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One of our clients helps businesses expand to emerging markets and developing worlds. The client prefers not to use the phrase “third world” on their website or in relation to their brand, but they recognize that many people still search the phrase when looking for their services. The challenge they posed to Blue Corona’s SEO specialists was simple in nature: could they rank for keyword phrases using that term without using it anywhere on their website?
Here’s another scenario that every company can probably relate to—wanting to rank for your competitors’ brand names. If a local bottled water company wanted to rank for a keyword like “office water delivery Maryland,” we’d recommend they create a landing page on their website devoted to information about their office water delivery services and service area. After all, one of the keys to ranking in Google is content relevance.
But if that local bottled water factory wanted to rank for a keyword like “Deer Park water delivery,” we probably wouldn’t recommend they make a page on their site dedicated to their competitor. No point in pushing hard-earned traffic to even consider a competitor, right?
Let’s try one last example that’s not so relevant – but we’re pretty sure you’ll find amusing (or at least as amusing as a blog about SEO gets). One of our clients is a plastic surgeon whose specialty just so happens to be breast augmentation. People looking for a breast augmentation may search a number of different keywords—breast augmentation, plastic surgeon, boob job, etc. Can you guess which one of those terms we didn’t want to plaster all over the client’s website?
So the point of this blog goes back to the original question — what can you do if you want to rank for a term that you can’t (or don’t want to) put on your website?
Can You Rank for a Term without Putting It in Your Body Copy or Meta Data?
The short, direct answer is no. The search engines will see the absence of that term as a potential negative for user experience for that query. It’s tough to get a page to rank for a term that’s not on the page anywhere, and hiding it in the meta data doesn’t work either (title tags and meta descriptions, for instance, show in the search engine results pages). There used to be an element called meta keywords for exactly this purpose, but then people realized they could stuff things like “cheap pharmaceuticals,” “payday loans,” “personal injury lawyer,” etc. in there and game the system for valuable keywords. That element has ceased to be a ranking factor as a result.
“Semantic Search” and “Co-Citations” Can Help
So the short answer is no but the longer answer is… sort of. Two things come into play.
First, the search engines are starting to understand that different words and phrases mean similar things. So when the search engines review their index and identify the best results for a user query, they can look under related terms if it makes sense.
On a simple scale, this would be like somebody searching for the keyword “TV” and being returned results optimized for TV and/or for television. This isn’t simply for acronyms though – anything that shows a high frequency of text correlation within their index can have that effect.
Second, anchor text of external links coming into your site can positively affect your ability to rank for words that aren’t even on your site. For instance, Blue Corona doesn’t often use the acronym “SEM” (search engine marketing), instead preferring to use “SEO,” “PPC,” and other more specific terms. But if everybody started linking back to us as “Blue Corona, an Inc. 500-5000 SEM company” Google would then need to consider our site as being about SEM because everybody else says our site is about SEM, even though we don’t push it ourselves. On an unrelated note, this concept is a not-so-small reason that black hat link building used to be so incredibly effective and also why poorly executed black hat strategies are so easy for Google to pick off now.
This concept can even work for unlinked text – if people consistently describe in text that our client from above works on projects in the third world, Google can associate the two and consider serving up your content accordingly. This is called co-citation – it’s an oft-debated element of SEO, but, as stated, it is supposedly a ranking factor.
Neither of those is particularly direct, but it’s certainly possible to gain visibility for a term without using it onsite. It’s just a lot more difficult and relies on external factors.
About The Author: Zack is a technical consultant and data analyst in Blue Corona’s Maryland office. So yes, that does mean he’s amazing at fantasy football, fantasy basketball, fantasy baseball, fantasy hockey…
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