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SEO and Apostrophe: A Love Story

October 20th, 2009 by

SEO and the ApostropheThere’s a war going on right now and if we grammar do-gooders don’t fight, evil will prevail. I’m talking about the battle of the English language against that little search box you see on Google.com.

The problem: Whether they’re in a hurry, don’t give a hoot, or don’t know any better, people often type keywords into search engines with complete disregard to appropriate punctuation. Case in point: the apostrophe. Why should it matter if someone types “bachelor’s degree” or the grammatically incorrect version “bachelors degree” into a search box? It matters because it can affect your organic search engine ranking, and therefore sway how you optimize content on your website. This exact scenario happened with a client who hired us to develop a Tip & Advice Center for their website and sponsor BachelorDegree.LifeTips.com.

Let’s start by examining the volume of each phrase, i.e., how many people are searching these two terms.

Keywords Local Search Volume: September Global Monthly Search Volume


bachelors degree
673,000
301,000
bachelor’s degree
165,000
90,500

Data source: AdWords

The incorrect spelling of the word has more than three times (301,000) the monthly search volume of the correct one (90,500). And if you do a Google search typing in each of the phrases, the top three listings will be the same, but after number four the results are different. You’d naturally want to optimize the content on your site to appeal to as wide an audience as possible to get the most traffic to your site. This would essentially mean using the misspelled keyword in the tips, articles and other content on your site.

Stop there! How could any self-respecting web editor knowingly corrupt the English language like this? Sell out our dignity for higher traffic? I don’t think so.

There are a few reasons why we don’t have to sell our souls to the anti-punctuation devil. First and foremost, you never want your web content to contain misspellings. Let’s say you get lots of traffic to your site with the misspelled version and your visitors now notice the discrepancy because they read the word in context, say in your homepage copy. You, my friend, have just lost your credibility. (Especially if you’re in the business of education—educated people tend to notice these things.) Furthermore, I learned in a heated online forum debate that you can optimize your page in places that readers don’t see and search engines do—in your metadata. That means you can put “bachelors degree” in the <meta name=”keywords”> tag in the <head> section, which is distinct from the text that appears in the <body> section that visitors read. But because search engines now place little importance on meta keywords in response to widespread misuse, you’ll want to use the misspelling along with the correct spelling in the <title> tag too.

There’s another way that we’re harnessing traffic generated by the misspelled keyword phrase. We optimized the <body> copy on the LifeTips sponsorship page to contain various forms of “bachelors degree” and linked these keywords to the client’s website. This way our client gets back link popularity from higher-volume search terms without any pesky grammar faux pas living on their website and diluting their image.

Have you ever encountered grammar and punctuation conundrums when optimizing the content on your site? What’s your reaction when you read web content that contains misspellings?

One Response to “SEO and Apostrophe: A Love Story”

  1. Byron white says:

    Hmmmm.

    I suspect Googl’s spider bot has the smarts to detect the evil optimizers that are destroying the english language regularly while trying to improve listing positions in the search engines and jimmy rig page rank.

    It’s just a shame that the spider bots don’t put stars on the forehead of savvy writers like you that keep the great content flowing to readers like me.

    Five Stars Up on that post!

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205 Portland St
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Boston, MA 02114
617-227-8800
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