SBS Mailbag: How Should I Target Related Keywords?

Filed in SEO by Matt McGee on June 16, 2009 8 Comments

John recently emailed me with a situation that isn’t uncommon for business big or small: a variety of spellings/versions of the primary business keywords. John wants to know the best way to optimize for these variations, and specifically if he needs to create tons of landing pages to target each one. I haven’t seen John’s web site, his keyword list, the pages he’s talking about, or the copy he’s writing, but I’ll share some general advice after you read John’s email.

How Should I Target Related Keywords?

Situation: While doing keyword research related to our dog exercise and pet sitting business, I noticed that my main keywords have a variety of spellings, word spacing, and use of suffixes of “-er”, “-ers”, and “-ing”, for example “dog runner”, “dog runners”, and “dog running”. If I take all of these into account – and especially if I add location modifiers – I could easily have up to eight landing pages for each main keyword/phrase.

Question: If I have multiple and different landing pages for a similar term, such as a unique page for each of: “doggie day care”, “doggy daycare”, and “doggy day care – Chicago, Evanston, Northshore”, will the search engines reward me for being so specific or will they penalize me for having near duplicate content other than the different spelling/case/spacing of the key words (I will have unique page titles and meta info for each keyword/phrase)? I don’t mind the effort/time to make all these pages, but just want to make sure I’m not doing myself harm.

My Reply

You don’t need to — and shouldn’t — create separate web pages for every spelling variation of your primary keywords if the only thing unique on the pages will be how you spell the keyword. It’s not user-friendly, nor is it SEO-friendly. Will the search engines penalize you? Well, generally speaking, there’s no penalty for duplicate content. But if you overdo it and create a lot of junky pages with no benefit to users, you get penalized indirectly when the search engine sees that a high percentage of your pages are of no value.

Consider the Google search results for the phrase “doggie daycare”:

(I’ve removed the Google Maps results to keep the screenshot a reasonable size.)

Google screenshot

In the top five pages, there are three different versions of the keyword, and the exact match (“doggie daycare”) isn’t even ranked first. Search engines algorithms are very good at handling multiple spellings and versions of words and phrases. They recognize that “day care” and “daycare” are the same thing, and that “doggy” and “doggie” are the same thing. This means you don’t have create separate pages for each version of your primary keywords. But you can, and probably should still target the spelling variations in different ways. Read on….

How I’d Optimize John’s Keywords

1.) Geographic considerations: I’m not super familiar with the geography John mentions, but on the assumption that Evanston is a unique city/town and not part of Chicago, I’d have separate pages for the two cities. On each page, I’d talk about the fun things you do while taking care of other people’s dogs. I’m guessing there are different parks and locations John uses when walking/running dogs for his clients in these areas. Talk about the best places for dogs in each area.

2.) Runner vs. Runners vs. Running: All of these can be used on a single page. Keyword research should reveal which one is the primary keyword, but you can use these kinds of phrases in your page copy to cover all versions of the keyword:

“…professional dog runner with XX years of experience…”
“…many dog runners to choose from, but none offer the attention we do…”
“…our dog running service is…”

And you go from there, continuing to use the different versions of the main keyword in your page copy — without overdoing it.

3.) Doggy, Doggie, Daycare, Day Care: This one is a little different because you’re talking about different spellings of the same thing. If you had a ton of time and money, you could do all kinds of keyword research and competitive analysis to determine what spelling would be best to target, but since you’re a small business, I’d guess you have better things to do with your time and money.

As the screenshot above shows, it really doesn’t matter much how you handle this. So, I’d probably find a way to elegantly put both “daycare” and “day care” in the page title(s). Then I’d choose either “doggie” or “doggy” and use one across the site. And I’d call it good and move to something that’ll be a better use of your time than fretting over “doggy” or “doggie” and “daycare” or “day care.”

Your turn: How would you suggest John optimize in this situation? Did I give bad advice? Did I forget something important? Comments are open, please share your thoughts!

