Until recently, keyword research had been about what DIFFERENTIATES the meaning of words.  Hence the SEO obsession with targeting long-tail keywords. 

In the wake of Google’s algorithm updates – Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird – a new and more subtle approach may be needed to accommodate more clearly what UNITES the meaning of words… and thereby extend the DEPTH OF REACH of SEO copy.

For more effective SEO copywriting, we should be looking at using keywords or phrases that are broadly synonymous – as semantic ‘alternatives’ rather than ‘options’.  This observation was prompted by a recent article on Wordtracker’s blog – but also by my own vast experience as a website and SEO copywriter.

The difference between ‘alternative’ and ‘optional’ may not be immediately apparent, but consider this nugget from a 2011 Google patent (that was also quoted in the Wordtracker article):

‘A search query for a search engine may be improved by incorporating alternate terms … that are semantically similar to the terms of the search query.’

Now this can obviously be open to interpretation – especially what looks like the mis-use of the word ‘alternate’ – but here’s how I see it from a copywriting perspective…

The best copywriting response to a ‘search query’ (as Google describes it) is obviously a keyword-based solution.  If Google then says that a specific search approach can be ‘improved’ by including ‘alternate terms’, it obviously places a totally different onus on the copywriting response!

Setting language free…

Long before Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird, I had often felt that optimising web pages for a narrow keyword range was somehow missing the point in that it restricts the richness of language that can be used to create the copy.

To explain this thinking: the richness of the English language means there are frequently many ways of saying something.  In some cases, these may reflect ways of introducing nuances of meaning.  In others, it may be more a question of syntax, where a particular phrase reflects formality or informality; colloquial style vs. ‘streetwise’ expression; or a so-called ‘educated’ style vs. simplicity. 

In all cases, these alternatives are (on the face of it) trying to say the same thing.  Each approach, however, may be trying to incorporate individuality, personality or stylisation, a particular tone of voice, social approachability – or exclusivity.

Whatever else changes in SEO – and that’s been plenty of late! – the one constant will always be the importance of keywords.  Looking at the different ways keywords can be approached to explore nuances of meaning has to be another step along the way to ‘search nirvana’. 

The insight that this ‘alternative keyword’ approach brings is that suddenly we’re looking down the opposite end of the telescope.  Instead of adopting the default position of using keywords to reach beyond the intended meaning and context of a keyword or phrase – and thereby diluting the ultimate meaning and validity of search results! – we can now introduce a greater intensity of meaning into the search process by focusing on synonyms.

Practical realities…

In practical terms, this would mean introducing tightly connected synonyms into all aspects of the copy – tags, headlines and body.  It means treating every page of copy holistically (from both a SEO and usability point of view).

Pages of content should follow a distinct theme where synonymous keywords and phrases are included in a disciplined way that enhances, rather than interferes with, the overall meaning of the page.  For a SEO copywriter, this is both a constraint – and an opportunity.

Following Google’s direction (as quoted earlier), finding ‘alternate terms’ as synonyms will require some discipline in both the keyword research and subsequent copywriting.  On the other hand, synonyms have the potential to provide opportunities to develop in-depth semantic themes that increase the power and persuasiveness of the copy enormously.

If we consider the somewhat old-fashioned usage of the thesaurus in the search for synonyms, it’s immediately apparent that intensity and accuracy of meaning – as well as maximising impact and effectiveness – are what we have in view.

Similarly, using keyword research in the present-day online context to incorporate synonyms that reflect the overall theme of the content you’re writing is a serious – and exciting! – copywriting challenge that will chime with Google’s expectations and deliver ‘improved’ search results. 

For an introduction to Buzzwords’ thinking on SEO and website copywriting, visit: www.buzzwords.ltd.uk/website_copywriting.htm

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