Thursday, 21 January 2010

Google synonyms and latent semantic indexing

The latest Google blog trumpets the progress made by the search engine to understand synonyms (different words with the same meaning). Steven Baker, a software engineer at the company, does a very good job in explaining how the search engine produces SERPs which contain sites featuring terms related, but not necessarily identical, to a user's query.

To use an example featured in the blog, a search for 'song words' will bring up links to websites featuring the terms 'song lyrics' and 'music lyrics'.

Baker's blog gives us an interesting insight into Google's advanced use of latent semantic indexing; the method applied by the search engine in order to identify what SERPs a specific website will appear in.

What is latent semantic indexing?

When Google indexes a web page it examines the content on offer, crawling over words and phrases in order to determine the focus and subject of a site. Using this information, the search engine will pass a judgement on a domain and rank it in results pages for what is deemed to be the appropriate and relevant searches.

For example:

A writing website which repeatedly uses the phrase 'SEO copywriting' in its content will rank in SERPs for the search 'SEO copywriting'.


Google also looks to see how relevant a phrase is - searching for related content across a website - before ranking a domain for a particular term in specific results pages. This is known as latent semantic indexing.

Going back to the website in the previous example:

Google will recognise that a domain is related to 'SEO copywriting' if its content includes terms like 'search engine optimised content', or 'SEO-friendly copywriting'. In this instance, the site is judged to be relevant to the topic of 'SEO copywriting' and the website is likely to appear in SERPS for this query.

Why does Google use latent semantic indexing?

The process is designed to establish relevancy. Before the introduction of latent semantic indexing, websites could appear in SERPs for irrelevant terms if a single keyword was repeated enough times in its content.

Furthermore, SEO copywriters could abuse the system, stuffing a site with a single keyword in order to rank for a particular query.

Obviously, this wasn't ideal; Google couldn't reliably rank websites, while readers were often subjected to nonsensical, keyword-heavy copy which was designed to push a site onto page one for a term.

Lizz Sheppard explains the theory behind latent semantic indexing:

"The purpose of latent semantic indexing techniques is to create web content that can be indexed closer to the way a human would rank the page. If a human were reading the page and ranking it against the other web pages that use the same keywords, the repetition of the words would not be a factor in how well the page ranks.

"Instead, the actual information given on the page would be important. The use of related words signifies that the subject is being thoroughly covered."

What are the implications of latent semantic indexing for SEO copywriting?

Latent semantic indexing has seen the death of keyword stuffing. It's a waste of time to repeatedly crowbar specific words into copy; search engines are smart enough to recognise spam content and a site will be penalised for the practice.

Baker's Google blog serves as a reminder that the search engine is getting very good at recognising – and rewarding – relevant, natural content.

Instead of focusing on one specific term, content should embrace a variety of related words and phrases. On a basic level, a healthy spread of keywords makes it easier for Google to establish a site's relevancy to a particular subject and rank it accordingly. The more relevant a site is to a specific term, the higher it will appear in SERPs.

"Create a useful, information-rich site and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content."

Google content guidelines

Equally though, alternative keywords also open up the possibility that a domain may drive in traffic from SERP terms which may not have been originally considered.

"Think about the words users would type to find your pages and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it."

Google content guidelines

There are a number of tools which can suggest alternative keywords. Google Insights For Search gives the opportunity to compare the popularity of different user searches, while also offering related terms. Google Adwords is also a reliable resource for phrases you may not have previously considered, while KwMap and SEMrush come highly recommended.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

John Locke's social media guide

Lost's John Locke is a hunter, a survivalist and a leader of men.

He's also a social media mastermind.

To celebrate the final season of Lost (airing next month), Manchester SEO presents the John Locke guide to a successful Twitter campaign. Let his Seagal-esque wisdom put you on the road to social media enlightenment.

"I'm working."

Locke has a way with words. Here, he imparts some Renaissance wisdom about the virtues of planning.

Locke's Lesson: Plan out a social media campaign before wading into the waters. Know what you want to achieve and map out a strategy.

"Don't tell me what I can't do!"

An unfortunate incident with gravity and a fifth-storey window has left Locke paralysed. His lifetime dream of trekking through the Australian outback is shattered as a tour guide tells John he can't survive the trip in a wheel chair. John disagrees.

Locke's lesson: Don't feel like a social media campaign needs to adhere to the paths and rules chosen by others. Often, the best campaigns are those which venture into the jungle and explore new territory. Social media shouldn't follow the leader.

"His name is @Locke."

There's a problem in the camp. The final scraps of food from the plane have been eaten and the survivors are bickering over dinner. Or lack of. John Locke joins the debate and offers a solution. Don't try this at home, kids.

Locke's Lesson: Good social media campaigns interact with other users. They offer solutions, stepping in to solve problems and concerns.

