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Latent Semantic Indexing - a primer

In the old days of search engine optimization, keyword weighting was incredibly important; both on-page and off page in terms of anchor text.

It used to be the case that the more you piled a specific keyword on a page (to a certain degree); the better your chances were of ranking well. It wasn't unusual for folks engaging in SEO to try and achieve keyword saturation rates of over 5% - and there's still many that advise that sort of level of keyword density.

This tendency saw many web pages leaving visitors wondering why a specific term was mentioned so many times and it really did impact on the quality of the actual content from a human perspective.

The specific keyword weighting has become less important in recent years, thanks to Latent Semantic Indexing. The increased use of LSI is not only great for our visitors, but also for publishers as we are able to write content that's not so stilted - a more natural approach to content development.

Another issue that Latent Semantic Indexing helps address is the tendency for inbound links containing particular anchor text from playing such a powerful role in ranking. 

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What is Latent Semantic Indexing?

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) sounds like it could describe something incredibly complex, but the concept is quite simple. I guess the easiest way to explain it is with themes.

For example, a page about speedometers on a site about paper clips is a little out of place; particularly if the term "speedometer" is being targeted. 

Latent Semantic Indexing looks not only at the page, but at other pages on the site and inbound links to that page to gauge an overall idea of the theme of the site and therefore the relevance. 

Additionally, LSI rewards more natural page development where related keywords are also recognized. 

As an example, in the past if your target term was "web marketing", then that's the keyword or keyphrase you would focus on working into your content. While this is still important to a degree, a search engine that engages Latent Semantic Indexing may also recognize terms such as online promotion, internet marketing, internet selling and online retailing as terms being strongly related; hence a few more points in favor for the page.

The same sort of approach applies to inbound links. If every site linked to you with the term "web marketing", while in times past it may have shot you to number one; depending on a variety of factors that anchor text could now be dampened or even disregarded.

LSI and the long tail

Back a few years ago I mentioned the "long tail" in my article on keyword strategies. The long tail is a set of keywords that are related to a topic, but may not be the most popular keywords in terms of number of searches. 

I mentioned that sometimes focusing on a few long tail keywords or keyphrases might provide as good results than trying to duke it out with the well established leaders in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the most popular keyword.

If you have been focusing more on the long tail in your own page development, then you'll likely be noticing benefits now and even more so in the future as Latent Semantic Indexing starts playing a greater role in search engine algorithms.

Learn more about finding good keywords
Pick up some tips on meta tag development
Anchor text optimization
A beginners guide to search engine optimization

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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