A Guide to Latent Semantic Indexing and LSI Keywords

lsi keywordsSince the advent of the search engine, SEO tactics have been in a constant state of evolution. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending who you ask—it’s no longer enough to rely on blog comments, keyword stuffing, and directory listings to get your content on the front page of Google search results.

In order to appeal to modern search algorithms, there are many new considerations content creators and website managers must make. One such consideration is Latent Semantic Indexing—or LSI keywords.

If you’re new to the world of Latent Semantic Indexing, today’s blog post is for you. We explore what LSI is, what SEO experts think of LSI as a search tactic, and we talk about how this all plays into B2B SEO best practices. Let’s jump into it.

What is Latent Semantic Indexing

Latent Semantic Indexing—or Latent Semantic Analysis as it’s sometimes referred to—is an information retrieval system based on mathematical analysis. This system is used to scan unstructured data to identify different topics and the relationships between them.

In layman’s terms, LSI is used to understand how certain topics and keywords relate to one another. LSI keywords aren’t necessarily synonyms, but rather, intricate networks of keywords related in a variety of ways— the understanding of which primarily hinges on context.

Latent Semantic Indexing and SEO

Now, what do LSI and LSI keywords have to do with SEO? Here’s where things get a little more complicated. There is an ongoing debate about whether or not LSI is an integral part of the current Google search algorithm.

As Search Engine Journal points out, “LSI is training wheels for search engines.” The main point of this article is summarized here: “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.”

And while that may be true, there is no arguing that modern Google search algorithms prioritize a website’s overall context over more simple ranking factors like keyword density. Whether Google uses LSI or another more complex type of analysis, their goal is the same—understand how different topics and keywords connect to inform the entirety of any given website.

Because of this, we recommend taking a more holistic and comprehensive approach to your keyword strategy. Whether you refer to it as an LSI strategy or not, a relationship-based keyword approach will help you rank higher for your target keywords. Next, we explore why.

Why an LSI Keyword Strategy will Improve Your Search Rankings

Although each website and business audience is different, there are some universal benefits that come with an LSI keyword strategy. Let’s look at a few:

1.     A more varied keyword strategy will help you avoid Google penalties.

Keyword stuffing hasn’t just become obsolete as an effective tactic—it can actually earn you a Google penalty. By adopting an LSI keyword strategy, you can avoid keyword stuffing and supplement your content with important keyword variations, synonyms, and parallel concepts—an approach that comes across as less spammy and more in-depth.

2.     Google rewards more comprehensive content.

When you loosen your focus on a singular keyword and explore parallel concepts and topics, you end up with a better, more thorough piece of content. Modern search algorithms understand keyword clusters and therefore know when a website or web page covers all aspects of a topic.

Think about it this way: You and your biggest competitor cover the same topic on your respective blogs—“Top Places to Hike in the United States”. Your competitor hits on one main keyword and includes one or two variations. But your post covers the same keyword, several variations, and also delves into the type of hiking gear, typical weather patterns, and supplies hikers need to have the best experience in each location.

Google quickly identifies the term places to hike, and automatically looks for certain phrases to appear on the page (hiking boots, waterproof tent, etc). Because your piece of content hits on more of those phrases, it ends up ranking higher within Google search results.

Check out our guide to content marketing to learn more about creating better content.

3.     An LSI keyword strategy appeals to humans and search engines alike.

Thorough content—which an LSI keyword strategy facilitates—doesn’t just impress search engines. It’s also more valuable to your readers. To explain what we mean, let’s return to the examples of the two hiking blog posts:

As a reader, which post would you prefer: the one that simply lists the top hiking spots or the post that lists the top hiking spots, tells you what gear you need to tackle each, and offers important weather considerations? The answer is obvious—and an LSI keyword strategy helps you craft content that offers additional value to your readers.

4.     You will rank for a wider variety of keywords.

This might seem like an obvious point—but it’s an important one. If you include several keyword variations and explore adjacent topics in each piece of content you create, your likelihood of ranking for a related search query skyrockets.

You can’t control what people search for, but by using an LSI keyword strategy, you can make a conscious effort to include a wide range of keyword possibilities. This prevents you from limiting yourself to one specific term for the sake of old-fashioned SEO best practices.

Ranking for a specific word or topic also has a domino effect of sorts. Going back to our hiking example—if you find yourself on the first page of Google search results for “top hiking spots,” the search algorithm will understand you offer value in that particular realm of topics—and potentially bump your rankings for pages you link to or even keyword variations found on that page.

5.     You will rank for a more targeted set of keywords

The beauty of an LSI keyword strategy is that it provides Google and other search engines with important context clues. We’ll keep running with the hiking example—your competitor’s blog post, the one not optimized with LSI keywords, doesn’t provide enough context for Google to determine exactly what the company is all about. That blog post could belong to a wildlife conservation organization, it could belong to a tourism group, or maybe even a local hiking club.

Your blog post, on the other hand, contains more context—and following both the LSI keywords and the links included in the post, Google can safely make the assumption that the blog post belongs to a website selling outdoor apparel and equipment. Even better, Google will now show your relevant web pages to those searching for outdoor apparel and equipment.

What we’re getting at here is this: The more context you can provide through the language you use, the more likely it is that your content will show up for more targeted searches—i.e. the people you want to visit your website.

How to Start Your Own LSI Keyword Strategy

Chances are if you’ve worked in SEO or digital marketing for any amount of time, your keyword strategy is fairly in line with the practices we’ve been describing in this article. But, if you’re still stuck on keyword density and blog comments, this next section is for you. We explain how you can start using a more modern keyword strategy on your website. Let’s start at the beginning:

1.     Consider your business goals.

In order to master the art of an LSI keyword strategy, you must first consider your business and branding goals. Consult with members of your leadership team to determine answers to questions like the following:

  • How do I want my brand to be perceived?
  • What is the overall goal of my organic traffic strategy?
  • Are there discrepancies between how the public perceives my brand and how I want it to be perceived?
  • What are some keyword searches or long-tail queries that my website must show up to succeed as a brand?

The answers to these questions will give you a basic starting point. Once you understand your most critical business goals, conduct some preliminary keyword research and make a list of non-negotiable keywords that align with these goals. These terms should best describe what your company does and are most commonly linked to a purchase decision.

Try to be as targeted as possible—we recommend limiting this list to less than 20 keywords to start with.

2.     Build out keyword clusters or networks.

Now that you have identified your business’s most critical search terms, it’s time to introduce LSI into the mix. One-by-one, examine each of the keywords on your target list and identify as many variations, synonyms, and parallel topics as possible. There are many ways to conduct this type of research, but here are a few of our preferred tools to get you started:

  • Google: Perhaps the easiest way to identify a term’s LSI variations is to Google your target keyword. The suggested search queries, the bolded terms within the search results, and the other topics mentioned on the page will point you in the right direction.
  • Ubersuggest: Marketers use this app to find new long-tail keyword ideas in seconds. Simply type in a word or string of words to get started. Then, filter by search volume, CPC, or Adwords competition to find top keyword opportunities. Refine the results further with the negative keywords and filter options.
  • Google Keyword Planner: You’re probably already familiar with this one, so we’ll save you the long-winded description. This tool was created by Google themselves to help marketers identify and brainstorm new keywords to target.
  • BrightEdge: Use BrightEdge to track your keyword rankings, check out what your competitors are up to, and conduct the necessary research to identify all keywords in your industry or space.

The goal of this exercise is to give you plenty of material to work with as you create content, build out a content calendar, and determine which keywords to use throughout your website copy. Here are a few resources that take a deeper dive into creating keyword clusters:

3.     Optimize your content accordingly.

After building out your topic or keyword clusters, you should have plenty of inspiration for your future content calendar—but simply using a variety of keywords or topics does not mean your content is optimized for LSI. You must consider several key factors to strategically make LSI keywords work together to boost the rankings of your website. These are as follows:

  • Site Structure: You’ve likely heard of pillar content and the role it plays in your SEO strategy. But if not, here’s a quick rundown: Pillar content is content created around a single target keyword. Then, you use your topic clusters to create secondary, related content to link back to your pillar content—thus indicating to Google that your pillar content is not only important, but it’s also related to these other, parallel topics. LSI optimization in action!
  • Content Optimization: Optimize your content for your target keyword as you typically would. Then, rather than leaving it at that, take a look at your keyword clusters. Are there any topics you can expand upon, link out to, or swap into the piece?
  • Image Optimization: Don’t forget your images! If you use the same image in multiple places on your website, use an LSI keyword in the alt text. This will increase the likelihood of your image appearing in search results.

Now, these tips don’t just apply to new content. We strongly urge you to perform a content audit and breathe new life into old or outdated pieces by simply utilizing some LSI keywords and links. The amount of organic traffic you can generate simply by making a few small tweaks will surprise you.

Key Takeaways About Latent Semantic Indexing and LSI Keywords

Now that we’ve covered our bases and given you a basic introduction to Latent Semantic Indexing—it’s time to point out the obvious. If you create high-quality content, LSI keywords and optimization will occur naturally. This is no accident—remember, the Google search algorithm’s sole job is to determine and rank high-quality websites and content.

For this reason, it’s more important than ever to focus on creating content for the humans who visit your website. If you keep this in mind and use the concepts outlined above, you’ll be on your way to SEO success.

For more ways to improve your B2B SEO strategy, check out some of the following resources:

And to learn more about ZoomInfo, contact our sales team today. Our company and people information database is the tool you need to scale your business growth!