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Strange Synonym Bolding In SERPs... some sites have it, some don't

 7:26 am on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Maybe this has been discussed before and I missed it, but...

goolge will bold what it considers synonyms of the search term(s)in the titles and snippets in the serps.

For example, If I search for "dresses", often the word "gowns" is in bold text. (note: This is an example - I haven't actually tried the search wtih dreses and gowns as keywords).

But not for EVERY result.

For some sites, the synonym is bold, but for other sites, the synonym isn't bold - even when it seems clear that the synonym has the same meaning when used on all sites.

I've seen an example where 8 of the 10 sites on the first page did NOT have the synonym in bold text, while two did.

And it seemed consistent; if the title of a site had the synonym bolded, then the snippet would have the synonym bolded, too. And vice versa.

Did I just miss this all along? Or is this something new?



 8:13 am on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

I've just done some tests and this doesn't seem to be happening for me. Another one of Google's limited-user tests - or maybe just on certain terms? I know you can force what you are saying with a tilde search - maybe they are playing with making that default?


 9:23 am on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

It is hard to talk about widgets in this case, I'll try to keep it as generic as I can. I just did a search for "accommodation" paired with a U.S. city. A couple results actually had the word "accommodation" in the snippet and that was bolded. The other eight results all used "hotels" and it is bolded for me in every case. I went through to page 8 of the SERPs. Every site in the serps through page 8 has "hotel", "hotels", or "accommodation" bolded for me.


 3:50 pm on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

It is hard to talk about widgets in this case...

Yes, it is. However...

I am seeing instances this morning where:

1) The keyword is NOT bolded, but the synonym is (both text and snippet)

2) The keyword is NOT bolded, but the plural form is (and vice versa when the the keyword is a plural form)

3) In a two-word keyword phrases, I see instances where, if the keywords appear separated by other words, they ARE bolded, and some instances where they are NOT bolded when separated.

4) Instances where the first and third appearances of the keyword are bolded, but the SECONDED appearance is NOT bolded

I don't know about what you are finding, but it just seems inconsistent to me.


 5:39 pm on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Let's try an exception to the "widgets" restriction just for this thread. Please share some search words that show the odd bolding behavior - thanks.


 6:39 pm on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Am I the only person looking at more than their own site or past the top ten? These behaviors have been around quite a while now. In fact I don't even look for the mentioned abnomalities anymore. The only thing that irritates me is when none of the keywords or synonyms are present on the page but the site enjoys top rankings. That shouldn't be so.


 7:00 pm on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Let's try an exception to the "widgets" restriction just for this thread. Please share some search words that show the odd bolding behavior - thanks.

While I am glad to have the green light as it were, discretion being the better part of valor, I will have to first search for some out site my niche.

But let me just state that the phrase I a looking at is low volume - maybe in the range of 6K searches or LESS per month in local search.

If I find some keywords outside my niche that exhibit the same behavior, will post back here.


 11:38 pm on Aug 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

If is search for "couches", I don't get any synonyms bolded. If I search for "leather couches" I get "sofas" and "furniture" bolded.


 4:04 am on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

That's pretty interesting, deadsea. I don't remember ever seeing something like that before.


 8:09 am on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

I just ran a search in my niche for widget motors and all I got back was bolded widget engines. Makes me wonder if I should use more synonyms in my meta descriptions.


 2:09 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

Hmmm, I've been seeing this for a while now. I thought everyone knew about it. I've performed some searches where "only" the synonyms were in the top few spots and then came titles with the word I searched.

I'm diggin it! Why? Because I've been constructing titles for years that use synonyms judiciously.

Here's a great post from Bill Slawski that might shed some light on the matter...

More Ways a Search Engine Might Identify Synonyms to Expand Queries With

More information from Google...

Helping Computers Understand Language


 3:43 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

I don't really care if this comment is welcome here or not, but I'm saying it. Every time I post here it's not going to be "these are the best tips" or "to fix this problem here is the solution". Is this a discussion thread or not? Sometimes I never know. Feeling guilty about posting because my comment doesn't have the answers or solution. In this case agreed we aren't talking about a solution to a problem? Or am I wrong about that?

First great links to those articles. Very helpful.

I've noticed what's been talked about here. It's also the reason why I'm getting pissed off using Google. It's the same reason why I'm having to use "" on my searches. It's the reason why I feel like Google is taking my search and then saying I must mean this. Go for it. I simply will use Google less and less. Why?

