LSI is dead. Long live context & common sense

This article will explain why you should forget buzzwords like LSI and focus on context and user intent. 

I know the article heading may not be very good from a search engine point of view, but I had to keep it.

If you have spent more than a couple of hours reading about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how to write good content, you have undoubtedly come across the term LSI.

LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing means that certain words belong together. It is a patented technology that was built to solve a specific problem.

When people search for solutions, they do not always use words that make sense contextually.

So how can we create a relationship between words when they can have different meanings in different contexts? 

Context when words have different meaning

Let me give you an overly simplistic example.

If you look up the word “spring” in a dictionary, you are most likely presented with different meanings.

There is spring as in the season before summer. And then, there is the verb that can be used in a sentence like spring into action. But also a mechanical spring as in a gadget that compresses under load and then goes back to its original shape as the load lessens.

So how can search engines know the intent of a search for the keyword “spring”?

Search engines have access to an enormous amount of search data and learn from data analysis of user behavior.

But they can also choose to present alternatives that cover more than one meaning of the word.

And many claim that search engines like Google use LSI for this purpose. This was, however, refuted by John Mu, Search Advocate at Google.

Forget about LSI but embrace the need for context

Look at the image below and tell me which page is more contextually relevant for “Gardening” and “Herbs” respectively.

Explaining contextual relevance
Both pages include Herbs (1) and Gardening (1) the same number of times

Still, page 1 feels more relevant for a search for “Herbs” than page 2. And by the same line of reasoning, page 2 feels much more appropriate for someone searching for ”Gardening”.

Even though both pages include the words “Herbs” and “Gardening” once, the other words tell us a lot more about the page’s context.

And this is where the concept of LSI can teach us something. It is not that we will be using LSI. Instead, we are made aware of the need to stay contextually relevant.

And I genuinely believe this is important if you are ever going to be indexed and ranked in the search engines.

And no, I am not saying that you should word-drop contextually relevant words into your articles. Visitors will leave in a heartbeat if your articles have no value. And yes, you guessed it. If visitors leave, the search engines will know and act accordingly.

Using context in all you do

Yes, I mean precisely that. Think “context” when you choose what articles to write. Does this article solve a problem for a reader interested in my niche?

Think “context” when writing your articles. Is your article answering all the questions of your visitors? Are you staying true to the user’s intent of the search?

How to stay contextually relevant

Now and then, I take a step back and look at what I am publishing. I do this on two different levels.

  1. Published articles 
  2. Individual articles

Both methods follow the same logic but let’s start with number 1.

1. Are published articles contextually relevant and balanced

Here I print a list of all my article headlines. Looking at nothing but the headlines, I ask myself if I am being contextually relevant and balanced.

We all have topics we prefer to write about within our respective niches. But your published articles should deliver contextually relevant and balanced solutions to deliver actual value.

It is a fascinating exercise and can often identify when we are too geared towards the so-called “money words” and forget about delivering overall value to our visitors.

2. Are you articles valuable and contextually relevant

This step involves a two-prong approach and is somewhat time-consuming.

I do not use it to “improve” articles. Instead, the process reminds me of where I need to be and how to approach publishing articles.

I select 1 – 3 articles and remove everything but the headlines. Then I read the article using only the headlines. Does the article still make sense?

Next, I take the same articles and, this time remove the headlines. I then go through and highlight all contextually relevant words and phrases in the text. Then reading only the highlighted words, I ask myself if the value of the article is clear.

Search engines and contextual relevance

So great, you think. But what I believe is contextual relevance may not be what the search engines understand as relevant.

And this is true. But if you have read this far, I will give you two great ways to better understand what search engines see as relevant for any given search.

If you remember my article heading it ended with the words common sense. It is now time for the common sense part.

We will use everyone’s favorite search engine Google to exemplify.

Autocomplete on search to understand contextual relevance

Using search engine auto complete to understand relevance
Autocomplete gives hints about relevance

When you type a search in Google, a dropdown with other relevant searches will appear.

These other searches indicate what is perceived as contextually relevant searches related to your original search term.

In the image below, we could, for example, deduce that an article about “growing herbs” could include paragraphs about growing herbs indoors, outdoors, in pots, and so on.

Pretty powerful stuff, would you not agree?

People Also Ask (PAA) also shows context

People also ask gives contextually relevant questions to answer
PAA giving hints to relevance

And further down on that same page, we find a section labeled “People also ask,” commonly referred to as PAA.

Now PAA does not appear on all searches, but it is pretty standard. Here we would get further hints about related searches that are contextually bound to our original search for “growing herbs”.

The image tells us that we find relevance in answering questions like “What is the best way to grow herbs?” and “What are the easiest herbs to grow?” to give two examples.

Summary and conclusion:

I will summarize this whole article in a couple of sweeping statements. 

Make sure you stay contextually relevant and balanced to solve problems for your visitors. 

Search engines have access to volumes of search data and know what searchers are looking for. Use the data they give you access to as a guideline when writing content. 

When you publish contextually balanced, and relevant articles, visitors will find value in your articles. And when search engines see that you solve real problems for your visitors, they too will see your worth. 

And suddenly, you should see increased visibility in the search engines for your published articles.

Is it not amazing that the whole process started with relevance, context, and a pinch of common sense.

Meet the author: Mattias (Matt) is a serial entrepreneur and travel industry expert with more than 20 years of experience in business and web development. Mattias identifies with self-starters and entrepreneurs, loves to garden, and believes everyone needs a game plan for financial independence.