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Keyword order, word count and search engine optimization (SEO)

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Key Points

  • Word order matters in effective search engine optimization
  • A simple way to communicate word order in web page content is to use locational breadcrumb links
  • 300 words per page is not necessarily the ideal number for a well optimized page

Many keyword researchers and copywriters automatically assume that searchers type in a natural word order all of the time. Not so, according to SEO expert Shari Thurow who explains how accommodating different word orders can bring you a valuable traffic bonus.

A professional search engine optimization tool since 1995, Wordtracker has long been one of my favorites for keyword research. I have been able to identify and address design, website usability, copywriting and search behavior issues because of Wordtracker's search data. Two specific keyword research and copywriting issues I have solved through Wordtracker data are word order and word count.

Keyword Order and SEO

Many keyword researchers and copywriters automatically assume that searchers type in a natural word order all of the time. For example, if a potential customer is researching prices for helpdesk software, that person might type in the keyword phrase "help desk software prices" (without the quotation marks) directly into a commercial search engine's search box. If one reviews the keyword research data, the keyword phrase "help desk software" is used far more frequently than the keyword phrase "software help desk."

I had a lightbulb moment when I was researching keyword phrases for a mortgage site. One of the core keyword phrases for this client site is "home loans". Of course, the number of searches per month for this particular keyword phrase is high, often over 300,000 searches per month. But I also discovered that over 40,000 searches per month were for the reverse word order, "loans home." I could not ignore the reverse word order in web site copy. The search volume is too high.

One simple way to communicate word order in webpage content is to use locational breadcrumb links. Breadcrumb links, also known as contextual links, are a type of secondary navigation aid for web pages. They provide a textual representation of a site's structure, usually a vertical hierarchy of a site. They are quite useful for establishing a "sense of place" for searchers. Reason? When searchers go from a commercial web search engine to a web page, they do not always land on a site's home page. They often land somewhere in the middle of a site. Locational breadcrumb links quickly help searchers establish a mental model of a site's vertical hierarchy. Extra benefit? Effective breadcrumb links use the searchers' language. In other words, effective breadcrumb links should contain important keyword phrases.

On an ecommerce website, locational breadcrumb links often have the following format:

Home > Category > Subcategory > Product

On a smaller website, breadcrumb links might be as simple as:

Home > Category > Product

"How can I accommodate word order in breadcrumb links?" I thought. The mortgage site gave me one answer. I knew that both the singular and plural forms of the word "loan" were important. And I knew that over 40,000 searches per month were too important to ignore. So I came up with the breadcrumb trail:

Home > Loans > Home Loan

As you can see in this breadcrumb trail, I have accommodated the reverse word order and the natural word order. The keywords of the breadcrumb trail are further reinforced by headings, paragraphs, and other content. A qualified, experienced, search-friendly copywriter should know how to categorize and headline content using keywords that don’t act as obnoxious keyword stuffing.

Word Count and SEO

Have you ever wondered where SEO professionals come up with the magic number of at least 200 words per page? Or a keyword density percentage of between 4-8%? Some of these numbers come from analysis of currently ranking web pages. If SEO professionals see an average word count of 300 words in the top 10 results of search engine results pages (SERPs), then they often conclude that 300 is the "magic" number in a search engine algorithm.

Seems logical, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the field of search engine optimization is riddled with many logical fallacies. No one knows a search engine's algorithm no matter how persuasive a sales and technical team might be. I tend to base a page's word count on actual user data. For example, suppose a considerable number of web pages with a word count of between 400-800 words tend to rank well. Does that mean that every single web page should contain 400-800 words? No.

If a web page's content can communicate a full thought or idea, or can describe a product or service, with less than 400 words, then I would not purposely try to add words just to hit an imaginary word count standard. Many web pages which contain fewer than 400 words rank well. Through user testing, I have determined that a 200-250 word web page usually contains enough content to fully and accurately describe a product or service, using the users' language (keywords) and sales hype to encourage searchers to make a purchase or an inquiry.

Word count is not something I obsess about, nor do I overly obsess over keyword density. If a web page passes a five-second usability test, then I know the page is keyword focused.

Conclusion

Keyword research tools offer a wide variety of information about how searchers utilize words. Searchers often type keywords using a word order that might seem odd to a web site owner. But the word order seems perfectly logical to the searchers. By accommodating word order within web site content, search-friendly copywriters can make the products, services, and information on their web sites easier to find, before and after people arrive at their respective web sites.

Carry out your keyword research on the Wordtracker tool using a seven day Wordtracker trial.

About Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow, Founder and SEO Director of Omni Marketing Interactive Search Usability is one of the most popular speakers at search engine events throughout the world.

Her style is direct, practical and backed up with extensive experience and this is translated perfectly into print in the second edition of her popular book, “Search Engine Visibility”. The book has an excellent section on planning keyword strategy and gives you a clear direction to follow.

Ideal for developers, designers, programmers, and online marketers.

You can get her book here: