In linguistics, a synonym is a word or phrase that has an identical meaning than another word or phrase. For example, the verb decrease is a synonym of the verb decline and serene is a synonym of tranquil. Over the years, synonyms in search engine optimization have played very different roles.
Synonyms Used To Be Different Keywords
A few years ago, words were very literally understood by search engines. Back then, algorithms were not very smart and synonyms were not perceived automatically. Humans had to enter the most common synonyms in order to get the algorithm to search for all possibilities.
Content marketers understood that in order to rank for a particular key phrase, never one should use synonyms since they would dilute the presence of the main keyword. Therefore, if you were trying to rank for
TV Guide Spain, you would avoid using
TV Listings Spain within your page. Instead, you would create another page ranking for this particular variation.
The problem with so many pages targeting so many synonymous terms is that the content from one page to the other was nearly identical. The smartest (yet laziest) would use some text spinner in order to shuffle up the paragraphs but overall, the content was thin. To some extent, plurals and singulars were often times considered to very different keywords, especially for terms were the inflection was unusual (i.e. not a simple letter ‘s’ to remove).
The same went for anchor texts for backlinks. The SEO experts recommended to insist on the main form of the keyword and use synonyms very rarely. Nowadays, this would drive you straight into a brick wall with potential SEO penalties. But years ago, if you wrote an article ranking for synonyms for SEO, you would avoid anchor links such as synonyms in search engine optimization despite both forms conveying the exact same meaning.
Today, Search Engines Understand Synonyms
Over the last years, search engines have immensely increased their fast understanding of unstructured textual content. Natural language processing techniques have boomed and several algorithms have helped automatically understanding words in their context. With that, came the grouping of words that appear in similar contexts (e.g. word2vec), but also the automatic detection of synonyms using latent semantic analysis (paper), or word embeddings (PDF study).
Leverage synonyms in SEO by using variations of your core keywords throughout your article, but also in your anchor texts.
Using these computationally-hungry models and by continuously training them, search engines like Google have started to serve similar results for synonym-based queries. Sure, the set of results may differ a tiny bit but they are overall the same lists of pages. And even better now, synonym detection is automatically handled by machine learning models that are always analyzing new documents and web pages in order to fine-tune the synonym detection of their main search feature.
As a direct consequence, today, instead of stuffing your page of a given keyword, you should use different variations throughout your article. This has vastly improved the quality and readability of articles themselves. Think of yourself searching on Google: you do not want to read the same keyword in each sentence, it’s just bad writing. But until recently, it was an effective way of improving organic search rankings.
Leverage Synonyms For SEO In 5 Steps
With synonyms being easily understood by machines, content writers have struggled using them properly in order to gain a search engine optimization advantage. Most content writers will simply ignore synonyms and use them here and there without strategizing.
If you oversee a team of writers, make sure you let them know about the below steps.
Step 1 — List Synonyms for the Focus Keyword
As always, each article written tackles an outlined problematic and has one or a couple of core key phrases in mind. As explained a gazillion of times, focus topics and core keywords do not mean stuffing them at every line — they are just a rope guideline to avoid losing focus! Take the main keywords and list relevant synonyms.
For example, if you are writing about the
Top 50 Tips For Structuring a Blog Post, you may want to list synonyms for:
- structuring — outlining, breaking down, and organizing
- blog post — article, blog content, blog page, piece of content, and on-page
Just these few variations when combined together will offer you over a dozen new possibilities to mention your initial subject matter.
A famous joke in the SEO world… Synonyms matter but please use them naturally and with caution! (via cognitiveseo.com)
Step 2 — Use Many Synonyms Within an Article
Depending on the length of your blog post, you may want to use all or only some of the synonyms you have found. As discussed just before, you now have a dozen ways of referring to your original problrem; using them all can seem tedious and read unnaturally. As always, with machines getting closer to human understanding of language, you want to write naturally without forcing or stuffing keywords and key phrases.
Therefore, if your word count is too low to use all variations and combinations, save some synonyms for the next steps. Especially because even with today’s modern SEO guidelines recommending the use of variations, you still want to use your main key phrase a few more times than the rest. Ideally, at important spots such as the first paragraph, the last one, the article’s title, one of the headings, and so on.
When using synonyms throughout your piece of content, place these at the same valuable spots you would with your core keyword(s).
Step 3 — Add Synonyms to your Internal Linking Strategy
Besides what is on your blog post, Google also learns what a page is about by understanding the different anchor texts you have used internally. When you add a link from a blog post to another blog post, you make a few words clickable, right? Well, these words are generally very much pertaining to whatever is covered in the target page. And, to some extent, both pages must be somewhat related since they are linked together.
A website is a universe of keywords, pages, and links; also called a directed graph in the field of information retrieval. It is made up of entities (pages, keywords) and relationships (links). The idea for search engines is to take a given page, see what incoming links it has, and what keywords are used in this universe, to then assess what a page is about. This is a modern way of mapping the web, and it is relatively complex in terms of computation needs.
Therefore, by using the best internal linking strategy throughout your website, you can help Google create its own topical map of your website’s pages and topic clusters. Use the right anchor text, use different synonyms when linking to a given page, and link from topically relevant pages in order to boost your topical SEO as a whole.
Step 4 — Use Keyword Synonyms for Backlinks
External backlinks from other websites pointing to a blog post of yours also use an anchor text when creating a link. Ideally, you would also prefer to use your core keyword along with its synonyms to have a more comprehensive approach. Search engine optimization has always been an on-site performance meets off-site signals, and backlinks are the strongest off-site signal of all.
An important point though is that you do not control anchor texts and web properties your links will appear on. And if you shoot emails, even gentle, to the authors, they may mark them as spammy. We are all grateful to be mentioned on another website so let’s not abuse their kindness by requesting a change of wording. Instead, write guest posts in which you may use your preferred anchor text.
Step 5 — Use Stemming & Inflections
In linguistic morphology, stemming reduces any given word to its root form (also called stem, or base). In other terms, stemming a words means removing its prefix and suffix in order to keep the base form that still conveys the same sort of meaning as the original word.
Some examples of word stemming include:
- writer, written, and writing => write
- dog breeding, dog breeds, and dog breeders => dog breed
- ran down, and running down => run down
- fishing, fished, and fisher => fish
For SEO purposes, you do want to use stemming and inflections to transform a word in order to avoid using the very same form every single time. Additionally, by using inflections, you may explore new article ideas to write about. For example, if you write a blog post about
7 Tips When Attending Dog Shows, stem the main two words (dog show, attend) and generate new content ideas from these, such as Dog Showing from an Attendee’s Perspective and
Attending vs Showing — What Should Novice Dog breeders Do?