Synonymous Phrases: Do They Matter for Beauty SEO?

- 5 minute read

Sometimes, there just aren’t enough words. In copywriting, tautology (repetition) and paraphrasing go hand-in-hand as necessary skills to be refined. Writers will often have to push their vocabulary to the limits to weave in keywords while still making copy sound legible and interesting.

While doing this, a synonym here or there can be a godsend. But, as we know, keyword optimisation relies very heavily on specificity, leaving no room for grey areas or ‘near misses’.

Having said this, it’s worth considering how synonyms can affect keyword optimisation, especially in the beauty industry where multiple phrases exist for the same meaning, and similar products rank for the same queries.

Synonyms Vs Semantics

To set some context, let’s first establish some meanings and get us all on the same page.

A synonym is a word that means the same thing as another, whereas semantics refers to a linguistic practice that derives meaning from words and text. Sometimes, especially in the world of SEO, these two words are used interchangeably, but it’s important to understand that they are in fact vastly different.

So, for example, ‘do an audit’ and ‘do a review’ are synonyms, whereas semantics means these statements could be interpreted as ‘do an audit whenever suits best’ where the likely intent was ‘do an audit asap’.

Can Google Detect Synonyms?

Synonyms and SEO has been a longstanding debate, with Google first discussing the subject in 2010 on its official blog. Throughout this article, Google explains how its search engine is able to discern between similar phrases, with a few example searches listed with subsequent explanations.

The main point conveyed is that Google is clever enough to be able to determine abbreviations, alternative phrasings, and subtle differences by following the context of the query.

Today, Google best describes this work in its Ads Help centre:

“Close variants allow keywords to match to searches that are similar, but not identical, to the targeted keyword, and help you connect with people who are looking for your business – despite slight variations in the way they search – reducing the need to build out exhaustive keyword lists to reach these customers.

Google

Although not specifically related to organic search, this gives us some level of insight as to how Google views synonyms and semantics. Think of the “Searches related to” section on SERPs – most of it is filled with semantics. See our example for ‘makeup for men’ below:

Work around synonyms was formally introduced in 2013 following Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update. In which, semantic searches sought to group similar content together.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) VS Neural Matching

There are two main rulesets that are usually followed to optimise pages for keywords. The first of which being latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords.

LSI is a language processing algorithm developed to discover quantifiable similarities between words and topics. LSI keywords are therefore believed to be semantically relevant to other phrases, giving marketers a quick and easy way of determining what synonyms they should optimise for.

For example, if you have a landing page for sun cream that continually references “SPF”, LSI may determine that these two phrases are synonymous, matching them together.

However, Google has publicly disproved beliefs around it using LSI to group keywords. Google uses a series of complex machine learning algorithms to gauge the type of content that its users are responding well to (neural matching).

For example, pages with high bounce rates are less likely to be relevant to certain searches than those with lower ones. In which case, Google can identify the number of users that click one result to only go back and visit another one. Therefore, giving the second result a slight ranking boost due to statistical relevancy.

Should You Use Synonyms?

So, with Google showing a clear acknowledgement of the existence of synonyms, it’s obvious that we should optimise for them too, right? Sort of.

Much like any other form of keyword optimisation, synonyms should only be used when appropriate to assist with the flow of a sentence, or in accordance with search intent. In short: you should aim to try and tell Google as much information about why a page exists as possible.

Back in the day, a lot of websites resorted to stuffing as many keywords into a page as they could, as this was the primary way that Google served content to its users. Nowadays, however, keyword stuffing is easily detected, even when it is disguised through black hat SEO tactics.

Example: Retinol/Vitamin A

To get a better idea of how this works in practice, our favourite example to look at is for retinol and vitamin A.

Retinol is an over-the-counter formulation of vitamin A that is packaged into all sorts of beauty products like moisturisers and hand creams. It’s an ingredient, meaning its inclusion within products should be as clear as possible.

Without getting too far into the scientific side of things, it can be inferred that, in the beauty world, retinol and vitamin A are both phrases that refer to the same thing.

Things get a bit more interesting when we start to look at search intent and volume:

QueryIntentMonthly Search Volume
Vitamin aNavigational22,200
RetinolNavigational40,500
What is vitamin aInformational1,900
What is retinolInformational4,400
Vitamin a serumTransactional390
Retinol serumTransactional9,900
Data accurate as of July 2022

Retinol is the clear winner in almost every single category here, but does that mean we should leave vitamin A out of our keyword strategy? Probably not. Although we are unable to take a peek in to exactly how Google would identify these phrases, reviewing the top search results for them shows that the two are used with each other in almost every single top five result.

Therefore, optimising a page for just retinol would likely yield a less-than-ideal result from search rankings. The reason for this being that the additional information provided by mentions of vitamin A serves to give both Google and its users more detail, enriching their search experience and ultimately helping them find what they’re looking for.

Read more: Entity SEO – How to use entities to optimise your landing page

Our Verdict On Synonyms

It goes without saying, but ultimately, the best way to determine whether or not you should focus on synonyms in your copy is to conduct thorough keyword research. Only then will you be able to determine which pages should rank for certain keywords, as well as how to optimise them to do so.

As our SEO Team Leader Charlie Rudd says:

When optimising pages, we need to be aware of all possible search terms, what those searches show, and how many searches there are. This gives us a chance to paint a much wider picture as to what potential synonymous phrases are out there, as well as the ability to gauge how site copy should be focused.”

Charlie Rudd, SEO Team Leader

Need Help Optimising Your Beauty Website?

Keyword research and optimisation takes time and knowledge. Why not let the experts handle it? Foundation is a beauty-focused marketing agency that specialises in all forms of digital marketing.

From SEO for beauty brands to content marketing, we’ll give your website the attention it deserves.

Contact us today to see how we can help.

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