Synonyms Instead of Stuffing

overstuffed-bagIn August of last year, Google opened up about some refining of their search algorithms, and mentioned a few technologies they implemented to improve search results. These technologies included Spelling Suggestions, Synonyms, Conceptual Context, and Universal Search. You may or may not have seen these changes with your search results, but all have become a big part of searching with Google, and are beneficial in increasing the user’s Google experience. One in particular stands out from the rest, as a useful SEO possibility: Synonyms.

What are Synonyms
Google has included Keyword Stems in searches for a long time. A good example of stemming is where you use the keyword “running” and Google will provide results with run, runs, or running in their results. Synonyms, on the other hand, are completely different words that have no part of the original word within the search. Here’s a good example: a person might “run” a company or “manage” a company, essentially, “run” and “manage” mean the same thing in this context, even though they are completely different words.

Consider this excerpt from the Google blog post on synonyms.

This is one of the hardest problems we are solving at Google. Though sometimes obvious to humans, it is an unsolved problem in automatic language processing. As a user, I don’t want to think too much about what words I should use in my queries. Often I don’t even know what the right words are. This is where our synonyms system comes into action. Our synonyms system can do sophisticated query modifications, e.g., it knows that the word ‘Dr’ in the query [Dr Zhivago] stands for Doctor whereas in [Rodeo Dr] it means Drive. A user looking for [back bumper repair] gets results about rear bumper repair. For [Ramstein ab], we automatically look for Ramstein Air Base; for the query query [b&b ab] we search for Bed and Breakfasts in Alberta, Canada. We have developed this level of query understanding for almost one hundred different languages, which is what I am truly proud of.

How to Find Synonyms
The concept of Google providing results from synonyms is exciting for the SEO-minded individual, and I’ll explain why. But first, let me show how to find synonyms for your keywords. One way is to use a synonym tool, however the most effective way is to use Google directly. When you do a Google search place the “ ~ ” (approximate symbol) in front of your search query and Google will highlight all the keyword synonyms. Example: ~management advice

Below is a screenshot of the following search: ~advice –advice (I am negating the main keyword to highlight only the synonyms known by Google.)

google-advice

From these results, we see there are several alternative words to work with, other than the word “advice.” “Help”, “Tips”, “Planning”, and “Guide” are all synonyms in Google’s eyes for the word “advice.” However, it is important to note that the search results are not the same if you were to just search for “advice.” Also, if you optimize your site for the keyword “tips” you won’t necessarily show up in the search results for “advice.” So how can this help you? Let me offer a few suggestions on how you can use synonyms to improve your SEO opportunities.

SEO Implications
SEO in its simplest form is broken down into two major parts: relevance and importance. Relevance basically means that your site/article/blog is relevant to the search query of the use. Importance is based on the idea that if more people are linking to your site, it must mean it is more important than a site that doesn’t have links.

In a post written a couple of month ago by my fellow SEOer Joe Bergevin, he talks about proper use of keyword density, or in other words, how many times one should put their keyword in the text of the page. The current rule of thumb is that your keyword density should be anywhere from 3-7%. However, if you know the synonyms of your keywords, you can now implement them within your text and increase the relevance of the website without over stuffing the page with one keyword phrase.

My brain is thinking of other potentially good and effective uses for synonyms in SEO, such as linking strategies; but first I want to hear if any of you have had success in using Google Synonyms in your SEO strategies. If so, please share. I would be interested in knowing what others are doing.

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7 Comments

  1. Aaron Bradley says

    Thoughtful post. I think that using synonyms is going to get you further than keyword stuffing, if only because you’ve got broader keyword coverage in your content.

    The spoilers here are Yahoo and Bing, which do a much poorer job of stemming than Google. For example, it’s not uncommon to see oneself on page one in Yahoo for the singular of a noun, but dozens of position below for the plural of the same word (or vice versa), let alone anywhere in the same ballpark for more complex word relationships.

    A note that alt attributes offer excellent opportunities for using synonyms, especially when you’re forced to use the “correct” for of the word in copy. For example, the annual NFL championship contest is the “Super Bowl” yet users search equally for “Superbowl”. Adding a “Superbowl” alt to your Super Bowl page image header, pointing an internal image based “Superbowl” link and, if possible, an external text anchor will give you plenty of juice for the synonym. Just sticking to “Super Bowl” alone won’t give you what you need to rank for “Superbowl”, especially in second-tier (non-Google:) engines.

  2. David Malmborg says

    Hey Guys, thanks for the comments.

    I should have mentioned Yahoo and Bing, and didn’t even think of it. But it is true that neither one use synonyms, and I have heard their stemming is not near as complete as Google’s. However, since 70%+ of searches are done on Google, I think it is a good practice to consider for any website.

  3. Liza says

    Even though Google is by far the search engine that we should be focusing on, Yahoo and Bing combined are still valuable and can drive a bit of traffic and can’t be left out. However, this is great encouragement for SEOs to stop stuffing keywords into every sentence and opt for some synonyms instead.

  4. Tim says

    I have an interesting problem with synonyms. I’m trying to optimize a page for “trackmobile” which is a railcar mover for material moving. However, the results are littered with “track mobile” referring to mobile devices. I’m having trouble moving my client to page one of Google due to the junk in the way.

    Does anyone have any advice on how to get around this annoying issue?

  5. hgherb says

    Thanks for the informative 3-7% for keyword density.

    I was wondering if that includes meta data, picture titles, alt titles and jpg meta data as part of the 3-7% or are you just talking about the written text on the page?

    Also does rearranging the order of words constitute stuffing. For example are “San Diego hospitals” and “hospitals San Diego” the same phrase. Most of my competitors practice this in great abundance.

  6. Mark says

    What if the synonyms can also describe another industry all together? For example, stock and share markets could mean financial markets, and are often used interchangeable. But the phrase “share market” could also refer to the position of a company within a market eg. Apple mobile share market.

  7. Kenneth says

    Hm, interesting. I used to read somewhere (I believe it was seomoz) that keyword density does not mean a thing as a matter of fact. Perhaps, I just got that part wrong?

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