Do you remember Google Panda, the first major update Google released to its algorithm? It was released in February 2011 with the intent to penalize sites with low-quality content. Keyword stuffing, especially when combined with thin, low-quality content, has been frowned upon by Google ever since, a stance that has given rise to what are known as “synonyms”.
Keyword stuffing is a generic SEO technique. Its methods vary, but it used to involve using a single keyword over and over again in a short article that was written poorly and/or didn't provide value. At times, the keyword the page ranked for had absolutely nothing to do with the content on it. This led to the first few pages of Google search results being filled with low-grade content simply because site owners stuffed their pages with keywords Google users searched for.
Google has brought the hammer down on keyword stuffing ever since. Even the developers of Yoast, one of the most popular SEO plugins available for WordPress, changed their minimum keyword density from 1% to 0.5%. Clearly, a new way to approach keywords was needed. That's what we're going to cover today.
- What are synonyms for SEO?
- How the Google algorithm works
- Why and how do synonyms benefit SEO?
- How to perform keyword research for synonyms
- How to use synonyms for better SEO
What are synonyms for SEO?
Synonyms, when it comes to SEO, offer a new way to approach keyword research and SEO in a post-Panda world that frowns upon heavy keyword usage. If you're having a tough time remembering what the term “synonym” means, think of it in terms of “related keywords” or “similar keywords”. In fact, “related” and “similar” are synonyms of each other.
You've already seen them in Google search results. Some of them are in the list of related search terms at the bottom of every Google search results page. Here's an example using the search term “shoes for men”.
You've even seen them in the search results themselves. They're often the words with bold styles. In short, synonyms are two different words that have the same meaning. Here are a few more examples of common synonyms:
- “big” and “large”
- “start” and “begin”
- “ordinary” and “regular”
- “garbage” and “trash”
- “soda”, “pop” and “soft drink”
Using words that are similar to your main keyword allows you to practice smart and safe keyword research without running the risk of being penalized for keyword stuffing. Let's talk more about the benefits this practice has for SEO in the next section.
How the Google algorithm works
You need to understand how Google wants its algorithm to work in order to understand the benefits synonyms have for SEO. Google Panda targeted low-quality sites, but there have been a number of different minor and major changes to the algorithm ever since. Another major update to the algorithm, named Google Hummingbird, was released in August 2013. This update gave SEOs a better understanding of the future Google wants for its search engine.
What the Google Hummingbird update specifically did is change the way the algorithm behaves when it analyzes web pages. Instead of using keyword density, it changed the focus to something called “user intent”, which can be defined as what the user was intending to search for when they used a particular keyword.
It's designed to make Google more accurate, and the way it works is simple. Google crawlers analyze a web page to determine which keywords it should rank for just as they always have. What these crawlers do now is analyze the rest of the page in search of context so it can match the specific keyword the page ranks for with the user's intent behind that keyword. This is why you need to use the specific phrase “baseball bat” in your search query to avoid filling your results with the animal “bat” when trying to look up information about baseball bats.
Let's use a made-up article called “What is a baseball bat” as an example. The word “bat” likely appears on the page much more frequently than the word “baseball”, but Google's algorithm is designed to take all of the baseball references used throughout the text into account to come to the conclusion that the article is about baseball bats and not bats themselves.
Why and how do synonyms benefit SEO?
You're probably wondering what all of this has to do with keyword synonyms. Well, the more recent updates to Google's algorithm gave birth to a unique technology called “latent semantic indexing”, which uses LSI keywords. LSI keywords are “related search terms”. They are often confused with synonyms despite the fact that not every LSI keyword is a synonym.
Here's a quick example. Let's use that “What is a baseball bat” article as an example again. “Baseball bat” is clearly a keyword the page is trying to rank for, but the text likely contains these words as well:
- “metal bats”
- “wooden bats”
- “regulation bats”
These are LSI keywords because they relate to the “baseball bats” keyword. An example that doesn't use synonyms are “Apple Inc.” and “iPhone”. These have two separate meanings, but they relate to one another. LSI keywords have become an integral part of keyword research and SEO following the release of Google Hummingbird. They allow you to practice diligent keyword research while also staying in line with Google's wishes to have the keyword a page ranks for match the content on that page as well as the intent the user had when they used that keyword as a search term.
However, they aren't necessarily going to help you steer clear of keyword stuffing, which is where synonyms come into play. Using the LSI keyword “Apple Inc.” isn't going to keep you from overusing your target keyword “iPhone life hacks”, but using “iPhone tricks” or even the similar term “iPhone hacks” will. This kills two birds, Google Panda and Google Hummingbird, with one stone.
