How the Evolution of Language and Business Alters SEO

Gerber originally had a tagline that they were all about babies and babies were their business. Then the birth rate dropped in the 1970s, and there were not as many babies who needed their baby food line or diapers. Gerber faced a choice – find new lines to expand into or deal with decreased demand. Gerber chose scope creep, and they started selling toddler specific foods – in short, expanding the definition of baby food so that they sold food to the same children for another year or two. That measure was a success, given the toddler meals and juice boxes still on the shelves today. Gerber also expanded into life insurance, promising that it was an investment in the child’s future while receiving the potential of payments on an insurance policy for another decade or two per child.  Today, an internet search for Gerber has as many results on baby food as life insurance.

Demand for products and key words can change over time, too. A decade ago, the term “problematic” was only used conversationally by repair people who didn’t want to scare a customer by saying, “That doesn’t sound good, and it isn’t good for your budget, either.” XKCD created a comic showing the upward trajectory of the use of the term “sustainable”, and we have seen this term not only replace “eco-friendly’ and “green” for environmentally friendly but get used as a description of long term business relationships that require little effort to maintain or will generate stable revenue over a long term. Thus sustainable can refer to low waste manufacturing, the use of renewable materials, or continually profitable and stable business relationships.

Search engine optimization can face a similar problem to these. One possibility is that the terms for your industry or organization change, such as when Six Sigma is replaced by Continuous Process Improvement or “green” becomes “sustainable”. The linguistic shifts thus make your SEO strategy obsolete.  If the descriptive terms used for your product or service are changing, your SEO strategy needs to adapt as well. In particular, look for new (ideally positive connotation) terms getting used for your product, service or company and incorporate them into your search engine optimization.

Another problem your search engine strategy faces is the shifting meaning of terms. If you did an internet search on “problematic” a decade ago, it would show up more troubleshooting articles or legal/ethical quandaries, whereas today’s searches will show more debates on hot button political topics. A search on “trans” a decade ago would be as likely to show trans-fats like in margarine as transgenders, whereas today it is overwhelmingly an LBGT related term. If your SEO doesn’t adapt to the current usage of the terms, your SEO strategy will become unfocused or associated with the wrong niche.

One potential problem is the political import given to terms, making them suddenly charged or “problematic”. While you cannot keep up with the day to day political whims of what terms are considered problematic, it is wise to make certain that your site isn’t using terms now considered outright offensive. And you don’t want to rewrite your content and adjust your SEO strategy in response to one fringe group or brief bout of hysteria before it moves on to something else. This issue isn’t limited to ever changing politically charged terms – the new meanings of commonly used words for technical and scientific problems can make walking into an industry conference an exercise in frustration.  When they use popular terms in new ways, the average audience member is lost – and this is true whether they are sitting in a conference room or trying to read your content.

Your SEO strategy does need to take latent semantic indexing into account to make certain those terms are properly placed in the content and context. The balancing act is realizing that words have different meanings in different contexts, like the routers used in the computer lab being very different from the routers in the workshop, and clearly communicating that to both readers and search engines. When it comes to search engines, a secondary search term incidence of half the rate of the key search term is considered ideal.  Don’t neglect keeping up with what terms continue to refer to your industry and are associated with your product or service. For example, does your product have fast delivery or offer on demand service? Which term are your customers using to look for that type of prompt order processing and quick delivery?

A variation of this problem is the use of acronyms as shorthand for the full terms. You want to dominate the search engine results for any abbreviations of your company name or product name over anyone else who may use the same acronym. This is essential if the company acronym has replaced the legal name of the company, as is true for IBM (International Business Machines) and KPMG.  In your standard content, you need to take care to spell out acronyms at least one at the beginning of any content that uses the acronym so that readers unfamiliar with the term will understand it. This act also improves the proper classification of the content’s context as associated with your industry/company name/product instead of another.

Keep in mind any business terms that are being turned into standard abbreviations, such as key performance indicators becoming KPI, so that you can optimize your content for both the main search term and abbreviations people will likely use to find it. And when you use acronyms, make certain that their usage flows well when read by an information appliance or infotainment center instead of sounding strange.

The key takeaways are:

  • Keep up with the terms that become highly charged and consider removing them from your content when the associations will hurt you.
  • Keep abreast of the terms used for your business, your product and general usage of your product so that your content doesn’t sound dated or drifts out of optimization.

Take care to spell out acronyms in your content and ensure that they aren’t used so heavily that readers won’t understand them.