The Importance of NLP and What It Means For SEO in 2020

on SEO March 12th, 2020

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a technology used by search engines to read and understand written human language.

While search engines have used this tech for years, Google’s BERT algorithm update (rolled out in October 2019) made NLP a determining factor in how the search engine determines rankings.

As you can imagine, the sudden importance of NLP disrupted rankings. It also opened up a new frontier for agile content marketers to take advantage of.

Are you ready to adapt and grow? Great!

In this guide, I will explain how NLP has changed the content marketing game and how you can use it to enhance your SEO optimization.

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Important Definitions for Understanding NLP

The discourse around Natural Language Processing makes frequent use of the words “entities,” “salience,” and “parse.” If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, here are the definitions:

  • Entities: specific nouns, pronouns, etc. that Google recognizes in a piece of content.
  • Salience: a scale Google uses to determine the extent to which a piece of content is about a specific entity.
  • Parse: the act of a crawler interpreting/reading your content.

What Does Natural Language Processing Look Like?

Google offers a free API tool that makes it easy to see NLP in action. By pasting a piece of your content into this API, you can quickly determine two things:

  1. Does Google recognize your targeted entities?
    How salient does Google consider your content?
  2. First, paste your content into the “Natural Language API Demo” field.

SEO NLP

Then select the “Entities” tab and scroll down until you see a series of boxes like these:

SEO Natural Language Processing

These boxes will list the entities Google recognizes in your content. The four entities here are what Google feels are the most important entities from this very blog post.

As you can see, the top four entities are: NLP, content, Natural Language Processing, and SEO. Since these are the entities I am targeting in this blog post, this result is good!

Beneath each entity, there is a “Salience” score. This is where Google tells you how confident it is that a piece of content is about a specific entity. Scores closer to 1.0 are more salient, while scores leaning towards 0 are less salient.

In the above screenshot, we can see that Google gives the entity “NLP” a salience score of 0.55. Google is pretty sure that this blog post is about NLP.

Good bot.

So before clicking “Publish” on your next article, run your copy through this API to ensure that Google can parse your content correctly.

How NLP Has Changed SEO

In the past, writing for SEO meant targeting a keyword phrase and its variants. For example, two years ago, if I wrote a piece of content around the keyword “best coffee in Seattle” I would also have targeted the keywords “best coffee shop in Seattle” and “best espresso in Seattle.”

In 2020, the strategy has changed. Now, when I write a piece of content, I optimize it for salience.

So instead of placing the emphasis on keyword variations, I place the emphasis on including entities in the copy that Google would expect to see in an article about my targeted keyword. Using the previous example, if I was to target the keyword phrase “best coffee in Seattle,” I would make sure to also include entities like “baristas” “roasters” “espresso” and “bar.”

The goal now is to write content that includes entities that Google and your readers expect to see in your copy. Including the appropriate entities will establish you as an expert on the topic and help your article rank higher.

NLP Best Practices for SEO

Here are 7 best practices your content team can follow to create copy that is optimized for NLP. The purpose of these steps is to write content that is highly salient and easy for search engine crawlers to parse.

Use H2 and H3 headings to introduce subtopics

Breaking up your copy with headings makes it easier for Google to parse your content.

Make lists bulleted or numbered

Lists are another way to break up content and make it easier for Google to understand. The easier it is to parse, the more likely you are to rank.

Write short, simple sentences

The longer it is and the more clauses there are, the more difficult it is for Google to interpret the meaning. Stick to one idea per sentence.

Follow questions with an immediate answer

A bad habit for many bloggers (especially in the home service niche) is to state a question and then follow it with a few paragraphs of personal anecdotes before serving the answer. This is annoying for both human readers and Google.

By giving the answer immediately after the question, you help Google recognize the relationship between the two sentences and earn a better shot at capturing a search snippet.

Make answers specific, not general

If a question deserves an “it depends” kind of answer, give a specific answer first, before getting to the “it depends” clause.

For example, if the targeted query is “best time of year to visit Spain,” write: “For warm weather and sparse crowds, the best time of year to visit Spain is in late spring. But the answer really depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for.”

Provide value first, then tell stories

Another bad habit in content marketing has been to target a keyword like “best coffee shop in Seattle” and then hide the answer down at the bottom of the post. NLP is changing this practice by rewarding content that gets to the point right away before providing auxiliary info.

Avoid industry jargon

The less common a word is in the common language, the less likely it is that Google will understand how to interpret it in a sentence. So leave industry speak and marketing jargon in the recycle bin and stick to words that everyone knows. This will provide value to your readers and help improve your Natural Language Processing optimization.

As you can see, optimizing your SEO practices for NLP does two great things for your content:

  • It helps you capture more featured snippets and rank higher.
  • It requires you to put the needs of your audience first. And by forcing you to create content that is both authoritative and provides immediate value, optimizing for NLP helps establish your blog as an authority within your industry.

Conclusion

There rise of Natural Language Processing is great news for companies who are quick to take advantage of this new SEO element.

Since NLP hasn’t been a priority in the past, no one has been optimizing content for it until now. This means many top-ranking articles and blog posts currently have low salience scores, giving your NLP-optimized content a good shot at ranking above them.

To learn more about NLP and how the writing team here at Fannit is taking advantage of salience to rank our client’s content in 2020, contact us today.