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Latent Semantic Indexing and the Future of SEO

What is Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)?

LSI is a way for search engines to index websites and answer search queries without relying on just keywords or key phrases. For example, on today’s search engines, if you type in "Houston search engine optimization," the search engine will search for pages where the words "Houston search engine optimization" appear. This is a decent method of operating, but it has flaws. Namely, there are many words that mean the same thing, and one word can have many different meanings.

Why should someone who’s searching for "search engine optimization" not see a page about "website optimization" if that’s what he’s really looking for? And if you search for "SEO services," why should you be taken to a page about chicken farming just because it mentions "SEO services"?

LSI Uses Themes Instead of Words

The idea behind LSI is that it matches themes or concepts rather than words. Without getting into the math, LSI recognizes that, within documents, certain keywords appear around certain other related keywords, and the frequency with which they appear can be measured. By analyzing which key phrases do and do not appear around other key phrases, search engines can predict relevant and irrelevant results.

Are Search Engines Already Using LSI?

The short answer is that no one knows for sure, but if search engines aren’t already using LSI, they’re certainly progressing in that direction. Google has already patented ways to use key phrases to predict other key phrases and spam. In addition, we already know that Google uses "stemming" to modify the endings of words, such that if you typed in "search engine optimizer," it would bring up results that include "search engine optimization." The trend here is clearly that search engines are becoming more flexible and clever in serving up results, using a kind of "artificial intelligence" to discover what users really want, even if they haven’t typed in the right words.

What Does LSI Mean for Web Marketers Going Forward?

Many people doubt whether LSI is truly workable because of the time and computing power it would require to implement across the entire Internet. Therefore, some say LSI is a myth, while others say it's used, but only as a small part of a larger process. At any rate, LSI is a forbearer of things to come because it shows SEO and web marketing will be about more than just keywords in the future. As search engines become more sophisticated, ranking will become increasingly about offering compelling, themed content.

How Can You Prepare for LSI Today?

While proper keyword use is vital today, it’s important to keep an eye on the future, when search engines will think in terms of concepts instead of keywords. The easy way to prepare for this change, whether or not LSI is the catalyst, is to ensure you always have relevant, compelling content on your site. Because search engines already reward good content, you can optimize for today and prepare for tomorrow at the same time. Remember, the ultimate purpose of search engines is to take users to the content they most want to read. If you make having the best content as your overarching goal, you’ll always be ahead of technological advancements, not chasing them.

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