Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Archive for the keywords Category

How Google Treats Synonyms Now Affects Your Rankings

It’s important to understand the use of synonyms

Over the past several months, Google has made many changes to how it treats “synonyms”, and that has affected how we recommend on-page optimization to our clients. Google’s greatly improved recognition of synonyms and near synonyms is reducing or eliminating the need to use exact keyword phrases in your web pages.

How can you tell what words Google treats as synonyms? Simply do a Google search for one version and note what words are bold in Google’s results. The bold words are synonyms.

Finding synonyms in Google search results.

“Car repair” and “auto repair” are synonyms.

No longer must you use the phrase “divorce lawyer” a certain number of times on the page and then use the phrase “divorce attorney” a certain number of times. Google now recognizes them as the same, so if you pick one and use it consistently, people searching for either version of that phrase will find you.

Moreover, you don’t need to use the verbatim phrase multiple times on your page at all. If the natural flow of your copy includes the word “divorce” on the page (how could it not?)  as well as the word “lawyer” or “attorney” or even “law firm” or “attorney at law” or “law offices”, Google will recognize all of them as being roughly equivalent for rankings purposes when someone searches for a divorce lawyer or a divorce attorney, or any other versions of these equivalencies. That applies across virtually all keyword phrases for any business.

Out of date keyword placement can hurt you

The better Google gets at understanding how searchers use language to find what they want, the more it moves away from dependence on keyword phrases. In fact, the Penguin algorithm change last spring reduces rankings on websites that may be “over-optimized” by repeating verbatim keyword phrases artificially.

The good news

This is great news for the readability of your web pages, and that translates into visitors reading more of your copy and, in turn, a better conversion rate turning visitors into paying customers or clients.

WebProNews has a good article that goes into this subject in greater depth.

If you have concerns about over-use of keyword phrases on your web pages, Rank Magic can help.

Revealed: Google’s New SEO Copywriting Strategy

Once upon a time

Years ago you had to include specific keyword phrases multiple times on a page  — verbatim  — to rank highly for them. Since then, Google has gotten much better at recognizing synonyms and even near-synonyms. More recently, Google has gotten better at piecing together a sense for keyword phrases even when the words in the phrase aren’t adjacent to one another.

keyword search terms

Much better now

Today, if you want to optimize your copy for people searching for plugin hybrid SUVs, you no longer have to pepper that 3-word phrase throughout your copy and in your code. If your page is about SUVs and mentions the word hybrid and includes the term plugin, Google can tell that it’s relevant for the phrase plugin hybrid SUVs.

That’s much easier on the patience of your readers and allows you to optimize for the phrase naturally, without keyword stuffing. It may even positively impact your conversion rate because your copy will read so much more naturally.

In fact …

Google’s Penguin update last spring addresses this very thing. Google may now consider as “over-optimized” websites that repeat the same verbatim phrase too many times. What may have been necessary for rankings ten years ago can actually earn you a penalty today.

Karon Thackston wrote in High Rankings Advisor a couple of months ago about a conversation she had with Google’s Matt Cutts on this very subject. I recommend her article and her presentation of that conversation.

If your website was optimized years ago and involved sprinkling verbatim keyword phrases throughout your pages, you may be seeing some loss of rankings. If so, we can help.

Help! Is My Website Copy Over-Optimized?

Rankings fell after Penguin updateDid your rankings drop around the end of April?

The recent Google Penguin update is focused on web sites that are over-optimized and have been getting better rankings than they really deserve as a result. Some of what Google is looking for relates to unnatural link structure. But a lot of what they are penalizing sites for is copy that’s been over-optimized. If you saw a significant drop in your Google rankings around the end of April of this year, that may be a signal that your website has come to the attention of the Penguin algorithm change. Asking yourself three important questions can reveal whether or not you stepped over the line and need to make some changes to your copy.

Three Over-Optimization Questions

  1. How does your website sound when you read it out loud?
    If it sounds awkward or if it feels like you are tripping over one or another of your keyword phrases too often, then you may have crossed the line. Look for places in your copy where the keyword phrase isn’t needed, and drop it.
  2. Did you try to achieve a certain keyword density?
    Keyword density is a persistent myth, with many believers struggling to achieve a certain percentage of the words on the page being keyword phrases. This is a major item that Google’s latest update is focusing on. If you’ve been trying to achieve a certain density of keywords, you may have stepped over the line. Remove or paraphrase some of your keyword phrases in copy and read it out loud to yourself again.
  3. Does your copy suffer from logorrhea?
    If you wrote a lot more words that needed just so that you could work more keyword phrases into your copy, chances are that’s hurting you. When we pad our copy in order to work in keyword phrases, we typically don’t actually add more valuable information to the page. We restate things and we paraphrase thoughts, sentences, and even whole paragraphs  — and all that allows us to work our keyword phrases onto the page more times. That’s a mistake. If you have more words than you need to make your point it hurts you two ways. First it may trigger the over-optimization flag at Google, and second it may be driving visitors away from your page. If there’s too much text on your page visitors find it intimidating and either don’t read all of it or leave the page without reading any of it. The trick is to write as much as necessary about the topic and no more. Blaise Pascal once wrote “I would have written a shorter letter but didn’t have time.” On your website, take the time.

Have questions? We welcome comments and try to respond promptly.

Do your rankings need improvement? Rank Magic can help.

10 Ways to Pick the Best Keywords

Some of the important factors we use to evaluate keywords include search frequency, buying intent, and competability (the ease or difficulty of achieving first page rankings). Hannah Howard has expanded on that list in a blog post over at Here are some of the factors she considers valuable.

  1. Keyword selection criteriaHaving a keyword in the domain name (though we think that’s losing potency fast)
  2. Popularity for PPC (pay per lick) advertising like Google’s AdWords
  3. can reveal who is targeting a given keyword min organic and paid search.
  4. Local search volume from Google’s Keyword Tool.
  5. search about you from other tools such as and
  6. Global search volume from Google’s Keyword Tool.
  7. Microsoft Advertising Intelligence, a tool offered by Microsoft that works in Excel and can be used to research keywords based on Bing data.
  8. The authority of sites currently ranking highly for a given keyword. That will indicate the level of difficulty you can expect to compete for rankings. measures that might be relevant here include link counts, PageRankmozRank, and Domain Authority.
  9. Domain selling sites like and,can reveal how competitive domains are for a given keyword.
  10. Google suggestions: start typing it in Google and if Google automatically suggests that keyword after the first few letters are typed then you may have a strong keyword.

I recommend Hannah’s post to you for elaboration on each of the above suggestions.

Keyword Density According to Google

Google’s Matt Cutts recently addressed a question about what the ideal keyword density is. He refers to the diminishing return of repeated keyword usage and the danger of keyword stuffing which can earn you an over-optimization penalty.

Matt says it best, so take a look at the video.

Increasingly employing variations on a keyword phrase rather than strict repetitions of a verbatim phrase seem to work best.