SEO and LSI 101: What They Are & How To Use Them

SEO, or search engine optimization, has been around for quite awhile.  Anyone who uses the web for business of any kind should have at least a basic understanding of SEO and its brother, LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing).  Ironically, there are few reliable sources out there to give you a basic understanding of how SEO & LSI work.  Unlike academic writing or all the citation styles I bitched about recently, there isn’t one set, established way to do things.  SEO & LSI are creatures of necessity, evolving from the complexities of search engine algorithms and continuing to do so every time those folks at Google decide it’s time for an update.

Being a veteran SEO user, part-time online writer, and your friendly neighborhood blogger, I decided that maybe I should try laying down some basic guidelines for using SEO & LSI, at least as far as writing/text content goes.  First, you have to understand what exactly SEO & LSI are.  Based on my experience and within the context of writing, these are the definitions we’ll work with:

Search Engine Optimization: the strategic use of keywords and phrases in web content to improve the organic visibility of a website in search engine rankings

Latent Semantic Indexing: using words and phrases that directly correlate with your SEO keywords to improve search engine visibility without overloading the actual keywords

Clear as mud, right?

Ok, first we’ll start with SEO.  Based on that definition, we’ll say that SEO is…

1 – Strategic.  SEO content is written with search engine visibility and ranking in mind.

2 – Based of the use of keywords and phrases.  For example, an SEO content article titled “The AKC Top Ten Dog Breeds of 2012” would use keywords/phrases such as AKC, dog, dogs, and dog breeds.  This means that they are targeting users who go to search engines and enter these words or phrases with them.

3 – Organic.  SEO content is different from other forms of advertising such as targeted advertising.  It strives to find the balance between using keywords naturally and using them in the right percentages that search engines find them.  There’s a lot of inorganic “SEO content” out there on the web (I’ve linked to some examples), but the best content will be good writing and informative reading first, keyword-linking second.  As a side note, most pieces of SEO content are no longer than 500-600 words.

Ok, now that we’ve got that clarified, let’s move on to LSI.

Technically speaking, LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing is a mathematical formula that computers and the people who think like computers use to categorize and classify documents.  Unlike SEO, it’s a bit more structured.  LSI in various forms has been around since the 1960s and is used by search engines, the intelligence community, technical support engines, and document databases like EBSCO and ProQuest.

For the online writer’s purposes, LSI boils down to synonyms and synonymous phrases.  It’s meant to reduce keyword-stuffing and find content that is written naturally and reads naturally.

For example, say I wrote an article titled “15 Ways To Lower Your Gas Bills This Winter.”  My key phrase for SEO purpose would be “lower gas bill(s)”or “how to lower gas bills.”  Those are the specific phrases that I’m hoping readers will type into a search engine and find my content.  To encourage LSI, I would also include phrases and keywords such as “reduce gas bill,” “reduce heating costs,” “spend less on utilities,” “lower electric bills,” “reduce electric bills,”  etc., etc.

If writers and search engines relied only on keyword use in online content, there would be a lot more trite, uninformative, badly-written pieces on the web than there already are.  So, using LSI concepts, search engines will also look for content that uses similar phrasing, since that’s more natural writing/speaking.  It also widens the net, so to speak, since users might search for keywords that just aren’t used in any content they’ve found so far.

Here’s an example:

LSI example

I searched for “types of dogs” and was given some websites that use that phrasing.  However, I was also presented with websites where the key phrase is “dog breeds” instead of “types of dogs.”  This is latent semantic indexing in action.

Another common example would be to search for the keyword cheap and be presented with content that uses the keywords inexpensive, frugal, and low-budget.

Writing for the virtual world takes practice, and there are plenty of other aspects of SEO and LSI, but those are the basics.  Once you’ve got a grasp on them, you’re ready to make your foray into the world of online writing.

An Example of SEO Writing Done Wrong


Related Reading:

10 Old SEO Methods You Need To Stop

Good SEO, Bad SEO: Do You Know The Difference?


Get a job!

For the first two months after my graduation in May, my time was primarily occupied with job-hunting.  I put in applications everywhere from McDonald’s to the local United Way office, and got turned down for everything, with only one interview the entire time.  More than once, family members were subjected to my “I have damn four-year degree but I can’t flip burgers for a living” rants.  Towards the end of July, they turned into crying fests where I lamented my resume-writing skills, the lack of businesses in my rural town, and even my own self-worth.

It wasn’t fun, but I don’t think the state of the economy is news to anyone (if it is, FYI, it sucks).