"I've done everything you wanted me to do."

Poor John. Our bald-headed hero has spent weeks trying to open up a suspicious hatch in the ground. He's hit it with a spade, chucked a piece of scrap metal at it and as a last resort, sheds salty tears over the entrance. Still, John eventually gets his wish and later, (much later) the hatch opens.

Locke's Lesson: Perseverance is the key to a successful social media campaign. It requires effort, patience and time. Don't get frustrated if you don't see instant results.

"I was wrong"

We all mess up from time to time. Even John Locke. Still, he has the integrity to apologise. Here, he causes an electromagnetic explosion which threatens to end the world.

Locke's Lesson: Don't be afraid to say sorry. If a customer has been treated badly or feels aggrieved by your actions, a brief apology can quickly fix their troubled heart. Pepsi and Habitat have both walked away from potential PR disasters with a quick 'my bad'.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Why we write - SEO copywriting is not just for search robots

"Our responsibility [as writers] is to captivate you for however long we've asked for your attention." Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter

Sometimes, an SEO copywriter can be blinkered by their desire for page one results. The quest for rankings can be consuming and it's easy to be sucked into an over-optimised world of keywords and anchor text.

Still, it's worth remembering that SEO copywriting isn't just there for Google to salivate over; there's more to content than keywords and meta data. Copy is meant to be read. It should attract attention, inspire conversations and produce conversions.

SEO copywriting should be informative

Content needs to accommodate a reader's desire for knowledge. A growing proportion of browsers expect websites to provide them with reliable information and, as a result, sites need to offer answers. Earn a reader's trust through informative and intelligent copy.

SEO copywriting should be creative

Creativity shouldn't have to suffer in the quest for rankings. Online copy offers much more scope for imagination than other mediums and writers have the opportunity to let their creativity run free across the internet. The Cartridge Save and Rentokill sites are both great examples of how you can turn a (potentially) bland topic into a must-read and entertaining blog.

SEO copywriting should be convincing

SEO copywriters are paid to sell to people.

But not like that.

Words have to convince. It's a great feeling to see a website rank on Google, but ultimately, copy has to convert browsers to customers. Amid the keywords and anchor text, content should present a structured and compelling argument to the reader.

SEO copywriting should be fun

No, seriously.

In my experience, SEO copywriting is one of the most challenging and enjoyable forms of writing. Very few scribbling roles necessitate the ability to juggle so many different requirements and finding the words to satisfy both the reader and the pesky spiders is an ongoing adventure.

But don't forget to include some keywords.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The SEO copywriter Spotify playlist

Trouble remembering the golden rules of SEO copywriting? Aid your memory by adding these SEO-inspired songs to your Spotify playlist. Apart from the last one. It's rubbish.

Always include Keywords

Cheryl Cole – Three Words

Cheryl Cole, the Girls Aloud singer and sometime X-Factor judge, knows a thing or two about keywords. Her single 'Three Words' accurately conveys the importance of using them in a piece of SEO copywriting. Whether you're focusing on one word or three, keywords are a major factor in website rankings.

Key lyrics: "It all started with three words; saved my life."

Call the reader to action

Lady Gaga – Just Dance

Copy should inspire the reader. Lady Gaga's 'Just Dance' is an up-tempo reminder that an SEO copywriter should include call to action phrases in their copy – particularly in the meta description. Offer the reader reasons why they should subscribe to a service or purchase a product.

Key lyric: "Just dance. It's going to be ok."

Don't copy content

Travis - Re-Offender

Copying content is the ultimate sin for an SEO copywriter. The soothing tones of Fran Healy in Travis' 'Re-Offender' warn of the consequences of duplicating copy. The reader might not know you're pinching someone else's words, but the search engines certainly will. And your rankings will suffer because of it.

Key lyric: "You say you're sorry, and then you do it again. But you're fooling yourself."

Avoid keyword stuffing

Calvin Harris – Acceptable in the 80s

Calvin Harris' 'Acceptable in the 80s' should serve as a reminder that the era of keyword stuffing is over. There's no point in saturating content with the same phrases; search engines are far too clever these days to fall for that trick.

Key lyric: "It was acceptable at the time."

Creative content

Natasha Bedingfield - These Words

SEO copywriting needs to be creative. What better song to stress the importance of gripping content than Natasha Bedingfield's 'These Words'? This ditty emphasises the need for clever, creative copywriting. Amid the quest for search engine rankings, it's easy to forget that copy should be interesting for the reader.

Key lyric: "Trying to find the magic, trying to write a classic."

Inspire inbound links

N-Dubz – I Need You

At first, this N-Dubz ballad may just seem like a song about social networking stalking. But it's so much more. 'I need you' is actually a tale about the need for inbound links. It's one of the best ways to achieve ranking.

