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Google Algorithm: Expanding Keyword Searches to "Semantic Search" Keywords and Synonyms


In January of 2010, Matt Cutts (Google’s main man about town) revealed that “measurements show that synonyms affect 70 percent of user searches”. This means that keyword synonyms are now a significant consideration when optimizing keywords and content.

Semantic Search

Semantics is the science of meaning in language. A semantic search looks to understand the intent and context of the search language in order to deliver highly relevant results. Synonyms improve the relevance of your page content which then strengthens the value of your keyword. Synonyms also create more interesting and varied copy for your visitor. Additionally, synonyms give you more opportunities to vary the anchor text from your page back to your keyword hub page (assuming your site has this structure).

Synonyms Are Part of the Developing “Semantic Search” Aspect of Google’s Algorithm

Google uses it’s own definitions of synonyms gleaned from billions of natural searches and it knows what are real related search terms that people use.

How to Find Google Synonyms

Let’s say your website sells sports equipment. One of your targeted keywords is “baseball shoes”. Use the following search in Google to find what Google thinks are synonyms for “baseball shoes” and you’ll have several related keywords that Google will use to add relevancy to your web page.

~baseball shoes (tilde baseball shoes)

Google will return the following keywords in the SERPS:

  • athletic shoes
  • basketball shoes
  • running shoes
  • casual shoes
  • turf shoes
  • softball shoes
  • jordan shoes

How to Optimize Your Pages for Semantic Searches

In addition to the standard content formatting for seo; h1 tags, meta and title tags, keyword density, etc. Google is looking for keyword relevance in the content of the page.

Keyword Stemming and Semantic Keywords

Keyword stemming (adding plurals, suffixes and prefixes to keywords) and semantic keywords overlap in the sense that keyword stemming creates a context for the synonyms.

Example: Keyword “dog training”

Keyword stem variations combined with synonyms:

  • train your dog
  • puppy training
  • training methods
  • training techniques
  • training dogs

Creating Semantic Context In Your Copy

  • If, as Matt Cutts says, 70% of Google search will be impacted by synonyms then it becomes very important to include keyword synonyms that create context in our copy.
  • Using the example of the sport store, a page which talks about baseball shoes might also reference athletic shoes, training shoes, coaches shoes, Adidas shoes, etc.
  • If you look up the first result on Google for “baseball shoes” (without the parenthesis) and view the source code you’ll see 23 different keyword combinations that contain the word “shoe”.

The keyword “shoe” is in the:

  • meta tag
  • the description
  • the title tag
  • the “value” tags
  • the “alt” tags
  • outbound links
  • the page url
  • the content

Out of the 23 times the word “shoe” appears, it appears 22 times in the top 50% of the page code. It’s easy to see why this page ranked #1 out of 15,400,000 results.


An added consideration with semantic keywords is internal and outbound linking. Internally, be sure to link the synonym keywords back to your primary keyword page (or hub page). This reinforces the contextual value of the synonym. The need for quality inbound links has been a very large part of Google algorithm for many years, but with increased emphasis on semantic searches, outbound links to authority sites indicates to Google that your site is an authority site on the keyword. Be sure to backlink (outbound link) to sites that rank on page #1 for your keyword.


As with all of seo, semantic search optimization is important, but not more than what is valuable to your visitors. Add it to your list of seo strategies and tactics.

Keyword Stemming: A word stem is a part of a word. Keyword stemming is taking the stem “dog” and adding “dogs”, “doggy” – extending a keyword by using plurals, suffixes or prefixes. For example: “keyword” “keywords” “keywording”.



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