SEO Basic Tip #5 – Be Careful When Optimizing for Acronyms

picture of a stickie with a three letter acronym OMG written on itTo all you SEO, SEM and SMO professionals: as an FYI, you’d better learn this PDQ: TLA.  I even have a URL to help you FIO.*

TLA is the most fun acronym of them all: Three Letter Acronym.  And we, my friends, are awash in TLA’s, in case you haven’t noticed.  It’s a symptom of our abbreviated age.  No one has time to speak in words, so we use TLA’s, or sometimes FLA’s (yes, you have cracked the code, I mean “Four Letter Acronyms”).

To follow up on this SEO tip, you will need that URL that I promised you above to help you FIO.  You will find it in point number 1 of my step-by-step guide below, but first a bit of explanation.

You will often encounter situations where you want to be found for an acronym that is common to your industry or your client’s industry.  But how do you know that acronym is not also used in another industry?  Or another context.  I’ll take an example out of my past.  I grew up in the import industry, and one of the most common acronyms we dealt with was FOB, Freight on Board (alternately Free on Board).  What if I wanted to capture the interest of importers in that phrase and so I optimized a page for FOB?  I might capture some of that interest.  On the other hand, I might also snare military people learning about FOB (Forward Operating Bases), or music lovers interested in the band FOB (Fall Out Boy), or wedding planners wondering how to handle the FOB (Father of the Bride).   And in the 90’s you would have found lots of political junkies searching for FOB’s (Friends of Bill…Clinton that is) All of those are common uses of the TLA FOB.

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Dealing with this situation is fairly simple, as long as you don’t take it for granted that all audiences will use acronyms the same way.  Before you optimize for an acronym, follow this vetting process:

  1. Search for your acronym on Acronym Finder. (That’s the URL I promised you)
  2. If any of the acronyms look like they might appeal to a significant segment of the market, do a Google search and see what comes up.
  3. If competing acronyms come up that might confuse your audience, always make sure that your on-page optimization (and off-page if you can swing it) carries a generous mix of both the acronym and its complete parent phrase.
  4. Make sure that the theme of your page is built around a number of high value terms that are meaningful to the industry that you are targeting, so Google is able to determine what the general topic of the page is (they are quite good at figuring out that type of thing, thanks to their emphasis on natural language processing)

Oh, and BTW, you might be interested in the acronyms in the first sentence, so let me rephrase that…

*Opening sentence, with the TLA’s translated: To all you SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SMO (Social Media Optimization) professionals: as an FYI (For Your Information), you’d better learn this PDQ (Pretty Damn Quick): TLA (Three Letter Acronym).  I even have a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) to help you FIO (Figure it Out).*

Dang!  Now I see why we use acronyms.  TG for TLA’s!

Ross Barefoot

Ross Barefoot is Chief Technical Officer with Horizon Web Marketing in Las Vegas, Nevada.He also is the founder of FLEXISS Digital Design and a Certified Search Engine Optimization Trainer for the Search Engine Academy.

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