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?