How to Use Keyword Synonyms to Improve Your Content

You’ve probably seen those "SEO-optimized" texts before. …you know, the ones with that vaguely robotic repetition. I’m talking, of course, about keyword stuffing. There’s a better way to do things now: Use keyword synonyms (like you learned in the fourth grade).

But this being SEO, there’s always more to a technique than meets the eye. And you’re going to learn exactly what in this article. Keyword stuffing: the original sin

If you’re not already familiar, keyword stuffing is the practice of repeating an exact-match keyword numerous times in an attempt to game the Google algorithm and engineer the SERPs to rank for that keyword.

A lot of well-meaning SEOs accidentally commit keyword stuffing because they’re trying to increase their page’s keyword density. (That is, the percentage of words on a page that exactly match your keyword.) And it used to be easy to pull the wool over Google’s eyes back when the search engine was younger and more naïve. But things have changed, and adult Google is a lot harder to trick than kid Google.

In fact, keyword stuffing was such an issue that Google released a huge algorithm update called Hummingbird which changed the way they interpreted keywords.

About Hummingbird

The Hummingbird update introduced what we call semantic search. That is, Google no longer looks for phrases that exactly match the search terms. In the past, a fitness blog might have a page optimized for “foods that burn fat” and another page for “fat-burning foods.”

But with Hummingbird, Google now understands that those search terms mean the same thing. A food that burns fat IS is fat-burning food. They’re logically equivalent. More importantly—Google understands that those terms mean the same thing. So a website that optimized pages for each keyword suddenly finds that both pages rank for both search terms. (And now they have a keyword cannibalization problem.)

But if Google understands logical equivalence …does it also understand when words mean similar things? In other words, does Google know that “parakeet” and “bird” are related?

Yes, Google does.

And you can take advantage of that to achieve the same goal as keyword stuffers of yore without creating blog posts and landing pages that sound like they were written for an elementary school reading comprehension test.

What are Keyword Synonyms?

A synonym is a word that means something similar to another word. Hot and burning. Sympathetic and considerate. Suitcase and luggage. You know these.

You can probably already guess what a keyword synonym is: it's a word or phrase that means something similar to your keyword. If you're writing a post about "dog food," keyword synonyms might be "food for dogs," "food for old dogs," "pet food," or "puppy food."

You might have heard that joke: "An SEO expert walks into a bar, pub, grill, brewery, bartender, Irish house, beer, cocktails, drinks, liquor..."

...and while you don't want to take things to quite that level, there's some truth to it.

Why?

Because those relevant keyword synonyms give Google context. And context, it turns out, is incredibly important for Google. (Synonyms also make your post easier to read because you're not repeating the same word so much that it becomes grating to the ears, but that's another topic.)

Why Use Keyword Synonyms?

First, understand that there’s little evidence that keyword synonyms actually help you rank in search engines. So the benefit you achieve from focusing on keyword synonyms is minimal, at best. This begs the question: why bother with keyword synonyms at all? A few reasons:

1. Keyword Synonyms Improve Your Credibility

Especially on shorter pages where repeated words and phrases are more obvious and more apt to stick out. Good writing improves your credibility regardless of whether you’re writing as a person or as the voice of a brand. An important tenant of writing well is avoiding needless repetition.

2. Keyword Synonyms Make Your Writing Easier to Read

You don’t want to annoy your readers in the middle of your blog post because you kept repeating the same phrase over and over until it became painfully obvious you were writing for SEO.

Your readers are smart—they know when they’re not the first person in mind. If you’re writing for search engines, the intent behind your writing isn’t to benefit your readers—it’s to benefit your own business interests.

If you want your readers to understand that the content you spend so much of your resources to produce is truly in their best interest, you need to write well.

That means foregoing any concerns around keyword density and writing for ease of understanding.

3. Keyword Synonyms Help you Avoid Keyword Stuffing

Remember that keyword stuffing is SEO’s original sin. It makes your writing difficult to read and your readers will probably think it’s annoying.

How to Find Keyword Synonyms

Now that you understand why you should incorporate keyword synonyms into your writing, you need to actually find them.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of techniques to unearth proper substitutions for your keyword. You can brainstorm synonyms the old fashioned way, use a dedicated tool, or ask Google itself. Let’s look at each of these options.

The Old-fashioned Way

That's right—you can brainstorm your way to synonym success. Just like how you used to think about synonyms when you were writing papers in school, think about how your customer might talk about your keyword.

This is where your old market research can come in handy. If you've surveyed your audience, you already have their language that you can read through.

If you don't have any market research, you probably have comments from old blog posts and replies to emails you've sent—mine those for synonyms for your keyword. You might be surprised by what turns up!

Use a Dedicated Tool

There are two major tools dedicated to finding synonyms.

Thesaurus

The first is thesaurus.com. As an extension of dictionary.com, your free online thesaurus is the best tool for finding generic synonyms for everyday English usage. It's easy to use: just fire up the site, plug in your keyword, and pick the synonyms that make sense.

LSI Graph

Lsigraph.com finds LSI keywords—latent semantic indexing keywords—that might function as synonyms for your chosen keyword. The tool itself is pretty intuitive and straightforward: type in your keyword, solve the CAPTCHA, and pick and choose from your list of LSI keywords. Now, a small caveat here. LSI keywords are not always keyword synonyms. But they do give you plenty of content ideas and help you understand what your target customer might be searching, so they’re still useful.

Ask Google

This is the easiest solution—Google your keyword and see what Google highlights!

Knowing which related terms Google highlights in the SERPs is a huge advantage because it makes including those keywords a cinch. And including words that are likely to get the bold treatment can increase your click-through rate and get you more readers, which is the entire reason you’re worried about SEO in the first place.

...want something faster?

Look at the text in the Adwords ads. Adwords copy is (usually) tested rigorously to convert well, so you can be confident that any phrases you steal from the advertisements that pop up on a particular search will be good picks.

Conclusion

A lot of SEOs make the mistake of paying too much attention to keyword density and of repeating the same keyword over and over.

But this is bad, not only because it can lead to keyword stuffing, but also because it leads to bad writing which can undermine your reader’s trust in your content.

Keyword synonyms fix both of those problems AND give you the opportunity to improve your reader’s experience. That said, there’s unfortunately little hard evidence that keyword synonyms will improve your content’s performance on the SERPs.