The digital space is constantly changing and evolving. As a result, eCommerce SEO strategies are always in flux as well.
One of the challenges of SEO marketing pertains to keywords–how they are used and how retailers implement them on their sites.
While there was once a time where keyword stuffing was an acceptable practice, those days are long gone. Today, the landscape is vastly different as focusing in on a single, exact keyword no longer produces the same results. Thanks to machine learning technologies, search engines have become increasingly sophisticated and refined in understanding natural language patterns and semantic terminology.
Under this paradigm, the challenge has quickly transitioned to an optimization problem surrounding the number of words with various meanings and synonyms.
Given that merchants cannot know which terms customers will use to search for a product or service, some sellers opt to cram their content with as many keywords and variants as they could possibly conjure.
However, some of Google’s recent keyword changes have made such attempts redundant and unnecessary. As a result, many retailers might just find that their content is surfacing for more searches due to these close variant changes.
But to fully understand how to leverage this development, it is imperative first to grasp precisely what close variant keywords imply.
What Are Keyword Variants?
Because language is such a vast and complex concept, many words often carry the same meaning as seemingly unrelated terms. For instance, while one consumer might conduct a search for “tennis shoes,” another might seek out “sneakers” while yet another individual could search for “trainers.” These three words may seem wholly unrelated. However, all three of these searches were effectively seeking to uncover the same thing.
Similarly, people often use words that have slightly different meanings but nonetheless use them interchangeably. An example of this linguistic peculiarity might be the use of the word “special” (meaning better, greater or otherwise different) which is often replaced with “unique” (meaning unlike anything else). While these words mean different things, they are often considered transposable.
Previously, search specialists would need to optimize keyword tactics for eCommerce SEO strategies to include each of a term’s variations if they wished to surface for a related search. This dynamic could often lead to awkwardly written and less-engaging content that felt clunky to readers. However, with Google’s changes to close variant keywords, these days may be drawing to a close.
As Google defines close variants:
“Close variants allow keywords to match to searches that are similar, but not identical to the targeted keyword, and help you connect with people who are looking for your business—despite slight variations in the way they search—reducing the need to build out exhaustive keyword lists to reach these customers.”
The company also notes that exact match keyword variants could include:
- Words that have been reordered but retain the same meaning (such as “men’s shoes” versus “shoes men’s”)
- Phrases that include or exclude function words such as prepositions, conjunctions, articles and similarly inconsequential words
While Google did offer some support for close variants previously, it was predominantly limited to misspellings, tense variations, pluralization, compound words and the like.
However, under Google’s new keyword model, the SERPs will include listings for pages that contain keyword synonyms. Which raises another important question:
How Should Keyword Variants Be Used?
Most webmasters and marketers welcome this change from Google. According to the company’s blog which outlines the changes, 15 percent of the searches processed by Google daily are new to the engine. Therefore, by applying the latest standards in how keywords register for various queries, sites can continue to remain relevant and effective, even in the face of changing search patterns.
With the alterations to close variant keywords, eCommerce SEO strategies benefit as sites will appear in searches that utilize the exact keywords employed on various pages, but also for synonymous terms that closely mirror the targeted phrases.
Without making any changes to the optimization of on-site content, retailers will likely witness a rise in search traffic and page rankings. That said, rewriting some content to align with the professed changes would probably prove beneficial. Through this paradigm, online retailers can focus their eCommerce SEO strategies less on keyword optimization and more on producing highly engaging copy.
Given the new Google standards, merchants should audit their content offerings to ensure a diverse range of keyword variants, synonyms and other analogous terms and phrases.
Even with the benefits touted from these changes, some may still wonder if there are more fruitful tactics for leveraging keyword variants.
The answer is yes.
When Are Variants Appropriate to Use?
As most are already aware, search engine users employ a variety of keyword variations to find the products and information they seek. These alterations include singular and plural forms of a word, misspellings, stemmings and similar permutations.
Retailers who target a particular keyword to rank for, utilizing only that specific keyword, will undoubtedly limit exposure for potential searches, leaving tons of viable traffic on the table.
By integrating a multitude of keyword variants in content and other on-site copy, merchants multiply the number of terms for which their content will be ranked. By going this route, in conjunction with Google’s new standards, eCommerce SEO strategies are fortified by driving traffic for the original keyword in addition to its variants.
Naturally, retailers will still want to target their primary exact keyword phrase in essential areas such as:
- Page titles: This area describes the page’s main subject to engines and users alike. Page titles show up as the blue link in the Google SERPs.
- URLs: Great URL structures are not only simple and include the main keyword(s), but also give Google and its users an idea about the page’s content.
However, the main place that retailers will want to utilize an abundance of keyword variants to enhance their eCommerce SEO strategies lies in the content for a given page. This is the ideal area to use keyword variants as content is one of the most significant elements for SEO performance.
Therefore, to effectively utilize keyword variants in content and copy, merchants should aim to include the exact keyword within the page’s first couple of sentences. From there, variations should be woven throughout the piece in a natural manner.
“Natural” is the keyword in that last sentence. With Google’s new keyword updates, retailers must write content that targets the customer’s interest, not search engines. Understandable and engaging content comes before all else. Google has the keyword thing covered.
Other areas that sellers will want to employ keyword modifications include:
- Meta descriptions: These have no bearing on SEO other than generating clicks. Write to entice consumers to check out the page’s content.
- Subheadings: These breaking points help make content scannable and easily consumable. Subheadings help to inform engines and readers on a piece’s relevance to their needs.
- Images: An image’s file name should reflect the relevance of the content and the image itself. This is a prime location for variants. Moreover, the image’s alt text should be used similarly.
- Anchor text: Employing the same anchor text over and over within the same piece throws up red flags for Google. Employ the exact keywords and some of its variations to diversify anchor texts.
- Social media posts: While social media is not an SEO ranking factor, there is a strong correlation between social shares and search rankings. Therefore, optimize keyword usage in posts by employing keywords and their variants early on in social updates.
Google’s best practices are continually changing. Fortunately, this one seems to benefit most retailers instead of harming them as some prior alterations have done.
Close keyword variants bring the prospect of increased clicks and conversions for retailers. However, it is still wise to seek out eCommerce SEO services that can leverage Google’s newest features to slingshot retailers toward the top of the SERPs.
Keep these keyword changes top-of-mind when altering or creating new content for online storefronts.