Dealing with alternative terminology

When you’re setting up and managing search advertising campaigns, alternative terminology is your bread and butter. One company’s fast blue widget is another’s blue fast widget. Covering every possibility in search advertising is easy. Covering every possibility in search engine optimisation, however, is much more difficult.

The biggest problem is when your company policy insists a product is called a fast blue widget when all the competitors (and customers) call it a blue fast widget. If you find yourself in this situation, search advertising on the more common term is the only way out. And if company policy means you still need to use your unique terminology in the advert, then expect to pay over the odds for a decent position on the page.

For most companies though, alternative terminology is just something which exists in their market, and there’s little which can be done about it. In the past, if you wanted to rank in the search engines for fast blue widgets and blue fast widgets, you’d probably need to set up separate pages. Nowadays, Google has developed a big enough database to decide that many terms are equivalent, even if technically, that may not be quite true. It’s worked this out by analysing what people click on; if it promotes a page about “fast blue widgets” in the searches for “blue fast widgets”, and finds that the clickthrough rate is fine, it concludes that searchers see the two terms as interchangeable.

Take a look, for example, at how Google has decided “sensors” and “transducers” are equivalent; note that the word “transducer” is nowhere to be seen in the first result for a search on “pressure transducers”:


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However, the two terms aren’t deemed totally equivalent, or both sets of results would be identical. Seven websites appear in both searches, but five only appear in one or the other, and these include examples in the top four positions. I suspect the and sites have targeted one search over the other ruthlessly over the years, with highly focused links and general SEO.

I doubt that strategy will work as well in the future. My guess is that going forward, if you appear in one search, you’re increasingly likely to appear more strongly in the other too, so there’s a decreasing need to try to cover both. However, if you can use both terms, on the same page, as many of the commercial results above are doing, then I would do just that.

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