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Where Did My Apostrophe Go? Don’t Worry About It

Date published: August 02, 2011
Last updated: August 2, 2011

Every once in a while, navigating the world of SEO seems like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz. There are days when I can totally relate to Dorothy when she says to her furry companion, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

While that’s probably the case for everyone working in the ever-changing world of SEO, it seems particularly true when it comes to content writers and editors. There are a few moments when it seems as if a miniature tornado ripped through the English vocabulary to accommodate the landscape of the Internet.

Why? To get the best SEO results, you must occasionally throw a few punctuation rules out the door.

For example, take the apostrophe … at times you will just have to tell yourself, “You don’t really need that.” Yes, it’s been around at least since the 1590’s when Shakespeare popped a couple of them into his comedic tale Love’s Labour’s Lost, but the lovely apostrophe should be abandoned if it’s not working in your SEO favor.

Grammar for SEO

In SEO territory, popularity wins out when it comes to developing effective keywords. If the vast majority of people are typing in the phrase “childrens clothing” instead of “children’s clothing,” you should pay attention … that is, if you want to get the most productive results for your SEO campaign for children’s clothing.

When comparing the two keyword phrases recently in Google Adwords, the misspelling of “childrens clothing” came out ahead of the correct version. Here’s the breakdown:

“Childrens clothing”: 1,000,000 global monthly searches
“Children’s clothing”: 823,000 global monthly searches

Do the math. That’s 1 million users you could be missing out on if you’re possessive about this possessive punctuation mark.

Apparently, discriminating buyers are even less attached to apostrophes when conducting searches. The keyword phrase “children’s designer clothes” produced … uh, nothing. Zero in global monthly searches. Without the apostrophe, the phrase garnered 49,500 global monthly searches.

Global Trend

This is not just an Internet thing. In England, where the Queen’s English (or Queens English) is held in high regard, Birmingham decided to ban apostrophes from road and street signs a couple of years ago. The city’s council decided the punctuation mark was getting in the way of smooth GPS navigation for emergency vehicles, taxi drivers, and other motorists. Thus, St Paul’s Square is now St Pauls Square and St Mary’s Road is now St Marys Road.

The lack of certain punctuation marks on the Internet is not necessarily a reflection of the state of our intelligence. According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, 96 percent of college graduates are regularly logging on to the Internet. Of those with a high school diploma, 67 percent are regularly using the web. There’s a pretty good chance they all learned about the apostrophe back in elementary school. Many of them just don’t bother to insert it when using a search engine.

While it’s never a good idea to abandon punctuation marks altogether or litter your site with misspelled words, any strategic SEO content campaign should include research on users’ habits and identifying the best keywords — even those punctuated incorrectly.

When it makes good SEO sense, go for it. We won’t tell your English teacher.

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