Key lyric: "I'm going mad. I need you. I've been searching all over Facebook and I can't seem to find you."

Thursday, 7 January 2010

SEO keywords - How to place awkward terms into content

There are two types of SEO keyword.

There are easy keywords; the phrases which slip neatly into sentences and play nicely with other nouns, verbs and adjectives. These words are a delight to work with and they form the foundation for copy which is both readable and optimised for SEO.

Conversely, there are those keywords which don't get along with other words. These ugly phrases disrupt the flow of content; they are awkward to crowbar into a sentence and their presence often just confuses the reader.

For example:

To be, or not to be, — that is the SEO Manchester question: —
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of SEO Manchester troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Hamlet, optimised for the keyword 'SEO Manchester'.

Still, there are a number of ways to place these rogue keywords into copy. Here are just four methods an SEO copywriter can use in order to force a difficult phrase to cooperate.

Bunny ears

Using your keyword as a set example gives an SEO copywriter the chance to slip in a difficult phrase without disrupting the copy. It is used as an analytical example – complete with inverted commas – and, as a result, diminishes the likelihood of awkward sentences and nonsensical content.

For example:

“Many North West blogs optimise their site for the phrase 'SEO Manchester'.”

Cross the dots

Search engines don't register punctuation. When Google indexes a web page – scouring copy for relevant keywords – it skips over full stops, commas, semicolons and brackets. If a keyword or phrase doesn't fit neatly into a sentence, it can be separated by punctuation, thus retaining its SEO relevance.

For example:

“Many writers offer a range of services such as SEO. Manchester copywriters like John Smith provide...”

Top heavy

The H1 field of a website is the perfect place for a jarring phrase. This not only allows search engines to quickly establish that a page relates to a particular subject – adding SEO bonus points – but also offers an opportunity to slip in a keyword without the title sounding nonsensical. Title tags can also be written in much the same way.

For example:

SEO Manchester - An awkward keyword phrase”

It's all in the name

Difficult phrases can be reduced if the keyword and the domain name match. Using the word as a proper noun gives an SEO copywriter the opportunity to use the term without crowbarring it into content. 'About us' pages are perfect for this type of keyword use.

For example:

SEO Manchester is a blog by...”

Final thoughts

While the above methods are ideal for placing an awkward phrase, it's worth mentioning that a healthy spread of keywords is more beneficial for SEO purposes. It's better to pepper a page with relevant and related terms, rather than turning the gas up on one particular word. Remember, search engines penalise spammy content.

An SEO copywriter should write for the reader first and the search spiders second. Because a search engine has never paid the bills. Unless your name is Larry Page or Sergey Brin.

Monday, 4 January 2010 - 'Ugly' press release triumphs over SEO

SEO Manchester - online dating rankings'Tis the time for online love. As you'd expect from the season – the ink still wet on the list of resolutions – queries for the term 'online dating' enjoy a viagra-esque rise as one year rolls into the next. Presumably, many wish to be rid of their singleton tag before New Year's Eve comes around again.

This Google Trends chart demonstrates the seasonal peaks experienced by the term over the past few years.

It's a busy time for those in the online dating industry and I'd imagine that competition to hook in new subscribers is fierce.

This is aptly demonstrated by the deluge of print and media campaigns currently pulling on heartstrings across the UK. A television series is doing the rounds and I'm sure the company is reaping the rewards for their hard work.

Still, if you haven't got the offline promotions to bolster traffic, one suspects you may have to find more nefarious ways to drive traffic during peak season sign ups.

Online dating website caused a bit of a stir today after it revealed 5,000 users had been thrown off the vanity service for putting on the pounds over the festive season. For reference, the USP of this particular website promises 'beautiful' dates for beautiful people. founder Robert Hintze described the decision so:

"Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which was founded."

Whatever your opinion of Hintze, the announcement was a clever one. At least, it is when you're in an SEO position like

In SEO terms, is in the doldrums. Online dating is a competitive market and battling for hearts and minds against the dating monsters –,, – for organic SEO rankings looks like a losing campaign. Particularly in peak season.

A quick flick through Google Adwords' keyword tool brings up a host of popular terms relating to online lurve.

online dating
online date
best online dating
dating sites
internet dating

Just for fun, compare the organic ratings between and on these queries.

The two are in very different leagues. That is to say, has ugly rankings.

Still, this episode highlights the benefits of juicy linkbait. The online media has snapped at the story and currently, Google lists 64 articles in its news feed which relate to the press release. I'm presuming that the print outlets will pick up the baton tomorrow.

Whether or not this tactic reaps new subscribers is another debate entirely. Of course, no shock press release will triumph, at least in the long-term, over honest SEO rankings. Still, getting users to a site is half the battle. Whether any of them will be beautiful enough to subscribe is another matter.