Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is another three letter word in SEO. Although a lot of experts talk about it, the jargon-itis is so prevalent that most SEO beginners fail to catch the real meaning and importance if it. In simple English, Google now has gained much higher “intelligence” than before. So, for example, when you use the word “apple” in your blog post, it looks at the surrounding words to know if you mean Apple the computer, or apple the fruit. For instance, if you’ve used words like “hard-drive, laptop, software” with the word “apple”, Google guesses you mean the computer. If on the other hand you use words like “bananas, oranges, calories” with the word “apple” Google knows you must mean the fruit.
So these associated or related words (semantic words) which help Google clearly mine your meaning have become crucial to SEO. If you have more such associated words in your articles, Google gets a better and better grip of what you’re talking about and what depth of knowledge your article projects. How exactly LSI can benefit your content marketing – and more especially your Content SEO Factors – is what we are going to explore here.
Definitions of Latent Semantic Indexing – from many sources
The concept of LSI is a bit complex, because it actually is mathematically-based method of seeing which words have close associations with each other so that the real meanings of words can be understood by a search engine, without manual intervention. Let’s look at a few good definitions to see what different experts have to say on what exactly LSI covers …
Adam Heitzman in HigherVisibility.com describes LSI thus:
To understand Latent Semantic Indexing, let’s start by looking at two important things that search engines do. Search engines use complex algorithms to understand:
- Content (what a page of content is about)
- Search Intent (what people want to find when they search for a specific term)
Latent Semantic Indexing helps search engines accomplish these two tasks. It’s the part of the algorithm that identifies related words in content to better classify webpages and deliver more accurate search results. By processing synonyms and understanding the relationship between words, the algorithm can interpret webpages more deeply and, therefore, deliver the right content to searchers.
Clark Boyd in his article “What Is Latent Semantic Indexing & Why It Won’t Help Your SEO” explains LSI in this way:
Latent semantic indexing, sometimes referred to as latent semantic analysis, is a mathematical method developed in the late 1980s to improve the accuracy of information retrieval. In essence, it finds the hidden (latent) relationships between words (semantics) in order to improve information understanding (indexing).
It provided a significant step forward for the field of text comprehension as it accounted for the contextual nature of language. Earlier technologies struggled with the use of synonyms that characterizes natural language use, and also the changes in meanings that come with new surroundings.
For example, the words ‘hot’ and ‘dog’ may seem easy to understand, but both have multiple definitions based on how they are used. Put both of them together and you have a whole new concept altogether. So how can we train a machine to adapt to these nuances? This is a problem that has troubled great minds for centuries and LSI has helped computers to start understanding language in use.
Rand Fishkin in his article “Latent Semantic Analysis vs. Theming” writes about LSI that:
The idea behind this (LSI) is that by taking a huge composite (index) of millions of web pages, the search engines can “learn” which words are related and which noun concepts relate to one another. For example, using LSA, a search engine would recognize that “trips” to the “zoo” often include viewing “wildlife and animals”, possibly as part of a “tour”. Now, conduct a search at Google for ~zoo ~trips. Google is bolding ‘related’ terms and recognizing which terms that frequently occur concurrently (together / on the same page / in close proximity) in their index.
Notice here that Rand Fishkin refers to Google making LSI keywords “bolded” to show how it has related some words with the searched keyword. For example, if you see a typical Google SERP listing of a blog post (see the one below), you do see that Google has marked the semantic words in “bold” font. For the searched words “healthy foods”, Google has found articles with words like “diets”, “healthy”, “eating” and “meals”, and bolded these as semantically-related words.
The benefits of using a lot of LSI keywords in your blog posts and articles
Since Google and Bing and other search engines have evolved a lot, experts say they now use LSI keywords to discover articles that match searcher queries and searcher intent more accurately. It therefore can helpyou in two instantly-effective ways, if you use a lot of LSI keywords in your content writing.
The first big benefit is that the more variety of LSI keywords you use, the more easily Google is able to understand and serve up your article to the searcher … because it can better figure out exactly what the scope of your article covers.
The second big benefit is that the more LSI keywords you use, Google can better gauge the depth of your topic coverage – and ascertain if you a merely superficial writer or a really authoritative one. Naturally, the more depth and meatiness your article has (demonstrated by the quality, quantity and variety of LSI keywords used) the better its potential to rank high on Google SERPs.
Google has a mission to give its users the best articles in relation to their searches. By using more and superior LSI keywords, you help Google better serve its users, and Google in turn helps you by ranking you high.
