Natural Language Processing

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What is natural language processing?

Natural Language Processing
Figure: Natural Language Processing - Author: Seobility - License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Natural language processing (NLP) is a field of artificial intelligence that focuses on how computers and machines can understand and use language. This field of science works to improve the understanding computers have of our language and combines computer science and linguistics with artificial intelligence.

Search engines leverage NLP to improve various aspects of search, with search engines like Google often being seen as the front runners in the field. Understanding what a user means when searching for a search string and understanding what the different pages on the web are about/what questions they answer are all vital aspects of a successful search engine and are done using NLP.

The NLP challenges facing search engines

There are two main areas where search engines leverage NLP in order to provide better search results to their users. These are understanding the search string and understanding the pages in their index.

Search string

By search string, we’re referring to a search engine’s ability to understand what a user is looking for based on what they enter in the search engine. A search string is commonly entered by typing a word or phrase into the search engine but can also be done using voice search. Understanding what a user says when performing a voice search is also part of NLP. Audio content from videos and voice searches is turned into text and this text is then processed using NLP.

There are hundreds of different data points that search engines can use to help them understand the context of the search. NLP is an important part of this as it can help search engines understand what a term means, as well as any alternate meanings a term might have.

Natural Language Processing

An example of search suggestions on Google that demonstrate the different things a searcher might mean when searching for “best swing ever”


Search engines need to have a very large index to be able to show their users the most relevant results. However, once they know what a user is searching for, they still need to find pages that provide the best possible information for this search string. To do this, it’s important it understands what text on a page is about. NLP is a major part of this and helps search engines understand what a page is about by looking at the information available to it on that page, like the words, phrases, names, and metadata, among others, as well as the relationships between them.

Just as with understanding a search string, there are hundreds of data points that can be used by search engines to try and understand what a page is about.

Where else is NLP used

NLP is used pretty much everywhere where computers and language come together, like chatbots, spelling/grammar checkers, translation tools, and voice assistants. Natural language processing is an important aspect of most automation efforts, since the ability of a computer to understand language in things like writing, videos and audio fragments is often a vital part of automating manual parts of a process.

How it’s relevant to SEO

Although you don’t need to be an expert in NLP to become a good SEO, understanding the basic concepts and methods used can be very beneficial. Important aspects of SEO like keyword research and understanding search intent and sentiment are closely linked to NLP and your understanding of it.

For example, certain on-page optimization tools including our own TF*IDF tool leverage basic techniques used in natural language processing to help you understand how to better optimize your content for SEO. By helping you understand the relationships between different words, you can create a webpage that’s far more relevant to your user and easier for search engines to understand.

Another important part of SEO that is closely linked to NLP is metadata and schema markup. They are important for structuring data in a way that’s easier for search engines to understand.

As search engines improve the way they implement NLP, we’re seeing SEO change drastically and there’s good reason to expect this to continue. With search engines now able to understand images, video and voice searches, among other things, there have been large shifts in how online content is created, as well as the search terms used by searchers. Relevant media content and creating content with a user-centric approach have become the norm in SEO.

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Seobility S
The Seobility Wiki team consists of seasoned SEOs, digital marketing professionals, and business experts with combined hands-on experience in SEO, online marketing and web development. All our articles went through a multi-level editorial process to provide you with the best possible quality and truly helpful information. Learn more about the people behind the Seobility Wiki.