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How many times have you wanted to learn about some cool stuff online, typed “some cool stuff” into Google only to find that the first 10 articles listed have very little to do with what you were looking for. Other than the fact that the keywords “some cool stuff” are shoved into every nook and cranny on the page, there is not much useful content on the page. That's what you get when computers control all search results. It's just like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Google was essentially saying I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid you can't learn about 'some cool stuff'."

What is an LSI Keyword

Thankfully, I’m not seeing as many of those pages as I used to and one of the main reasons is Google’s recent focus on rewarding content that is user friendly (instead of search-spider friendly) with higher rankings. All of the major search engines have implemented numerous changes over the past year -- from incorporating engagement measurements such as bounce rates and time on page to using real humans as content raters -- designed to make sure that the top search results are considered useful by human users.

One of these advancements has been an increased importance of LSI keywords. In this post, I’m going to explain LSI keywords; tell you how to find them; and give you some examples of how you can use them to improve your SEO and other marketing tactics.

What is an LSI Keyword?

LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing, which basically describes a computer algorithm the major search engines use to search for keyword synonyms. When search engines can find and determine synonyms for certain keywords, they can reward content that uses not only specific keywords (as in the old days) but also their synonyms.

Why is this important? Because humans prefer stories that use synonyms over the same keyword phrases repeated over and over again. With the right set of LSI keywords, you can load up your articles with targeted keyword phrases and it won’t look like kindergarten madlib.

How Do I Find LSI Keywords?

We have a couple of clients that sell natural skin care products. After years of writing near-similar blog posts for “organic skin care”, “eco friendly skin care”, “holistic dermatology”, etc., my stomach would start churning every time I had to come up with a new topic and set of keywords. So, instead of firing up search and replace in my Google Docs (Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it sure felt like it.), I decided to write a super-informative post targeting the term “holistic skin care” while including some relevant LSI keywords.

So, how do I find what Google considers LSI keywords for my targeted phrase, you might ask? Well, like you find everything else, Google it. The below screenshot illustrates what I get when I type the phrase “holistic skin care” into Google. I want you to pay attention to two things: 1) the “related searches” area at the top of the results; and 2.) all of the bolded words in the search results. Any time your Google search generates a “related searches” listing, you can be sure that those phases, in this case “organic skin care” and “holistic dermatology”, are LSI phrases so write those down. Now, look at all of the bolded keywords on the page. When I perform the search “holistic skin care” Google will display all of the words I typed in the search in bold text. You’re probably thinking, “Big Deal,” how does this help me with synonyms. Well, it doesn’t.


Search results for “holistic skin care”, click to launch larger image in a new window.

However, if you add a tilde “~“ in front of your search phrase, as illustrated in the second screenshot, you will see that the bolded keywords are now quite different. We now see “natural skin care” and “alternative skin care” in bold. Google also considers these LSI keywords, so add them to the list. You can page through the results and continue to find other related terms for your article, such as “herbal skin care” and “integrative skin care”. A two-minute search has resulted in a good little lists of terms I can use for my article that Google considers to be synonyms of my original term.

holistic skin care LSI

Search results for “~holistic skin care”, click to launch larger image in a new window.

Where Else Can I Use LSI Keywords to Improve My Online Marketing?

Any time that Google is part of the marketing equation, using LSI keywords will probably improve your results. Some examples:

  • Use the phrases throughout your site as link text to a related articles to boost organic rankings.
  • Display them on external sites to explain what you do (or sell) and link back to your site for improved organic rankings.
  • Use a variety of related terms on your PPC landing pages to improve your quality scores and reduce the amount you have to pay per click.
  • Put the terms in your Google Local descriptions.

Don’t Believe Me, Believe the SEO Big Heads

As with any person spouting off knowledge about how to get a number one ranking in Google, please don’t take my word for it. Instead, look no further than recognized industry experts, in fact 112 of the top industry experts who responded to the SEOMoz 2011 Search Ranking Factors Survey.

Last year, as many of these changes were being implemented, 60% of industry respondents agreed that using topic modeling with LSI keywords was an important ranking factor. Where only 37% cited the keyword is used 3-6x in the document.

Additionally, when asked about the future of search, around 94% of respondents predicted that “Analysis of a site/page’s perceived value to users” would increase in ranking importance in the future, while the other six per cent thought it would stay the same.

So, most of the experts in the SEO field not only agree that LSI keywords are currently important, but they also feel that content’s perceived value to users would only gain in importance in the future.

So, let’s get back to writing great content — just remember to carve out an extra couple of minutes for keyword research.

As an aside, the main downside about writing an article about LSI keywords is that there is really no synonym for LSI keywords. So, I apologize for beating you over the head with it throughout the article.

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