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Synonyms Instead of Stuffing

Jul 10, 2009 / by David Malmborg

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.)


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.

Topics: Blog

David Malmborg

Written by David Malmborg

David has always been involved with consumer electronics and shiny geeky toys. After finishing his degree at the University of Utah in communication and business, he decided that the new age of online marketing was a great fit for him. David has five years of computer electronic sales experience which include retail and B2B. He also worked with a premier design agency focusing his efforts on sales and marketing, where he became familiar with SEO and other forms of online marketing strategies. In April of 2009, David joined SEO.com as an SEO Specialist.

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