Finally, I turned to freelance gigs as a way to make money.  I had lived off my wonderfully generous and understanding family and the few hundred I made selling old textbooks and dorm room items, but I needed a change.  Lots of late night searching got me to a few places, and perseverance after rejection got me clients.  Now, I am able to work part-time and build an income, and have time to spend with family and homeschool one of my brothers.  I love it.

Yesterday, I got a call — the manager at a portrait studio where I had applied to be an assistant got my application and wanted me for an interview.  She apologized for the late reply, but had been out for gall bladder surgery.  She and my fiance, Devin, knew each other and she was willing to give me a job just based on my resume and what Devin had told her about me.

A month ago, I would have been elated.  An indoor job, paying more than minimum wage and with basic benefits, that I could commute to without needing to buy a car — hells yeah.  Yesterday, I was waffling and depressed.

My natural instinct was to take it and feel guilty for not wanting it.  I didn’t want to because I liked what I was doing, freelancing, and wanted an excuse to keep doing it.  I told this to Devin, and he reminded me that if I didn’t want to be where I was, good job or not, I wasn’t going to last. 

So, I kindly turned the offer down.  I realized that I have the chance few writers ever get — to make a living off what they love doing — and I couldn’t give that up for anything.  Even a “real job.” 

To some, it may not seem like the right time to take risks and burn bridges, but I say there’s no time like the present.  Each decade will have it’s share of risks, so I can’t wait until the “right time.”  It’s now or never.

I’m pretty confident I made the right choice.

Occupational Hazard: Writers and Repetitive Stress Injuries

I had planned to post again yesterday but got waylaid, inspiring a change in what I was going to blog about.  So, here we go — the oft-unmentioned occupational hazard of the writer and other keyboard slaves, repetitive stress injuries.

I love my computer and I love being at my desk.  It’s my sacred space, where, even when others use it on occasion, God help you if things get moved around without my prior knowledge and consent.  Unfortunately, it’s also the setup for many aches, pains, and injuries I could have without even realizing it.

Pictured: A health hazard

Repetitive stress injuries, or overuse injuries, are most common among desk jockeys and usually afflict the soft tissues in the back, arms, hands, neck, and eyes and any corresponding joints.  You’ve most likely heard of some of the more serious ones — migraines, tendonitis, trigger finger, and the dreaded carpal tunnel — but all those aches and pains and sore spots you discover after a long day typing also fall into that category.

These injuries can and should be avoided at all costs, not just for the sake of comfort, but because letting an RSI develop into something serious can put you out of commission completely — bad news for anyone trying to finish a long project, or who makes a living writing.

That’s what happened to me yesterday.  I got to my desk at about 9am and barely moved until after 4pm.  After I had lost my focus and complained to my significant other about my back pain, I had to give up and find a more comfortable place to sit down.

Today it’s better — I feel more like my actual 22 years instead of 50 — but I’m going to have to invest in a more comfortable desk chair.  What a treat it would be if I developed back trouble before my freelance career had even gotten out of infancy.

I mention all this not to complain, but as a reminder to my fellow writers.  Avoid RSIs at all costs, because they are much easier to prevent than to treat. My few tips:

  • Take frequent breaks.  Don’t consistently spend several hours glued to your chair — get up and stretch, move out of the same positions, look at something besides .
  • Invest in good ergonomic equipment.
  • Keep your wrists straight when typing or mousing, rather than bent or resting on the desk.
  • Always use good posture.
  • Don’t squint and avoid writing in the dark, which causes extra glare from the computer screen.
  • If you do have carpal tunnel, always wear your brace when at the computer.
  • Read this great article on Avoiding Repetitive-Stress Injuries

Have you dealt with an RSI?  Share your wisdom!


This is my first attempt at writing a blog in a long while.  I’ve stopped and started on another platform, but never got into it.  Now that I’m out of school and writing full-time, I can take a more concentrated stab at this thing.  I enjoy reading blogs, so I may as well write one.

Up until college, I wan not a non-fiction person.  I took a course at the Institute of Children’s Literature and dabbled in writing small topical articles, but fiction was my real love, and still is.  I did go through a poetry phase in 9th grade, but we won’t talk about that.

As a freelance writer, and a writer in general, I don’t want to box myself in.  I’ve got to try new things, new genres and styles.  To be honest, it’s not that much of a risk — not like sending off a manuscript.  As the (proud?) owner of several rejected manuscripts, I feel pretty safe taking the plunge into blogging.

I’m glad you stopped by and hope you’ll enjoy reading it.  Happy reading, happy writing.