Is there a way to optimize for [Blank] in a search query?


today Ask an SEO the question comes from Christian in the UK. Christian asks:

Is there a contextual way to approach the search so that it searches for the blank [in this case, “what”] in a question (e.g. vegan is meat like what is garlic)?

Words mean things.

My journalism school teacher constantly repeated this phrase to me and my classmates when our handwriting was not clear or we used the wrong word to describe a situation.

The same goes for Google, Bing, and all the other major search engines.

But what the words mean to a robot is changing from day to day, in many cases.


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Context means things

Google increasingly understands the context of the content it crawls.

We no longer live in a world where an exact phrase has to appear on a page to appear as a result in the SERPs for that particular query.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the exact phrase appears in the content.

I define long tail keyword phrases as those that may not see a large volume of searches individually, but overall can generate significant traffic.

Long tail keyword phrases also typically have high buyer intent.

After all, if you’re looking for something very specific and find it – there’s a good chance you’ll buy it – or fill out a form in the case of a service.


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But then again, these days you can rank for long tail keyword phrases by creating quality content that addresses the overall topic that will answer the query.

Google understands you – mostly

There are many places you can read about Google’s growing ability to semantically understand the context of a site.

SEO experts will debate how Google proceeds to the point of nausea.

The flavor of the month is called Multitask Unified Model, or MUM.

According to Google, MUM is 1,000 times more powerful than the latest SEO obsession, Transformers’ two-way encoder representations, or BERT.

BERT was part of what’s called RankBrain which is a bit of a black box and I’m really not sure if we still use the term RankBrain.

It is complicated.

But if you want to, there are literally hundreds of blog posts and articles speculating how these technologies work to rank the millions of totally unique queries that are asked every day.

And it’s important to understand how Google views the content you create.

But even if you are a godsend for understanding algorithms, don’t expect to completely reverse engineer how these technologies work.

I’ve worked with some of the smartest people on the planet, and even with advanced mathematical analysis, we’ve never been completely convinced that our assumptions are correct.


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Write the best information and you will probably be covered

Your best bet is to understand the topics that interest your audience and write the best answer to their questions.

With a little effort, the best answers usually reach the top – despite the fact that many people whose answers may or may not be the best – complain that Google results are crap.

There are certainly anomalies and bad results.

For the most part, Google is doing it right.

So to answer the question, if you are looking to come across as the definitive answer for “vegan is meat like what is garlic” you need to write a page answering what “what” is. .


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It wouldn’t hurt to have that phrase in the content itself, either – but don’t overdo it.

If I wrote this copy, I would find multiple examples and put the keyphrase as the title, inserting multiple elements for the “what”.

There is no schematic or code that will inform Google of the relationships.

But don’t worry, Google is pretty good at figuring out these relationships on its own.

More resources:


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Editor’s Note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts who have been handpicked by the Search Engine Journal. A question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO article!

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