People who use Google used it as is. People wrote websites under those pretenses. Know what you're searching for? Type it in a Google was a good dog and would follow your command. Page titles and your search terms or phrase is and has been of top importance. It's watered down. Sure some might be in good standing in terms of whether they considered synonyms when site building. The fact to me is, it makes using Google essentially junk. That's what I'm experience. Getting a bunch of crap that I'm not actually interested in. Whereas before I could hold command of my search terms. Now I get big head deciding on my behalf. No thanks. The proof is in the pudding. Using "" all the time now says there must be a search that gives me the keys to the bus. Jesus I can't even type #*$!xwwwwwcccccc and get the freakings .com of that.

So what? All webmaster rewrite the web so we can get in on this "synonym" trend of movement? The lack of control over Google as a searcher has really changed and this is a big part of it.

Again for me, if this is the "new" way, I don't seeing it as enhancing the search experience. I suppose not until we all rewrite and change our websites so that our page titles etc aren't so smart. If we water them down, it would appear that has more chance of success with this trend. Is this okay, what was my keyword seo, and now I must ask, okay, how does Google's brain interpret that keyword?

On another though, bolding means what in all this? That's emphasis or that's what the other site has done better than yours to rank for that phrase?

My last question is, is this in fact causing you less relevant search results? I ask because 80% of the web (total guess) content was created under the pretense that keywords and keyword phrases is the starting point. Over the years if you built a website that used general words, not emphasis on keywords, would you ever rank for anything? Sounds like pageoneresults has been but I'm curious. It's hard to explain. It might explain why a site like CNET covers any keyword phrase under the sun now whereas previously a site targeting specific keyword phrases could still get some organic. That was then and doesn't seem to be now. Is it because Google has watered down keyword importance? As in did the CNET blanket just get that much bigger so that you type in anything tech, Google takes their content over most others? Specialty sites which target fewer or single keyword phrases are just that. Too specific and must take a credibility hit?

I'm just asking this because the results are watered down in my opinion. Google is not fetching what I'm asking for and this synonym aspect is interesting in that regard. That is because the web wasn't built around vague and generalize terms.


 3:55 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

Interestingly I was discussing this observation yesterday. When I did reaseach for "country name" property it also bolded land. This in my view strengthens the need to include synonyms in what every copy that is produced.


 4:18 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

One thing you can be sure of - Google makes changes like this with one purpose - to meet the average searcher's need. They measure the data that's generated (and it is a LOT of data) and if the measured user response is not good, they will back out of it. They don't really care about anything else but the user data, including predictability of their results. Google has been a disruptive force from their very beginning - a disruptive force in a new and very disruptive medium.

So what's interesting to me is that they've clearly been building algorithms around when and how much synonyms should be folded into the search results. from some of these examples, it looks like multi-word queries stand a better chance, possibly because strong content on the exact matches is harder to come by, and strong content on synonyms is more likely to meet the average user need.

I don't think the average user much cares whether "leather couches" also returns "leather sofas" - in fact, I'll bet they do appreciate the synonym results.

Ever since Google went into semantics well over five years ago, it's been a wise web author than loosened up on the tight "keyword match" content writing.


 4:19 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

My last question is, is this in fact causing you less relevant search results?

Yes, absolutely less relevant search results. I was not aware how bad google's SERPs were until this last week, when i started to set up an aquarium (for a betta fish) and needed info on how to set it up properly.

Results were awful. Amazingly, results that I wanted that were SPOT ON from relevant sites (devoted entirely to betta fish aquariums) and had exact match titles were down below the fold. Lots of useless stuff ranked above it.

While I appreciate diversity and healthy competition - and would normally love to see bing take market share away from google - I unfortunately don't rank well at all in bing. So if bing split market share with google, I would probably have to start looking for a real job...


 4:41 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

I don't know whether this is something new or the SERPS have gone totally rubbish as i see a lot of spam floating on top.

Take this for an example. I search for "Panda recovery" and I see what as #1 and in bold?

"Pandora Reccovery".

ps: planet13, I am with you on whatever you said in that last comment. But I think if Bing picks up the share, we will see better trsffic from them :)


 5:29 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

I've had a couple minutes after fully waking up this morning. I do think that what this thread is talking about is most likely the cause of the disruption to rankings.

To say now that I've been too specific as to what my content is about? What? So, the issue now is that millions of websites made it too clear about what their content was about BECAUSE they focused on keywords? Wow. Bizarre is another word. Am I going to rewrite my content to accommodate Google mindset Aug 2011? Not a chance in hell. So Google now says to the world, guess what? Don't focus on keywords and keyword phrases. Just write content and we will decide what your page and site is all about. That's pretty much how I see it.

