A linguistic approach to creating content that ranks

A linguistic approach to creating content that ranks • Yoast

Fleur Heesen

Fleur is team lead of Yoast SEO academy. She creates online training courses and wants to make the company’s knowledge available for everyone.

Search engines are trying to understand language: they want to understand what users are searching for, and they want to be able to provide them with the best results. Before I started working at Yoast, I studied linguistics: the scientific study of language. During my years at Yoast, I’ve noticed that linguistics and SEO have a lot of overlap. In this article, I want to give you some SEO insights from a linguistic perspective. Let’s dive in!

Different aspects of language

Before we can go into the linguistic approach to SEO, we first have to understand what language is. Language consists of many different aspects. Think about it: we make speech sounds or write letters, which together form words. We put these words in a specific order, so they form sentences and phrases. And these sentences mean something to us.

Sometimes we also want to achieve something with language. For example, when we say “it’s cold in here,” we might not only want to express we’re cold, but we could mean it as a request to close the window. To study all of these aspects, we distinguish different levels of language in the field of linguistics.

Linguistic levels of language

The most basic level is the level of sounds and letters, which we call phonology (when it comes to speech) and graphology (when we talk about writing). Then, there’s the morphological level, which studies how these sounds and letters together make words and different word forms. For example, the word “house” can be combined with “tree” to make “treehouse” and with “dog” to make “doghouse,” but we can’t really combine it with “banana.”

The next level, syntax, describes the rules we have for creating sentences. There are a million words we can choose from that we could use to form an infinite number of possible sentences. But these syntactic rules allow us only a small number of ways in which these words can be combined.

The level of semantics studies the meaning of different elements of language. What do we mean when we say something, and how do we understand others? Finally, pragmatics looks at meaning within a context. For instance, someone could say: “I’m getting hot, will you crack open the door?” Semantically, “crack” would mean “to break,” but pragmatically, we know that they don’t actually want us to break the door; they want us to open the door to let in some fresh air.

Level of language Field of linguistics
Sounds and letters Phonology (speech) & graphology (writing)
Words and word forms Morphology
Sentences and rules Syntax
Meaning Semantics
Context

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This article was written by Fleur Heesen and originally published on SEO blog • Yoast.

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