What Is Natural Language Processing (NLP) and How Does It Impact SEO?

It seems like every time you turn around, there’s a new device or invention to make life easier. The Roomba vacuums your home, Alexa answers your burning questions at the drop of a pin.

One of the latest developments? The rise of voice search and natural language processing, or NLP.

But what is natural language and why is it important to marketers? If you’re looking to improve your understanding of natural language, you’re in the right place.

On this page, we’ll cover the rise of NLP and what it is, give a few natural language processing examples, and look at how NLP relates to SEO.

If you’d like to speak with a specialist about NLP before reading on, feel free to give us a ring at 888-601-5359!

What is natural language?

Natural language is just what you might think it is — it’s the way we speak naturally.

Lately, Google has gotten really good at understanding websites in a way that it never has before. Due to big data and machine learning, search engines are beginning to understand the very nature of content —without the help of keywords.

Not that keywords have any less weight when it comes to ranking pages, but search engines like Google don’t necessarily need them to determine the nature of a piece of content.

That being said, natural language is starting to take off — in other words, phrasing a search query the way you would say it aloud.

Users now have the ability to search with natural language since Google doesn’t fully rely on keywords to determine what content to deliver — it relies on the syntax and the sentiment of content instead.

How does natural language processing work?

If you’re still confused about how NLP works, don’t worry. You’re not alone!

Let’s talk about what’s going on behind the scenes when it comes to NLP. Specifically, it’s important to understand these five aspects of NLP.

1. Syntax analysis

When it comes to the capabilities of NLP, get ready to have your socks blown off.

With the help of big data, NLP has the capabilities to analyze the syntax of a page to understand things like sentence content and the context of your phrasing. Not only that, but it’s able to determine whether or not a piece of content is well written — from a topic standpoint as well as a grammar standpoint.

In the early days of Google, search engines relied on the use of keywords to determine exactly what a page was about. However, keyword stuffing was a huge issue, as well as some unfavorable black-hat SEO techniques that relied on keyword usage to get business to the top of search results.

Without things like syntax analysis, which is now available through NLP, users could throw any keyword on a page in hopes of ranking for it — even if the content topic had nothing to do with the keyword.

But now, nothing gets past Google, and the syntax analysis department of NLP makes it harder to implement black-hat SEO tactics on your site and rank.

This is super encouraging, especially if you’ve watched your black-hat counterpart outrank you for years!

2. Sentiment analysis

There’s a lot of “analysis” going on with NLP, and rightfully so — it’s the analysis that makes the results so astounding.

Sentiment analysis has to do with understanding the feeling of the content. Is the tone of the piece positive or negative?

Not only that, though. The sentiment analysis capabilities of NLP beg for emotion — and it’s crucial that content creators focus solely on creating content for the user — not for search engines. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore ranking factors, though. That said, it’s still important to implement target keywords and have a clean HTML code in order to rank highly in search.

In the past, creating content for search engines, with tons of target keywords was enough to get you ranking, but sentiment analysis is just one of the reasons you’re going to have to work a little harder to connect with your audience in order to rank.

3. Content categorization

NLP also opens the door for content categorization. That means that search engines like Google will be able to tell the difference between a piece of content about art and a piece of content about baking.

Not to mention, it will be able to categorize content without the writer having to say up-front what the piece is about.

It’s just that smart.

4. Entity recognition

Remember how big of a priority it was to ensure that you had the correct alt text to go with your images? NLP’s entity recognition, with the help of big data, is starting to understand images and videos sans alt text.

What does that mean for marketers? Well, it means that we can no longer pull an image of a bearded man with a cup of coffee to describe just about anything. It’s important that we include images that actually mean something to the context of the page — because NLP will know if a picture doesn’t support the content.

Until NLP is fully recognized, it’s best to keep adding alt text to your images — for now.

5. Multiple language support

Do you utilize different languages on your website? If so, you won’t have to worry about Google understanding your content — no matter what language you’re using on your site.

That means you won’t have to utilize any transcriptions on your page, but rather focus on delivering the best content for your users, regardless of language.

So how does NLP relate to SEO?

The expansion of NLP has strong ties with SEO, and there are a few things that marketers should know as the popularity of NLP continues to grow.

1. No more black-hat SEO

We briefly touched on this earlier, but NLP is making it nearly impossible to rank if you’re using black-hat SEO.

For example, in the past, if you realized on techniques like cloaking or keyword stuffing, although they’re less rewarded these days as it is — NLP makes it even harder to get away with.

Why? Because of its syntax analysis capabilities, NLP understands sentence content and context, and will easily be able to tell if there is an issue with the sentence structure, or if it doesn’t make sense.

2. Use images that compliment your content and add value

Like we mentioned earlier, NLP has the capability to know what an image or video is without alt text. This means that you’ll want to implement images on your page that actually relates to your content — since NLP can tell what your content is about too.

3. Really, write for the user

It’s been said by SEOs for years, “write for the user, not for search engines,” but now, it’s even more important. Using natural language in your content is more important than ever — especially with the rise of NLP and voice search devices.

The results that are delivered to voice search queries are results that content writers target with natural language. That’s because when you talk into a smart speaker, you’re speaking to it, as you would to a human.

The same goes for natural language processing — Google is able to understand human talk rather than just search engine talk.

4. Optimize your site for voice search

Voice search is the latest trend — simply speak your query into a small round speaker, and you’ll have the answer spoken back to you.

In the new world of NLP, it’s important to optimize your site for voice search, since it is triggered by natural language. For example, when you speak into a speaker, you talk as though you’re talking to a human.

This is the same way you want to write your content, and the kind of language that NLP understands.

Want to learn more about natural language processing?

If you’re still curious about NLP and how it relates to SEO, give our SEO specialists at WebFX a call at 888-601-5359, or contact us online!

We’ve been in business for over a decade, and we’re experts at our craft when it comes to SEO and how it relates to things like NLP.

We can’t wait to hear from you!