(image courtesy Bogdan Situ via Creative Commons)

Comments (8)

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  1. Rebecca says:

    I completely agree with your suggestions. And would add that if your budget allows you should capture misspellings, other word uses through a PPC (pay per click) campaign. It makes much more sense and looks better for your business if you use the “grammatically” correct words/phrases on your website and reserve the misspellings for off page traffic generators.

  2. Stever says:

    Like Matt said, Google is often pretty good at associating the roots of words with their plural and other variations. Not always, but often enough. But if you consistently use and optimize for one version only, “runners”, you will rank very well for “runners” and you might still make page 1 for “runner” or “running” but probably not do quite as well as for the specific version you’ve optimized for.

    In your title tag you can be limited, but some creative phrasing can cover more than one variation, without looking like obvious spamming and jamming of keywords.

    “Chicago Doggy DayCare | Day Care for Dogs | Evaston, Northshore”

    There we just covered both versions of daycare, on version of Doggy and the plural of the root, Dogs. At 65 characters exactly we are right at Google’s limit AND we we’re still able to hit all 3 location names.

    I would at least do some research into which version of Doggy/Doggie was more common and use the more common one in the title tag, then the second most common one in the H1 title at top of page content.

    Then throughout the text of the page intermix the usage of dog/doggy/doggie and again for day care/daycare.

    The one part you missed Matt, anchor text in links. In your link building have some links pointing to your page have one version in the anchor text, then other links use another version. And/or, as with many small businesses external link building can be a difficult task, the internal linking on the pages in your website should use some variation in anchor text linking to that page. You might be limited in how your site template does navigational links in a sidebar or upper tab bar, but text based links within the body of your content can, and should, be covering that task.

  3. Michael says:

    I would suggest to the client that initially that they target the highest traffic keyword. Once they get traction on that word, then they can start optimising for related keywords around it. They could vary the anchor text in directory submissions, include variations in the onpage text, internally create links for those keywords, strong tagetc. Further, effective use of tagging could increase the chances of getting ranked for a multiple number of the keywords.

  4. Allyn says:

    I would use a few of the variations on the page as you mentioned but more importantly, I would get some anchored links TO my page with those keywords.
    I bet three or four well managed Squidoo lenses with each variation linking to the site could take over just about every possibility of “doggy daycare Evanston, IL” … maybe an article submission or two just for good measure.
    Local is easy with just a few anchored links. My opinion is that anchored links (off page SEO) weighs heavier than on page seo… but it is just an opinion. LOL

  5. With semantic features being added to search engines, I would not worry so much about the variations of doggy and daycare. Eventually, “canine care” will be easily associated with those keywords.

    As for the city situation, my experience has been that searchers will look for “Chicago area” or simply “Chicago” first, before honing in on the smaller adjoining town. Someone in Blue Island or Crestwood or any other city would recognize that most businesses would consider themselves as serving the greater community of the region, which is Chicago (I am in Houston myself, and face a similar situation with number of cities). I do mention zip codes and other city names on various pages, and that has worked out well with the search engines.

  6. Anup says:

    Great Article!

    I have found by experience that anchored links do serve the goal so I would not include too many variants on the page.

    PPC is also a great way of capturing variants and misspellings. I get 50% extra sales just through spelling variants on PPC

  7. Rachel says:

    Great suggestions. I was trying to explain this to another one of our clients who were insisting on having multiple websites for keyword variations. And yes agree that PCC helps to capture keyword variations, that’s if your budget allows for it of course

  8. Marcus says:

    I can’t fault your advice. But Google is not always as smart as to realise certain words are interchangeable, and other times it substitutes unrelated words, although both these concerns are becoming less of an issue over time.

    Yes, I’d just sprinkle the sub variations of the word throughout the content body. Unless there is a very large amount of unique traffic for the individual words, then they might deserve their own pages, with their own original content.

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