06 April 2023

Natural Language Processing (NLP) in SEO

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Natural Language Processing (NLP) in SEO
Mark LillicrappWritten ByMark Lillicrapp

As Propeller's Technical Director, Mark is responsible for developing digital policy and strategy, implementing infrastructure and leveraging technology to help Propeller and its amazing clients achieve their goals.

What is NLP?

From the consumers’ use of friendly chatbots to voice activated platforms, natural language processing (NLP) is becoming a priority for SEO specialists to understand and master.

NLP is the application of machine learning to the analysis and processing of natural language and speech. This gives technology devices the ability to understand and interpret human language. Also known as computational linguistics, NLP allows us to talk to machines as if they were human.

Originating in the 1950s as part of the efforts to break codes in World War II, NLP has come a long way since.

Today, masses of households own smart speakers, a platform completely dependent on NLP. In a recent Oracle survey, 80% of respondents said they already used or planned to use chatbots by 2020 for consumer-facing products.

So how does NLP work? Join Propeller as we explore the facets of NLP and understand how you can implement NLP into your SEO.


To get to grips with NLP, first we need to understand BERT, Google’s NLP algorithm that was released in 2019. BERT enables a clearer understanding of search queries in the way that humans would naturally speak.

What sets BERT apart is its ability to decipher the context of phrases based on the words before or after them. This means search results are no longer reliant on keywords alone, but also their conversational context.

Therefore, content-makes who are more specific, relevant and descriptive with their content will tend to rank higher.

Black-hat SEO is a thing of the past. Read on to learn the best practices to boost your SEO with NLP in mind.

How does NLP work?

To look at NLP as a whole can be daunting. This section will explore what it is composed of, and how these areas can be optimised to benefit your SEO.


This is the process of analysing natural language with the rules of formal grammar. Grammatical rules are applied to categories and groups of words, and this analysis assigns a semantic structure to the text.


Sentiment refers to the feeling or emotional understanding associated with a query. According to BERT, there is positive, negative and neutral sentiment.

Sentiment in a phrase or page is represented by numerical score and magnitude values. Sentiment scores range between 1.0 (positive) and -1.0 (negative), with a score of 0 meaning neutral.

Its defined based on the words used in a search. Words like ‘good’ or ‘amazing’ being positive, and words like ‘bad’ or ‘terrible’ being negative. Sentiment is specifically useful for reviews and voice analysis.

If the majority of high-ranking pages for a given topic have an overwhelmingly positive sentiment and yours is negative, it is likely your page’s ranking will suffer as you won’t be classified as relevant.


An entity is a word or phrase representing an object that can be identified, classified and categorised. For example, a person, event or organisation.

NLP locates and evaluates entities from your content.

As Google distinguishes these entities, it is capable of using the information gathered to best satisfy the user and provide more specific search results.

For entities to be best understood, two further metrics need to be considered:


Categories are quite self explanatory in SEO, these are important to entity recognition to sift through pages and understand its purpose.


Defined as being important to or connected with something else, salience represents the entity’s importance in the body of text.

For example, in an article about waking up, “morning” is more important than “evening”. Therefore, Google would score salience higher for morning than evening in this context.

In the past, keyword targeting has led to a predominant focus on keyword placement. Now, indicator keywords are becoming more important as they are important for NLP SEO. Using indicator keywords will generate context and relatedness, boosting your page’s salience.

NLP in context

Google has incorporated NLP to best decipher the main keywords and phrases on a page by understanding the surrounding content.

Words before and after the entity, the context and entire page are analysed. This enables Google to compare the page against other ranking pages for sentiment.

Following this, category and salience come in to further categorise and rate the entity’s importance in relation to its surrounding content.

Now that you understand how NLP is used in SEO to impact a page’s ranking, we can understand a few ways to put this into practice for your SEO strategy.


Always an important aspect for SEO, in this case, keyword research is necessary to assess how BERT has impacted your page’s keywords.

In cases where a page previously ranked higher, but has now dipped, assessments will help in understanding what the search engine now finds more valuable.


We have spoken about the importance of internal and external backlinks in SEO before. In relation to NLP however, this is not just about proving authority and relevance. It is also about the context on the page.

With NLP in mind, the link structure and placement have more value. Links cannot be placed randomly on a page, it has to be contextually relevant to your content.

A link should exist to enhance the reader’s experience, not just for the sake of it.


Looking at the top ranking pages regarding the topic your page is going to cover, should inform the text on your page.

If your on-page content is similar in regard to the metrics that are important to Google, it is more likely your page will rank higher.


If you aren’t already optimising your content for NLP, it is time to get the ball rolling and reap the rewards. As voice-activated technologies increase in popularity it is a no-brainer to align your content with Google’s search engine updates. We delight in the details and work to build cohesive digital solutions with thorough research that refines your audience for a greater reach. As well as delivering on development, SEO, PPC performance and analytics, we utilise a testing framework to see what engages your customers and how we can adapt as this changes. Contact us to collaborate with a team of SEO specialists to build optimised and scalable SEO strategies driven by data and keywords that soars brands to the top of the search engine pages.

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