03 Feb 2021

Try Not to Be Awkward: 5 Tips for Writing Seamlessly Optimized Content

My first lesson in creating SEO content: Try not to be awkward. The inclusion of well-researched keyword phrases in your content is crucial. But it’s just as important to include these words and phrases in a way that flows, reads well, and doesn’t alert the reader to your attempts to sneak in these phrases. 

I wrote the phrase “try not to be awkward” on a sticky note and attached it to my monitor because, hey, it was solid advice for both content optimization and my social life.

It’s admittedly not always easy to achieve grace in the written word or spoken word. Some keyword phrases are just plain awkward, no matter how you slice them.

Thankfully, I’ve learned some tricks for dressing up some common keyword phrases that don’t always fit naturally into a well-written sentence. Here are some tips for making even the most awkward keyword phrases blend into well-written content that keeps its focus on readability and user-intent:

1. Use Stop Words

When dealing with awkward keyword phrases, stop words are one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. A stop word doesn’t change the meaning of the phrase.  Inserting them into a phrase will not affect Google’s ability to recognize your inclusion of the keyword phrase. Some of the most common and useful stop words are:

  • A
  • The
  • Is
  • And
  • Of
  • Or
  • An
  • in

For example, you’ll often come across a location based phrases, such as “SEO services New York”.  The stop word “in” can be applied to make this phrase sound much more natural. 

It becomes: “SEO services in New York”.  Let’s say you also need to use the keyword phrase, “New York internet marketing companies”. This is a great opportunity to combine two phrases naturally by using the stop word “and”. The phrase becomes:  “SEO services and New York internet marketing companies” to knock out two phrases in one sentence.

As an example, the sentence might read: Those searching for SEO services and New York Internet marketing companies should turn to … (your fabulous business).

(Please note that I’m bolding the phrases for easy reference. You should NOT bold keyword phrases within your content.)

2. Make Clever Use of Apostrophes

Unlike stop words, the placement of an apostrophe can change the meaning of a phrase. For example if the phrase is “womens sneakers”, it won’t be read the same as “women’s sneakers”.  See for yourself. Here are the top three results for “womens sneakers”:

SERPs

vs “women’s sneakers”:

There are two problems here. 

The results are slightly different (which could be a normal fluctuation) and “womens sneakers” isn’t grammatically correct. Some say Google is now smart enough to ignore whether you include the apostrophe, but it does change the meaning or intention of the search term and as you can see, it may alter results. 

A clever way to be grammatical and still capture the targeted phrase is to change where you’ve placed the apostrophe.  So in this case womens becomes womens’.   This is technically correct (it’s the possessive form of the plural).  

If you search for “womens’ sneakers” you’ll find the same results as searching for “womens sneakers” while still being grammatically correct. Putting both “women’s sneakers”, which has different results and “womens’ sneakers” into your content will expand your opportunities. 

If you find yourself in the position of having to decide whether or not to add that apostrophe for grammar’s sake, I would recommend adding it. When in doubt, write well, and trust that Google is smart enough to understand your intent.

3. Split the Phrase in Two

Much like stop words, you can insert a period or comma into your keyword phrase to help work it fluidly into the content. You can test this for yourself and see that search results won’t change.

Content marketing New York”, “content marketing. New York”, and “content marketing, New York” will also provide the same results, but the first example of the phrase is very likely to sound awkward in a sentence.

Using the comma can make the phrase fit into a sentence without making the reader trip up and disengage from the content. A sentence like: “For superior content marketing, New York entrepreneurs can rely on my expert services” sounds natural and still makes full use of the targeted keyword phrase.

4. Use Quotation Marks

This method should be reserved for the most awkward of phrases. It’s not preferred and often looks a bit off, but it’s better than shoving in an ungrammatical keyword phrase. You’ve likely come across phrases like, “vintage clothing near me” that have a high search volume.

Keep in mind that for these “near me” phrases, searchers are often looking for map results, but if you need to work this type of phrase or something similar into your copy, quotation marks are usually the most sensible way to do it. 

An example: “If you’ve been searching for “vintage clothing near me”, look no further than Flora’s Boutique.”

5. Consider the Context

The simplest trick to avoiding awkwardness (in writing and in life) is to remember the context of what you’re speaking of.  If you’re trying to include the phrase: “best cat food” in a piece that’s subject is about cat behavior, not food, it’s easy to make this awkward.

An example of awkward use: “Most cats need a lot of stimulation from novelty toys and their own place to sleep and eat, along with the best cat food to feel safe and content.”

A better use of the keyword phrase: “Most cats need a lot of stimulation from novelty toys, as well their own space to sleep and eat to feel safe and content. Providing, exercise, shelters, and safe spaces will keep your cat healthy and happy. Considering your cat’s moods and behavior is as important to their health as providing them with the best cat food.”

In the second example, the context of the cat behavior topic was focused on, but mention of the cat food sounds more natural.

The easiest way to avoid awkwardness is to focus on writing well. Google and other search engines are smarter than ever, and you can rest assured that if you’ve written clearly and written well, Google will understand the audience you’re trying to reach and award your efforts!

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