Here’s an SEO copywriting tip that is a little weird – if you want to improve ranking for a specific keyphrase, one good way to build on-page strength for it is through using synonyms.

“What?” your collective gasp asks breathlessly, “But what about increasing our keyword density?” (sounds of panic, anvils falling into pianos, people hurling themselves into walls and lots of self-flagellation. Sirens, mayhem, bludgeoning, chaos. Keywords, writhing on the floor, covered in blood.)

In case you have been living under a rock, keyword density is a silly way to measure your on-page strength in 2010. Heck, it was silly even when it worked, but we’ve covered that.

No, the search engines (the big G in particular) are much more shrewd these days. The algorithms are refined, and hand reviews are probably more commonplace. SPAM is much thicker, so filters and hurdles have been erected to make it at least a little challenging to rank a page.

Adding your keyphrase to a page more often is not usually going to help as much as you might want it to. Nope.

Instead, the use of synonyms, context and related terms allows you to remain on-topic and adding value without pushing the potential over-saturation of your main keyword. This can improve your pull, increase retention and can actually build page strength for the main keyphrase, believe it or not.

Let’s get a little more specific.

Ah Yes, the Prerequisite Simple Illustration

The small business turtle, the sexiest of all turtlesYou are targeting “small business turtles” as your main keyword. Some naturally connected terms might be: turtle, corporate turtle, business reptiles, business turtle, and so on. List them, and see what you can make of them as far as search volume and competitiveness if appropriate.

Since “small business turtles” as the plural is your targeted phrase, this is the one you will have prominently in your meta title, like: Sexy Small Business Turtles | Greater Atlanta Business Turtles

I usually will include it in the meta description tag as well. Though it does not improve the ranking here, it will align in a SERP result. This makes a better connection for the user to your main point of this page: small business turtles.

The synonyms and relative terms really come into play in the body text, starting with the first header (H1, for those playing the home version).

Since we used the targeted keyphrase verbatim and partially in the title, I like to modify it in some way again in the first headline – so I might use some variation of “A business turtle”  in the header to change the plural to singular, and to remove one of the targeted modifiers, maybe: “This Business Turtle Brings Atlanta New Sexiness“. Note how it stays close to the title without duplicating it – this is the key.

I believe this adds some (very little, but a plus nonetheless) value to the main phrase (the keywords are still in it, just pared down a little) while not oversaturating it and making it look spammy with yet anotherexact match.

Over-optimizing your page can result in you not achieving the results you want, and it is often hard to detect for many people. Too many exact match keyphrases is VERY easy to see: as an optimizing strategy, to penalize, or even for your competitors to duplicate.

As you roll on through the page text then, you blend in your synonyms and related words. This allows you to also more naturally get your targeted keyword in there a couple more times (still usually needed to rank), but the flow and natural feel of the content will likely be better from using the synonyms.

Since a hand reviewer is going to see the relative terms as you staying on subject and perhaps offering a bit of depth, you win. If the algorithms become smarter (and they do) and start including more semantic connections in their valuations (which they seem to be doing), you win again.

Best of all, as a user, the intent of the page (to rank for “small business turtles”) is  masked behind a shroud of usefulness.

And the inherent sexiness of small business turtles, of course.

This also holds true for your anchor text of incoming links (when you can control it) – mixing it up with synonyms and variations makes them work better for most people in most situations. We’ll cover this aspect more in a later post.

Enjoy, all you turtle-lovers!