Aside from these two big benefits, there are host of other more specific SEO benefits to using LSI keywords:
- Your content gets more credibility. It’s less likely to be seen as spammy content, that has probably been spun-written.
- You’ll have better click-through rates and lower bounce rates. Chances are good that your blog post will better qualify as a well-matched answer to the searched query.
- Visitors will spend more time on your pages. The more substantial your article is in its coverage of a topic, as elicited by your use of good use of LSI keywords in all the right places, the more valuable and readable your content will be.
- Your chances for ranking for a good number of related keywords will increase. Since your topic coverage will improve, you may be able to rank for many LSI keywords than just the one keyword you started with as your seed idea. For example, an article on “healthy foods” may well also rank for “slimming diets”, if the scope of your overall article covers all these concepts in good detail.
- You may even see increased sales from using more LSI keywords – since these perform like long-tail keywords. For example, Amazon tots up a hefty 57% of all sales through keywords that are long-tail and LSI versions of the primary keyword.
Two ways to find a good number of powerful LSI keywords to use in content
I have two ways to find really good LSI keywords – one is a tool and one is my own research method.
The LSI Graph Tool:
The instructions for the LSI Graph Tool are simple. Just enter a seed keyword on any topic you plan to write about, and the tool spits out a whole bunch of good LSI keywords. Not all LSI keywords have the same value, so the tool has a proprietary system by which it grades the keywords it has given you.
Then go ahead and use all of the well-graded LSI keywords in your article judiciously. Don’t random-sprinkle these around the article, but apply thought to adding real reader value to your article. No tool can help you do a good job after you’ve got the LSI keywords you need. It’s your smarts that will help you make eminent sense out of the keywords you get from the tool.
My Research Method:
This method was introduced to me by Rob Powell, who has written many wonderful blog posts on LSI keywords. The simple method is to search any keyword you choose on Google and pick up the articles that rank high for that keyword – say the first five articles on the SERP. Go through these articles and note down all the related ideas you can find.
Rob suggests using a mindmap if you need some organization to all these keywords, but even a simple list will do. Rearrange the list into logical sets of keywords, so that you can then insert these related ideas into your own article, in the appropriate sections.
The advantage of this method is that you know that Google has already highly valued these articles for their match against the searched keyword … and so all the related ideas in these articles must be good LSI keywords in Google’s eyes!
Caution Alert! Read this contra viewpoint before your rush headlong into LSI …
As with all good things in life, just when you begin to understand something with a bit of seeming clarity, along comes someone who turns your thinking upside-down. First I came across Bill Slawski who writes in his article “Does Google Use Latent Semantic Indexing?”:
It (LSI) is a technology that was invented before the Web was around, to index the contents of document collections that don’t change much.”
That was a bit of a shocker to me that LSI is not such a new idea after all. Then I chanced upon another article by Clark Boyd, titled “What Is Latent Semantic Indexing & Why It Won’t Help Your SEO”. In short, he takes LSI to the cleaners!
Undoubtedly, Google wants to understand the context of any piece of content. The field of semantics (the study of meaning in language) is a fundamental part of this approach. However, it is quite an assumptive leap to conclude that the presence of “semantic” in both “latent semantic indexing” and “semantic search” reveals some direct and underlying link between the two.
There is good reason to believe that Google has evolved far beyond this and uses much more sophisticated, machine learning-led technology for document indexation and information retrieval. Optimizing content for organic search visibility has evolved in line with Google’s advancements.
Stop the LSI madness! LSI is a specific technology that provided a leap forward in the field of information indexing and retrieval. In the 1980s. How much tech from the 1980s do you still use? Exactly.
Search engines, by their very nature, are in the business of indexing and retrieval. However, there is no proof that Google uses LSI. There is an argument that, even if there is no evidence that Google uses LSI, adding synonyms throughout your content won’t do any damage. As such, it’s worth giving it a try, since there also isn’t hard evidence that Google definitely doesn’t use LSI.
That last paragraph lets us all off the hook. There’s no harm, I think, in using LSI keywords to bolster the quality of our articles – whether or not Google is using this technology, right?
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content SEO Factors”:
- What Is A Good Bounce Rate? Steady Targets For Wobbly Solopreneurs!
- Is SEO Dead? If You Think So, You’ll Have To Believe In Reincarnation!
- 4 Tricks That Don’t Work In SEO Anymore, So Steer Clear Of These!
- How To Do Keyword Research The Way Crafty Content Marketers Do!