I'm not sure if the conclusion here is to create new content that removes keywords or what. Punished by Google for keyword overuse seems very likely in Panda world. Problem there? You aren't going to know what is or isn't overuse of keywords.

So rewrite your content to accomodate Google's "new way" or stick with what you have and get Bing traffic. Go too far to Google's way of thinking and perhaps Bing becomes more used. Then what? It's almost a choice that is going to have to be made.

All I can say is good luck SEO. With synonyms I see Google simply taking your search, asking self what we really mean (and those drop down suggestions aren't enough apparently) and then they have their list of sites that cover that general subject. If that site has a page of that subject, bingo, you get that result. Before it was seem that a site focused on that specific search would get organic traffic because it must be relevant.


 6:33 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

The synonyms I'm seeing (now that I'm looking for it) so far are all pretty good. Canine bolds dog and feline bolds cat. For one of my own interests, fireworks displays will bring up a bold fireworks shows.

I don't see anything inherently evil in this - as a searcher, an advertiser and publisher, this works well for me. I haven't seen any synonyms that are really really off yet. Don't understand why anyone would be surprised or upset by it either - it's all about Google trying to figure out intent after all.

And I'm speaking as someone whom Google has considered a typo since day one, asking people searching for me if they really mean nutmeg


 8:55 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm wondering though, and it's a theory, does this mean that if somebody types in "white feline", that Google pre Panda suggested and gave priority to those sites specific to "white feline", whereas now Google says okay, this site is about cats, and is a good site, so we will put them above that specific "white feline" site? Make sense? It may explain the impact of Panda on some sites. So if there were 100 sites pre Panda that Google would really look at, with the loosening of keyword importance, does that number suddenly change from 100 choices to 1000 or 100000? Your chances of competing in competitive areas pre Panda may just have another 1000 contestants for that exact keyword or phrase. If synonym importance in Google has changed, then that tells me keywords and keyword phrases just took a serious kick in the nuts.

I think to figure out intent, people could use quotes "" on their search. That pretty much should spank them on the rear as to say this is what I want an not this synonym results. Make sense? My point is though Google addressed intent but the drop down suggestions which you cannot turn off.

So to summarize, if synonym is or are the new keywords as it were, then instead of 100 people going for that organic traffic, there is likely 1000x that number now. I personally think that there is something very substantial in this and it's making a lot of sense to me as to what's happened and is happening in terms of rankings.

If you type your search without quotes, notice results. Put it in quotes and then see the complete flip flop results. It says to me that more than ever, what you type into Google is less important than it used to be. It's like you enter the interpretation machine and then get the results. The machine isn't working well for me but perhaps it's going to get smarter in the coming months. If Google isn't listening to the keywords as loudly then chances are as a searcher you're going to be missing out on a vast number of expert niche websites that were once top rankers.


 9:08 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

Synonyms are not new at all - they been integrated for many, many years. I remember discussing this shift at Pubcon Orlando, right after the Florida Update. I doubt that Panda is directly aimed in this direction - except that it may be punishing over-the-top "SEO copywriting" - something I've hated for years.

What may be new is the way the algorithm is evolving to plug them into the SERPs under certain conditions and not others.

What this direction does, IMO, is liberate writers to actually write well again. What good writer doesn't use synonyms and co-occurring phrases? I've been paid for writing since my undergraduate years and when SEO copy came along, I hated it - it was just a necessary evil.

Google is not a text-match retrieval search engine. It's been moving away from that fixation for several years. The average person doesn't get it and never did, only the tecchies and scholars could get it.

I'm all for this change. I think one of the reasons is that for some search queries there may be a lot of "results" but very few are top quality. Google wants to offer relevance (and synonyms are still relevant).

I'd say that quality content, quality writing that really addresses the market's needs, is the right way to go because it is the way Google is headed (and Bing too, by the way!) It's also what every market really needs and wants. Even if Google falls short in some areas for now, that doesn't mean we should overreact. Take the long term view and you can build long-term success.

[edited by: tedster at 11:42 pm (utc) on Aug 10, 2011]


 9:09 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

Try searching for a less common term. Especially one in a foreign language. If you (that is, I) forget to put the search in the "exact phrase" box (I've had Advanced Search in my bookmarks bar for years), g### will give you something that is not even remotely similar to what you entered. It will start with the same one or two letters, and will have a couple of random letters in common, but there is absolutely no way their alternative could be considered either a synonym or a typo. It's purely "You can't possibly have meant X, when the wholly unrelated Y gives ten times as many hits".


