If you want to produce quality content for your website you’ll need to understand how a search engine works. Of course, it’s easy to get tripped up at first by terminology but there are a few key terms such as “keywords” and “latent semantic indexing” that, once understood, can quickly set you up for success.

What is latent semantic indexing?

Latent semantic indexing (LSI)  is a way for a search engine to break down a piece of content in order to understand what it’s about. Essentially, it attempts to use the relationships between words (semantics) within a piece of text in order to help decide what that text is discussing.  Search engines need tools like LSI because they struggle to understand concepts in the same way that people do. In a conversation there are always contextual clues that people can use to understand what is being said. In fact, we often aren’t even aware that we do this because it’s such a key part of the way we naturally use language. Think about it this way – if somebody tried to start a conversation with you about mice, you’d probably expect it to go differently if you were standing in an office rather than in a pet shop. A search engine struggles to pick up on context like this. If somebody searches for “web design” a search engine is going to need more information to understand the specific intent behind that search. Does the person want to learn what web design is? Do they want to learn how to do web design? It isn’t immediately clear. But if the user searches for “web design Bromley” instead, that added location is a good indication that they’re looking for a web design company  in that area.

How does latent semantic indexing work?

There are a lot of technical discussions of LSI out there on the web but really that level of detail is unnecessary unless you’re looking to become an expert. What you do need to understand is that LSI is a tool that helps a search engine like Google to avoid making a very simple mistake – searching for the specific words within a user’s search enquiry, rather than for the meaning or intent behind those words. There are two key problems with taking that first approach. Firstly, words often have multiple meanings. If a user searches for “wood”, it’s not helpful to provide results about nearby woodlands they can visit when they were actually looking to purchase timber. Yet pages about either topic are likely to be full of references to “wood”. Secondly, this approach to searching can be exploited by people who stuff their websites full of keywords. Only paying attention to certain keywords could cause a search engine to fall into the trap of providing results that aren’t relevant, all because somebody inserted those keywords for (out-dated) SEO purposes . LSI solves these potential problems by also examining the other words on a page to see if they can provide any context about what the page is about. That way, even though there would still be overlap between the core search term “wood”, there should be other words like “construction”, “decking”, or “birds” within the page that can help the search engine to assign it to a subcategory – timber or woodland. Assigning pages to categories like this helps a search engine to retrieve information quickly and accurately for its users.

How can latent semantic indexing help with SEO?

The key to SEO is having relevant content on your website that a search engine can find and recommend to users. Because LSI helps a search engine to understand what a webpage is about, it can also help it to determine whether the page is or isn’t relevant to a search enquiry. Google and other search engines are very secretive about their algorithms so we can’t say with 100% certainty that LSI is a tool that directly effects SEO. Luckily, quality content won’t have any difficulties with LSI anyway because it isn’t possible to write about a topic without naturally using a range of related words. Really LSI is most useful for catching low quality websites that feature spam or keyword-stuffed pages. This is an important point because there is a lot of misinformation about LSI out there. When referring to LSI keywords we need to understand that that means words that are related to the topic, not just synonyms.

What is a synonym?

Synonyms are words which overlap in meaning with other words. So words like “huge” and “gigantic” are synonyms for “big” because they all refer to something that is large in size, though as you can immediately tell, these words aren’t perfect substitutes for one another – there are differences in the scale between them. Synonyms can be very useful if you don’t want to keep on repeating the same words when making a point, but there’s always a risk that you’ll make your writing less clear by using synonyms that are unfamiliar and don’t quite fit what you’re saying. The same principle applies when it comes to SEO – attempting to rephrase your chosen keywords over and over again by using synonyms is going to confuse users and may even count as keyword stuffing. Because this practice doesn’t benefit the users of your website it should be avoided, as you could actually make your page seem less relevant and end up hurting your ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Essential points to remember:

  • Modern search engines attempt to search for the meaning behind a search enquiry not just for the words within the enquiry.
  • Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is a tool that search engines can use to attempt to understand what a page is about and whether it is relevant to a search enquiry.
  • LSI looks at the relationships between the words on a page to work out what topic it is discussing, then it assigns the page to a relevant category so it can easily be retrieved later in response to a relevant enquiry.
  • LSI keywords are not just synonyms! Synonyms are words that are related to the meaning of other words, LSI keywords are words that are related to a topic.
  • Modern SEO means producing quality content for your website that is useful for your users and relevant to their interests. If a webpage is relevant to an enquiry, a search engine will want to recommend it to its users.

Any further questions?

SEO can be a complicated topic but it’s an area that we believe businesses and other website-owners need to be aware of. Technical terms like Latent Semantic Indexing are tough to get your head around at first but it’s important to understand how these technologies shape writing for the web, particularly if you want to stand out from the competition. We hope that this guide has been a useful introduction to the topic but if there’s something else you’d like to know about, we’re always happy to answer any questions. If you’d like to get in touch, you can call us on 0800 772 0022 or you can email hello@makemelocal.com.