SEO is a constantly evolving creature. As long as Google and its search algorithms continue to play a major role in the way we navigate through the internet, SEO will always be changing along with the way Google continues to grow and develop its search engine technology.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the way Google’s search engine has evolved and how it has changed the dynamic of using SEO techniques. We’ll then look at LSI words in particular, and how it is now an effective technique that should be a part of everyone’s SEO strategy going forward.
But before we get into that, let’s go back to some SEO fundamentals
Whenever we talk about optimizing search visibility on the internet, it’s important to first take a look at how Google looks at websites. Google classifies the whole process in three basic stages — crawling, indexing, and serving (and ranking) results. There are subcategories to them which we’ll also look into.
Google describes crawling as thus: “The first step is finding out what pages exist on the web. There isn’t a central registry of all web pages, so Google must constantly search for new pages and add them to its list of known pages.” To do this, Google uses a program it calls the Googlebot. Essentially, the program “crawls” through the billions upon billions of pages on the internet; some it already knows because they have been crawled on before, or Google reaches it through following links or following sitemaps. Googlebot’s progress and process are governed by an algorithm that determines which websites to crawl, as well as the frequency they are looked at and how pages should be fetched from a particular site.
In order to become more visible to the Googlebot, Google recommends making technical adjustments to the website, like submitting a sitemap, crawl requests for individual pages, creating simple, logical, and readable URL paths, as well as properly identifying your canonical and alternate pages.
And, by the way, just in case you didn’t know: Google’s mantra is to “to ensure the best possible results for our users,” which means that it does not accept payment to crawl certain pages more, thus ensuring more a more objective and relevant assessment of pages. That means your content — and how you strategize it — is more essential than ever. But more on that later.
Naturally, the next step in the process would be Googlebot compiling and organizing the data it collected. This results in an enormous index of all the words the bot has found and where they are located on a particular page (notice how “words” are an important part of the process), along with other items and data, like information found in key content tags and attributes.
Serving and ranking results
The last part of the process is where a user submits a question or search to Google, which then searches through its index for pages it thinks are the most relevant to the user in question. The results will generally differ based on the user who submitted the query. Google says that the relevance of the results is based on more than 200 factors, with Google also constantly changing and improving its algorithm in order to deliver more personalized and relevant search results.
As far as pointers go, it is recommended that you inform Google if you have any preferences in terms of preferred locations and languages, optimize the loading of your website (like implementing AMP), and make sure that it is also mobile-friendly, follow common webmaster guidelines, consider the adoption of search result features, and finally and most importantly, develop quality content (instead of trying to catch up to Google’s algorithm).
Keywords still matter
While it is true that Google’s developments in its search algorithms have changed the game, it doesn’t mean that keywords don’t matter any longer. SEO can still give you an advantage — provided you understand the way it works today.
For one, PageRank is now one of the hundreds of factors (such as number of shares on social media, inbound and outbound links, how easy the site is to navigate and use, the quality of content and web design, and so on) Hummingbird looks at to determine Page Authority (how well a specific page ranks on search result pages). This means the kind and nature of the search will also be taken into account. Overall, Google looks at the quality of a page — and part of that means having search engine optimized pages, which in turn sparks the need for quality SEO.
It’s also important to remember that keyword placement is now much more important than keyword frequency; your page’s title, URL, subheaders, image captions, and the like should contain your keyword. Gone are the days when spamming your keyword everywhere was the common practice. With Google considering content and context more important in the way it chooses sites to show users, the use of LSI keywords are (should be) the new normal.
What are LSI keywords and how they help your SEO
With content being one of the main factors that determine how visible your site is on Google’s search results, the old ways of using keyword stuffing and the like should be left far, far behind. Part of developing a strategy is using LSI keywords, or Latent Semantic Indexing keywords. In a nutshell, these would be words that are related to your main keyword.
Oftentimes, the immediate assumption people usually make is that LSI keywords are synonyms of the main keyword, since it does make sense that the closest words to a particular keyword would those the have the same meaning. But that is only partly correct. Synonyms comprise only a fraction of what LSI keywords consist of. The more important factor to consider is the context of the keyword. Let’s say you want to write something about Android Pie, Android’s latest mobile operating system. Those last two words, “operating system,” would be considered LSI keywords, as would be “Android Q”. Neither terms are synonyms, but both frequently appear and/or are used in the same context.
This is why it was important to discuss Google’s process at the beginning — you better understand why the old way of utilizing keywords no longer work, and why LSI keywords are the new frontier in developing content that fits a more relevant and effective SEO strategy.
It was precisely because the old way that was vulnerable to methods like keyword stuffing that Google decided to improve its algorithm and ultimately render such SEO techniques obsolete. Remember that Google’s goal is to deliver the most relevant results to users (as yours should be as well), and delivering content that was considered relevant simply because it contained many uses of a single word was ridiculous.
Another reason LSI is effective is that it HELPS Google. How? By giving Googlebot a better understanding of the nature of the page, which leads to better crawling, indexing, and delivery to users who would most likely benefit from it. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, when you think about it. Another reason why LSI keywords are effective is because they work with Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, which again, relies on context to better find, analyze, define, and classify a page — still, meeting the goal of matching the most relevant content to users.
Since Google wants to understand context, the more LSI keywords you use, the better it understands it, giving it a higher rank. Keyword density no longer matters; again, we circle back to the importance of creating quality content that helps Google understand what your page and site are all about.
Google also now PENALIZES sites that use too many of a particular keyword. Go over the allotted keyword density will actually be to your detriment, the opposite of what it was before. However, there is no limit for using LSI keywords, and you can keep adding more and more other keywords that are closely related to your main keyword. The variety of terms also ensures that your page and site become more visible, as your content will also be visible in search queries for all your other related keywords.
Finding the right LSI keywords
When searching for LSI keywords, there are a number of options at your disposal. You can look at Google autocomplete as well as look up related searches on Google. For example, when searching for “coffee,” Google will also show related terms in its search results.
A good, organic way to look for LSI keywords is to think about what your message is. A coffee shop, for example, should seek to define itself better. Does it promote and sell “organic” coffee? Does it consider itself a “third wave” coffee shop? Is it “gourmet coffee” and does it have a “farm to table” advocacy? Does it sell “pastries” and “desserts” as well? The more definers you think of, the better Google will understand who your site is trying to reach.
Organic, quality content is the name of the game
The way Google looks at websites today is actually a boon for legitimate websites and content publishers. Through the use of LSI keywords, Google ensures that it not only better understands what you want to say (and do), and looks for users who would most likely benefit from you. This makes for a much richer engagement with users, instead of simply showing up on research results and being dismissed at the onset because it turns out that you weren’t what the user was looking for.
LSI keywords pave the way for richer and more topic-oriented content; you no longer have to be crippled by the need to stuff a single keyword in your content that you run the risk of losing the message in the process. Today, you can focus much more about your core message and getting to the people/users that you want to reach.
So take a look at your SEO strategy. Does it lean toward the old way of doing things? What can you do to incorporate more a more LSI keyword-centered strategy to your SEO?