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Latent Semantics and How to Check it in the SERPs

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Many people have heard of the term "latent semantics" and know Google uses it in their rankings. But few really understand it.

Latent semantics isn't the sexiest topic. Usually, the reaction is a nod and then the eyes glaze over. But search engine optimizers should know a little more about what it is, and a little trick to help you check it in Google's search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is Latent Semantics?

Latent semantics basically explores the association between words. Words can have multiple meanings, so latent semantics is used by search engines to gather a more accurate picture of what the website is really about based on which keywords or terms are grouped together.

A good example to understanding this is the term "foreign exchange." If a website about a foreign exchange also mentions "exchange rates," then you're looking at currency related site. But a different foreign exchange site that contains the word "student" indicates an entirely different set of associations.

Once you begin to understand latent semantics, it will help in building on-page content in a way that doesn't result in losing the tie to the keywords you're looking to rank better for.

Knowing what terms Google, or any search engine, associates together could help improve your rankings. Making more use of these can show the engines exactly what your content is about.

You would also be able to use these terms and not just repeat the ones you're concentrating on. This diversity could also score you points with the engines as they're used to websites repeating variations of a specific keyword.

Tilde Search

So how to get some insights in to the actions of Google? Have you ever done a tilde search? This search hack isn't too well known, and actually shows some of Google's latent semantics.

What is shown doesn't seem to go too deep, but it can help you gain an understanding. Let's have a look at [forex”.

forex SERP

Here, you can see the association with "foreign exchange" and "fx," which are terms that fit the definition of forex.

Now let's try the same thing with a slightly different search:

forex trading SERP

A [forex trading” search gives us new associations. "Foreign exchange" is still there, but "trading" has been added to "fx" and we see "foreign currency trading," but interestingly not "currency trading" alone.

And if you do a tilde search for [currency trading”, "forex trading" isn't linked, but "fx" is, and so is "money" and "exchange rates." This isn't surprising. Most people searching currency trading are looking to swap their leftover currency from recent overseas trips.

Summary

While this isn't definitive, it's a good method for picking some terms over others when you first start your SEO efforts. The depth of what associations the tilde search shows may not be too informative but you have to figure these terms when used in titles, descriptions, and anchor text would help raise your ranking for the main keyword.

Hope this comes in handy. Next time: some cool search tools that have been around for quite some time but few people know of or use.


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