NLP) Matters for Your SEO Content Strategy
A content marketer’s job is to create quality content that gets in front of readers organically. After all, what is content worth if you don’t access the readers who would most benefit from your writing? At the end of the day, content marketers must nurture readers throughout a buyer’s journey, driving them down the funnel and engaging with them at every stage.
This means you need to be intentional and attract the right traffic to your website, and you want to do that with quality content that fulfills the SEO requirements allowing it to rank with search engines. To do that, it helps to know a bit about how Google decides that a content piece will truly bring value to readers.
And this is where natural language processing (NLP) can help.
Natural Language Processing: The Basics
NLP is the class of artificial intelligence that converts written and spoken words (which, in data, analysts view as “unstructured data”) into structured data a machine can interpret. NLP platforms can analyze massive volumes of words and phrases to find meaning, patterns, and context. NLP is more prevalent than you might realize—Alexa, Siri, and Google voice assistants all leverage NLP.
More recently, data scientists have developed “transformer” models which leverage newer NLP techniques that can process language data faster and allows developers to create powerful “large language models” using Internet content from search engines, social media posts, news reports, and chatbots, to name a few examples. One of the most famous transformer models is GPT-3, an NLP model that has wowed users with its ability to generate fluent texts in response to basic language prompts. GPT-3 is now the underlying language model for dozens of technology tools.
As NLP evolves and becomes more sophisticated, experts predict the market will reach over $43 billion by 2025—14 times its size in 2017.
How NLP Drives Google Search Algorithms
One of the foundational techniques for optimizing content to attract organic traffic is search engine optimization (SEO). Identifying the common keywords audiences use in their search queries allows content teams to prioritize certain content and then ideate, create, and optimize it, so it ranks high on SERP and attracts new readers.
Google continuously updates its algorithms to rank blog posts and web pages. According to Google, these updates aim to ensure search results prioritize content that delivers what users are actually looking for—not just pages that include specific words or phrases.
Some high-profile changes of the past years include:
2019: BERT algorithm change
In 2019, Google introduced its BERT algorithm update that equipped the company to consider “the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it.” For example, prepositions like “to,” “for,” or “in” can dramatically change the meaning of a query and thereby affect which content pieces deliver the best value. Leveraging BERT, Google was able to use NLP to determine the true user intent behind specific search queries.
2022: Helpful content update
Taking it a step further, Google rolled out a “helpful content” update to ensure “people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people.” In response to the increased availability and adoption of GPT-3-based language generation tools (like Jasper.ai, Chat GPT, and others), the update equips Google to detect when a piece of content was AI-generated (or even human-generated) for the sole purpose of ranking on search engines. Content that makes readers “feel like they’ve had a satisfying experience” gets priority.
Building an SEO Strategy with NLP in Mind
Given these changes, how can content teams effectively use NLP to drive impact with their SEO-focused content? Consider these seven techniques:
1. Focus on search intent, not just keywords.
As a content marketer, it is easy to fall into the trap of merely
plugging keywords into your content and hoping it will lead to higher
rankings. The algorithm updates mean it’s not just about the keywords
anymore. It’s also about search intent—the “why” behind their search query.
Using NLP, Google categorizes search queries into four categories—navigational,
transactional, promotional, and commercial. This information helps
Google provide results that meet user expectations.
To get a better sense of search intent for a given query, you can conduct a Google search for a keyword and see what ranks on Page 1 or appears in the Featured Snippets. You can also look at the related searches that Google suggests at the bottom of the results page to inform your understanding of what users want to know and cater your content development to their needs.
2. Align your SEO strategy with audience research.
Conduct thorough SEO research before publishing content and handpick a small set of keyword clusters to focus on. Remember: the goal is to develop comprehensive, focused content that offers value to readers—not simply to cover a trending topic.
You can leverage a range of audience research strategies: conducting surveys, scouring customer reviews, using AI sentiment analysis tools, and customer interviews are all good starting points. Internal subject matter experts at your organization can also be strong sources of insight into your audience and what they want to know.
3. Display expertise.
According to the 2022 algorithm update, Google can recognize if your content simply summarizes what other sites have already published without adding original value. Doing so can negatively impact your rankings.
Google advises content creators to prioritize content demonstrating a “depth of knowledge” and firsthand expertise. (Google is working to improve systems that make finding original, high-quality product reviews easier via search.)
4. Prioritize quality over quantity with SEO content.
According to Google, the search engine can recognize if a website is creating a ton of content on different topics without a deep understanding of the target audience. Google is more likely to categorize such content as “unhelpful,” leading to lower rankings.
To prevent negative rankings, publish content that offers expertise on a targeted, audience-driven list of topics. These days, when it comes to SEO, a do-it-all strategy can actually hurt, rather than help, your organic search rankings.
5. Don’t rely on AI alone.
According to Google, using “extensive automation” to produce content on various topics can damage your rankings. On Twitter, Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, wrote, “It’s unlikely some AI content is going to feel written by people without some degree of human review.”
Use AI as a tool to supplement your efforts. But don’t depend on it for solo content creation.
6. Integrate tools into your MarTech stack that influence NLP.
To build a MarTech stack that effectively leverages NLP and improves your content, use tools and technologies that can feed data to an NLP—like Semrush, Hubspot, and Salesforce, to name a few.
These tools can integrate with NLP tools like Amazon Comprehend, Google Cloud NLP API, and IBM Watson. Other AI-powered tools that integrate GPT-3, like Jasper.ai, can help you create content, but there are certain ethical guidelines you should keep in mind, including the need for thorough fact-checking.
7. Conduct an SEO audit.
According to Google, any content (regardless of value or quality) that originates from a website with a lot of “unhelpful” content overall is less likely to perform well in organic search rankings. Removing unhelpful content from your site can improve the rankings of other content.
Getting Started with NLP in Content Marketing
Content marketers have long been vulnerable to the temptations of creating content crammed with keywords that deprioritize true value to the customer. But that goes against the goals of content marketing in general—and to be honest, it just won’t work. As Google has articulated with its algorithm changes driven by the latest NLP models, lazily crafted content that offers little value won’t rank well.
To get the most from your SEO strategy, you need to truly understand the needs of your audience and create high-quality content. Meet your intended readers where they are in their journey and offer a unique point-of-view.
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