In the recent year I have come across the heated debates about the Latent Semantic Indexing in SEO industry: is it used by Google and can it help your search engine optimization strategy? Many well-known websites claim that LSI keywords can help the rankings – but what does it really mean?
What is LSI?
Latent Semantic Indexing or latent semantic analysis refers to a technique developed in 1980s for natural language processing that is aimed at identifying relationships between the terms contained in various documents to produce sets of concepts for these terms.
What Is the Meaning of ‘LSI Keywords’ in SEO?
There are plenty of influencers, like Hubspot, across the web who claim that including LSI keywords in your keyword research and implementing in your onsite optimization can deliver a lot of benefits to your rankings. Can it really?
Before we decide whether ‘LSI keywords’ can boost your SEO efforts, it is important to first understand what SEO specialists refer to.
When talking about Search Engine Optimization, Latent Semantic Indexing is referred to vocabulary terms, or synonyms, of the words and phrases the content or page is optimized for. When indexing the page, Google looks for the context of the page in order to interpret its purpose and deliver the most relevant search results. And it does not only refer to using the synonyms, it rather refers to using strategic keywords together.
For instance when you are doing a keyword research for ‘SEO Services’ and optimizing your page, think of any other keywords that you would like to include in your page. These keywords might not even be synonyms, meaning that one word might not ‘replace’ the other however we know that these keywords are likely to resonate with the ‘intent’ of the person searching for the certain service.
Good example: when you are searching for ‘institutions in Toronto’, Google comes back with a variety of schools, educational websites, universities some of which do not even contain the word ‘institutions’. Google simply interprets the intent – it assumes I am looking for educational institutions based in Toronto.
And that is what the search engine optimization specialists refer to when talking about LSI keywords: using the variation of keywords for context vocabulary. In their paper published in 2016 Google refers to this approach as “Improving semantic topic clustering for search queries with word co-occurrence and bigraph co-clustering”.
Pampers and Scotch: What Do They Have In Common?
Being of Russian origins, I can’t help but refer to my native language.
When talking about diapers Russians will often say ‘pampers’. There is of course an old school name for diapers in the Russian language however ‘pampers’ is the more dominant word in the spoken language. Pampers was the first and for a long time the only brand that sold disposable diapers on the Russian market, therefore people started calling disposable diapers ‘pampers’. So people will say things like “I bought Huggies pampers”, “Can you tell me more about the Moonies pampers”, “buy pampers for adults” etc.
Another example is ‘scotch’, which is something I actually had to deal with with one of my Russian clients couple of years back. Russians call the sticky tape – scotch, of course after the famous brand Scotch. So when searching for the sticky tape, they will search for ‘scotch’ written in Cyrillic alphabet. However Scotch company has claimed the name (rightfully of course) written in Cyrillic, so the sellers are no longer allowed to use it to name the category on their website, or optimize the page for it unless it is referred exclusively to the Scotch brand. Whoever tries – gets an angry email threatening lawsuit unless removed. However I doubt Russians will ever stop calling the sticky tape ‘scotch’.
So the same thing happened with the LSI, although it does not refer to the original technology and the word got ‘re-adopted’, we all are well aware what one refers to when talking about LSI keyword benefits for SEO optimization.
So Does Google Use LSI Technology?
The answer is a firm ‘NO’. However does Google use the ‘LSI keywords’ in a sense that search engine optimization specialists mean it? Absolutely. We could of course argue that LSI and Google’s semantic approaches to keywords are completely different things, but the bottom line is that whatever you prefer to call it – semantic searches, clusterization of the niche keywords based on the intent, context vocabulary – will most certainly deliver the benefits to your overall rankings and traffic.
So even though the term LSI has been somewhat misused here, the intent with which we use it for SEO remains correct. Much like the Russians with their pampers and scotches. They might be wrong to call every single brand of diapers ‘pampers’, but in Russia when you say it, everyone knows that you are not looking for that specific brand, you are just looking for diapers.
Same here, when talking about LSI, everyone realizes that you are not talking about some technology developed in the 80s, right? So what is the point of debate? Sure, SEO industry ‘re-adopted’ the meaning of the word LSI, but doesn’t it happen with a lot of words and terms currently in use today?