A recent announcement by Google highlights the search engine’s improved ability to understand words and how they relate to each other. By highlighting synonyms in its search results, Google is showing that it can figure out much more about the context of page content.
Google’s improved linguistic and semantic skills may be a double edged sword for people who use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques for their rankings. On the plus side, people who try to write content as naturally as possible will have already included common synonyms in their website text. On the other hand, people who rely too heavily on a certain set of keywords, without using synonyms, may find themselves sliding in the rankings as Google further refines how it indexes synonymous terms.
An example of synonym highlighting can be found in our own industry. When you type in “search engine optimization” into Google, you may notice that the acronym “SEO” is also highlighted. Even though you get very different results when you search on these terms individually, the search engine’s understanding of the relationship between these terms is an indicator that Google thinks they are one and the same, and believes that a user would be helped by the bold text.
For webmasters who may have neglected their content, or who based all their text, titles, descriptions, and keywords on a narrow range of phrases, it may be time to invest in SEO improvements. Even though the meta description tag doesn’t improve rankings, the highlighting of synonyms does improve visibility and click-throughs, so an audit of past SEO work may be in order. If your keyword research is more than 2 years old, it would be a good time to use a tool like Google’s keyword tool to look for related terms, and see if your SEO is still current.
Additionally, it is always important to keep current with search trends as they relate to customers. People have become savvier about their word choices when they type their queries into search engines, and a new course of keyword research may enable a flexible website owner to jump ahead of sites that haven’t altered their tags or content in some time. If you find that your website’s text is not congruent with the word order or keyword choices used by the average consumer, then some polishing and rewriting may help create the freshness that a search engine wants to present on its results pages.