The impact? You may be able to get your page to rank for a few different keywords, multiplying your traffic with little effort. You may even rank for a synonym of your target keyword despite the fact that you never even used that word anywhere on the page. Let's move on and learn how to integrate this technique into your keyword research strategy.
How to perform keyword research for synonyms
Optimizing your pages for synonyms adds another layer to the process you use for keyword research, but it may just be worth it. The process is simple, but it can be fairly tedious. All you need to keep in mind is that you're looking for direct synonyms, not “related keywords”. I should use “iOS device” as a synonym for “iPhone”, not just “Apple”.
I'm going to use the keyword “homemade soap recipes” for these examples, which means you should start with your usual keyword research routine and come back when you have a target keyword. Before we begin, I highly recommend installing a browser extension called Keywords Everywhere. It'll allow you to view the search volume of each keyword while we use the tools below.
Let's start with a simple Google search. I found a few synonyms for my target keyword on the homepage. I found a few more on the remaining pages, such as:
- “natural soap recipes”
- “cold process recipes”
- “hot process recipes”
- “diy soap recipes”
That's a decent-sized list so far, but let's keep going!
LSIGraph is a keyword tool that allows you to search for LSI keywords for a specific search term. All you need to do is enter your keyword, solve the captcha, and click Generate. I hit the motherload with this tool as you get all kinds of different useful LSI keyword suggestions:
Many of these keywords contain different types of soap recipes, but they're all synonymous with the term “homemade soap recipes”.
Übersuggest is a keyword tool that expands on the list of related search terms at the end of the Google search results page. It's really simple to use. All you need to do is enter a keyword in the search box, and click Suggest. Adjust the regional setting if you need to.
I was able to see there weren't many keywords worth ranking for thanks to the integration Übersuggest has with Keywords Everywhere. It showed me that my base keyword “homemade soap recipes” and another keyword called “homemade soap recipes without lye” were the only two keywords with search volumes with three digits or more.
If you do find a keyword that has a decent amount of search volume, tick the box to the left of it. This adds it to the Keywords Selected tab, which you can use to download all of the keywords you've found. If you're using Keywords Everywhere, you can click the stars to the right of each keyword to add them to your Favorites list.
Google Keyword Planner
This is a standard keyword tool in the world of SEO. If you've never used it, you'll need to create an AdWords account first. Once you log into AdWords, click the Tools menu, and open Keyword Planner. Open the Search for New Keywords tab, and enter your base keyword. Click the Keyword Filters button, and turn on the “only show ideas closely related to my search terms” option.
Click Get Ideas. Unfortunately, Google implemented a new rule for Keyword Planner that hides exact search volume data for accounts who haven't spent enough with Google AdWords. Fortunately, the Keywords Everywhere tool gives you access to this data.
You can either collect each keyword manually, or add them to your plan to download a CSV file of them. Overall the Google Keyword Planner is a powerful tool for professional keyword research.
Premium Keyword Research Tools
If your keyword research strategy involves the use of premium research tools, such as SEMrush or Long Tail Pro, feel free to add an extra step to this process. You can use these professional keyword research tools to find synonyms and LSI keywords for your base keyword.
How to use synonyms for better SEO
The process involved for implementing synonyms into your keyword strategy is more or less the same process you may use for your current keyword strategy. It is all about complying with Google Panda, Google Hummingbird and all other updates Google pushes to its algorithm.
Let's start with keyword stuffing. Over optimizing your articles is a big, cosmic no-no in a post-Panda world. It's something Google is becoming more and more strict about with each passing year. To combat this, use similar words that are synonymous with your target keyword, and optimize your posts for both.
What you need to do is choose one main keyword and 2-3 synonym keywords, and optimize each to a keyword density of 0.5%. You can use a tool like Yoast SEO (Premium) or other SEO WordPress plugins to optimize your posts for up to five keywords. You can also paste your content into a keyword density analyzer tool to check the keyword density.
Final thoughts on using synonyms and LSI keywords
The best thing you can do to optimize your site for search engines is to write for humans rather than the bots who crawl your website. This ensures you're complying with Google's rules while producing high-quality content. Using synonyms and LSI keywords is a lot easier to do when you use as few as possible because of this. Here's an example using “psychologists” as a main keyword and “mental health professionals” as a synonym.
I used my synonym effectively without compromising the flow, quality and tone of my text. I'm also not overusing my main keyword. The key is to use synonyms as naturally as possible. Do you have any experience with this unique SEO technique? Share your tips in the comments below!