Relevance in SEO

Relevance in SEO can refer to searcher intent, a brand, breadth of appeal, and keywords. Leveraged correctly, relevance can be beneficial to your site’s SEO overall.

What Does Relevance Mean for SEO?

Relevance in SEO is a reflection of how well the search engine results page (SERP) aligns with the searcher’s intent. For example, if you were to search for information on “U.S. taxation laws,” the undisputed and most relevant source would be the IRS’s .gov website. If information on U.K. tax law were instead returned, for example, that might be relevant to the topic of tax law in general — however, it would be highly irrelevant to our searcher due to their country specific search.

Automatically relying on the first or second results in the SERPs has become so second-nature for so many people that most don’t even realize they’re doing it. This is exactly what search engines like Google aim to do: provide a seamless, natural experience for users. Providing that experience hinges on returning the most relevant results in the most visible manner — and the most visible place, especially when using a list, is at the top. While that makes sense, what might not be as clear is the term “relevance” and how it relates to search and search engine optimization (SEO).

What You Need to Know About Relevance

Relevance isn’t a fixed value — it is variable, fluctuating relative to the words in a query, the words on web pages, and the ways their meanings can change over time or in different contexts. A search for “apple” could indicate someone wishing to purchase computers, or someone learning about fruit. Which results are more relevant depends on the searcher’s intent, and the different modifiers or contextual signals that can help reveal that intent.

Relevance can be literal or semantic; again, if the word “apple” appears on a page about fruit trees, but links to a page about MacBooks, that link might be literally relevant in context, but the semantic meaning of the link — the particular, case-specific meaning and intent — is not relevant. Both literal and semantic relevance are essential for SEO.

Relevance can be determined by distinguishing between head terms and keyword modifiers; comparing keywords that are found in similar queries; ensuring that multimedia on the page (images, sound bites, videos, etc.) compliments the content of a page; and by making sure the article’s title accurately corresponds with the page’s content. Aside from understanding how to determine relevance, you should also be able to identify the different types.

Brand Relevance

Brand relevance is the relationship and proximity between a brand/company’s keywords and the topics of the content on their site. When auditing a site for relevance, it helps to ask yourself:

  • Does each of the pages have a clear, close relationship to other pages on the site?
  • Do the topics they’re writing about follow logically with what the brand is about?
  • Do they have any articles that feel like they don’t belong on the website? 
  • What keywords is the site associated with versus what keywords they want to be associated with?

It’s safe to say that if a topic doesn’t provide topical support to other essential content, has no connection with the brand’s core keywords, or feels otherwise random or disconnected, then it probably isn’t relevant enough to be on the site in the first place.

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Link Relevance

If a link stands out to you as forced, random, or arbitrary in its placement on a page, then chances are it shouldn’t be included. There is a lot that goes into deciding whether an internal/external link is relevant, such as the anchor text (does the AT predict what the page being linked to is about?), the context surrounding the link (when the AT is read in context, is it clear what the purpose and topic of the linked page will be?), and the relationship between the linking domain, and the domain being linked to (do they have keywords in common? Is one an expert or trusted authority on a particular topic?). 

Knowing how to identify link-worthy pages can help to ensure the pages you include in your article are editorial, useful, natural, and relevant. If the pages that link to and are linked from your page aren’t relevant, then it could potentially harm your authority on the topic. This could lead to loss of site visibility, and even worse, loss of customers and clients.

Relevant links can be determined in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Domain to Domain: The site you’re linking to/that is linking to you is relevant to your brand, or is an authority on your target keywords. 
  • Domain to Page: The keywords/topic of a page linking to your site/being linked to from your site is directly related to your domain’s target keywords.
  • Page to Page: The keywords and topics of two pages are semantically related to one another.
  • Link to Page: The link makes sense on the page; the context in which it appears is logically and organic, and the anchor text makes literal and semantic sense in context.
Investing in link building services can help to ensure that these essentials are satisfied consistently. Too many irrelevant, unnatural links in your profile can start to make your site seem spammy, or as though it is benefitting from paid links to artificially boost SEO — which can lead to diminished search visibility and trust instead.

Page Relevance

Page relevance compares the relationship of the main content and the title, paragraphs, and headers, and asks whether or not the content matches what the titles and headers say or implies it will cover. For example, if the title of the page is “Top 10 Kid-Friendly Dog Breeds,” it’s only natural to anticipate that the headers and context of the page will be a list of dog-breeds, followed by descriptions of each — at least, it would be in the best interest of the page’s authority to do so.

If the content isn’t relevant, then what’s the point? Having content that is relevant doesn’t just benefit the searcher’s intent, it is also key to building up a brand’s online reputation as a trustworthy authority on the topics it covers. Luckily, there are content marketing services that are available for those who feel they need better-optimized and relevant content to help improve their search rankings.

Searcher Intent and Expectations

Ask yourself: do the site’s links, pages, and content match what any person would expect to see on a website? Does the use of keywords match how most people would use the keywords (which can be done by conducting a keyword analysis)? Does your site’s content aim to deliver any type of value or satisfaction to a searcher? Or are you using the keywords just to increase your traffic flow? 

Searcher intent is the motivation behind the inquiry. Why are they looking for what they’re looking for? What are they hoping to get out of the results? How is Google interpreting the search? By ensuring your page is relevant to their initial search and meets their expectations, it helps not only the searcher but your website as well. 

Ultimately, all these different considerations and definitions of relevance amount to one thing: understanding what people and bots expect from the keywords you use, and satisfying those expectations. You can do this by paying careful attention to your backlink profile, the pages and domains you link out to, and especially to how you use keywords and meta tags in your content.

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