 11:31 pm on Aug 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

I believe that the synonym widening is part of the vision of Panda. From what I understand, Google was getting lots of bad press about abysmal results in the medical field. If you search for the official name of a condition you got excellent results. If you search for common names, or "what should I do for X" or "X treatments" the results were not so good. Content farms were targeting all the variations with poorly written content that didn't come from people knowledgeable about the condition or the medical field in general.

Google's algorithms are designed to:
1) Identify the content farms and penalize them
2) Allow reputable sites to rank for a wider variety of keywords, even those that they don't directly target.

Up until this year if you wanted traffic at all the relevant phrases in your niche, you would have had to create a page for each of them. Each page could really only rank competitively for one phrase. Its clear to me that Google has changed the rules. Now a single page can rank for the main target phrase ("X widgets") as well as synonyms for widgets and variations on the target phrase such as "Widgets in X" and "Where can I get X widgets".

Ranking for multiple similar phrases is a must for any website that depends on SEO. Creating a page per phrase may now be considered a sign of spam even though it has long been a great white hat tactic. This is an area in which I wish Google would come out with some advice for webmasters. As a webmaster, how do you let Google know about all the phrases that are relevant to your business? First it was keyword stuffing, then meta keywords, then page titles, then external anchor text, then page titles again. What is it now? If we are left to figure it out for ourselves, I fear that a handful of blackhats will figure it out and exploit it before it is well known in the whitehat community. Google is shooting itself in the foot by not releasing more information about the main signals their current algorithms use to determine relevance.


 2:12 am on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Just to bring this thread back on topic for a moment;

1) Are others swing the INCONSISTENTCY in holding of synonyms that I am seeing?

2) Does anyone have a theory on why there is that inconsistent holding?

I was really hoping to hear suggestions on how to ensure our synonyms. ARE bolder in the titles and snippets.


 4:47 am on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Sorry, that should read "bolding" of synonyms, not the "holding" of synonyms.


 5:09 am on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

well its not new. Its been like that since months especially after google synonym update last year


 5:24 am on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

2) Does anyone have a theory on why there is that inconsistent holding?

If it's working as it should:

Because some synonyms are more synonymous than others, depending on the query.

"Pain medicine" turns up both pain reliever and pain relief bolded in the results. And they're more or less interchangeable in meaning as far as synonyms go, as long as you're not talking about the American Academy (Board?) of Pain Medicine (which makes up many of the page 1 results.)

A query for cocoa recipe turns up the bolded synonym hot chocolate. But note, not merely "chocolate". Why? Because cocoa could mean hot chocolate or the ingredient cocoa in this query, but is less likely to mean just "chocolate."

Similarly, the query cadbury milk won't have the synonym "dairy" bolded, because both "milk" and "dairy" in this context are all about the chocolate - they're not about each other.

Although using this logic, I'd kinda think milk allergy would include related terms "dairy" or "casein", but no. So maybe it has to do with the number of closely relevant results...? Or just data on how interchangeable the terms really are? I've often thought that terms which you'd think are interchangeable may very well not be. Like:

brown skirt
skirt brown

Google may "know" from the data that people typing in brown skirt want a brown skirt OR DRESS, but that people typing in skirt brown definitely want a skirt, ideally with some brown in it.


 7:25 am on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

brown skirt
skirt brown

Google may "know" from the data that people typing in brown skirt want a brown skirt OR DRESS, but that people typing in skirt brown definitely want a skirt, ideally with some brown in it.

Then again, the first group may have been aiming for "brown shirt" and mis-typed. As a pre-existing phrase it's definitely got the advantage. (Not to g###, though: I just checked.)


 12:29 pm on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yeah, I didn't actually check the SERPs for the brown skirt thing, it's more of an example. But it's funny to see one interpretation I totally didn't think of - skirt steak and Alton Brown.


 1:27 pm on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

In the book "I'm Feeling Lucky - Confessions of Employee 59" by Doug Edwards, he states that click through rate on AdWords went up 400% by bolding the keyword in adword from the query string.


 1:39 pm on Aug 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

I don't know that you can force synonym matching, but if it were a concern I guess my first attempt would be to make sure all the words I want to see as synonyms showed up somewhere on my site, probably in reasonably close proximity to each other (while still sounding like it was written by a human) Maybe not such an easy task, given how difficult it is for most people to write well. Also, there's synonyms and there's synonyms, and what one person consider a spot on match might not be considered the same by another (or Google).

Personally I don't think it's the best use of anyone's time to try to manipulate it, since we know so little about it and it seems very subjective at the moment.

This 39 message thread spans 2 pages: 39 ( [1] 2 > >
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