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When Graham wrote his blog post “SEO and Apostrophes: A Copywriter’s Tale”, it was in response to an office debate he had been having with me in recent weeks, regarding the use of apostrophes on websites. The whole reason the post was written was because I was of the opinion that for SEO purposes it is acceptable to drop the odd apostrophe for keyword targeting purposes, and the search volumes are certainly in my favour there. The example used by Graham showed that 33,100 people search for “Mens Clothing” on average per month, while just 12 search for “men’s clothing”, with the apostrophe.
My opinion has always been to target what people are looking for, and while I’m not one of these who thinks grammar should be done away with completely for SEO purposes, I sometimes think rules like this could be relaxed a bit. It is generally my thought process that it doesn’t change the meaning of the word by leaving the apostrophe out of “Mens”.
However, reading Graham’s post swayed me to do some further research into apostrophes in SEO, after his impassioned and stoic stance on the issue made me doubt myself a little bit...
Keyword Tests - With and Without Apostrophes
Graham showed rankings for a couple of test phrases to prove his point, and I am happy to take that a little further as the only way to win or lose an argument is by statistics, and his are compelling at face value.
I’m not going to launch into a full scale test on this as that would be very time consuming, and I am also not saying that I’m completely right, as I know I’m not. However, I have found a few select examples to back up my point. Green means with apostrophe, red is without.
Basically, the first table shows that a website NOT using apostrophes ranks number 1 for the higher volume version of the keyword without the apostrophe (BooHoo), and a different website ranks number 1 for the infinitely less competitive version that does use the apostrophe (Missguided).
Now, I know there could be hundreds of different ranking factors, and this is mainly based on meta titles as there is no real text on those pages, but what if Missguided were to change their meta and content to remove the apostrophe and then jump to number 1? If I was their SEO consultant I would certainly advocate giving that a try.
The second table shows Peacocks rising from 7 to 2 in the search with the apostrophe. While others that do use apostrophes (including heavyweights ASOS) drop, Peacocks rise, which shows they have some weight behind their website. I do wonder if they started targeting the non-apostrophe version, whether they would increase their rankings in the higher volume keyword….
Again, all of this is conjecture and is of course based on one ranking factor. At best, it is a very flimsy argument, but SEO is all about trying what you think will work to bring your client sales.
What I am trying to say is that I do completely understand Graham’s point that there are grammatically “correct” and grammatically “incorrect” rules. HOWEVER, in a case such as Missguided’s and Peacocks’, I would certainly be willing to sacrifice that in an attempt to raise their ranking to #1. For a keyword with this high volume there could be hundreds more visitors per month by moving from #2 to #1, which could equate to hundreds, if not thousands, more pounds of revenue. Now, hypothetically imagine this situation across each category of the website.
Basically, what I am saying is that sometimes a decision has to be made between grammar and money, and I would expect that usually the client would be likely to go for grammatically incorrect meta and content in order to generate some more money (unless they too were a stickler for grammar).
All cases have to be taken on their individual merits. However, as an SEO consultant I would probably find it difficult to let a situation like the examples above lie – whether that is right or not, I haven’t yet decided…