It is fairly common knowledge that the words that appear on Web pages are one factor in the way that those pages are ranked in search engines. This means, of course, that a page that contains a search term one or more times has a better chance of ranking highly than a page that does not include the search term.

However, while more and more sites begin to include search terms in their Web page copy in order to rank higher in Web searches, high search engine rankings are really only a part of the equation. Another large part is whether each of your pages is directly addressing the searcher's topic of interest (deduced from the search term).

The Shoehorn Approach

When a site is already built and established, many search engine optimization experts or individuals trying their luck at SEO will employ a “shoehorn” approach. This can be less costly and usually involves fewer alterations to an existing site than a comprehensive approach, but it has a primary drawback. It is perhaps easiest to explain by giving a fictional example.

Drawing from the RoadRunner cartoons, let's talk about a fictional company called Acme Widgets. Our company is a widget manufacturer, and we currently have a small brochureware site.

Working in a Keyphrase

One of the keyphrases we want to target is “custom widget manufacturing,” since we have looked at Wordtracker and discovered that a large number of our potential prospects are typing this phrase (it's doubtful anyone searches for this fictitious example, but let's pretend that many do).

Since we want to make minimal changes to the site, we are taking the shoehorn approach, which means that we are going to try to work this search term into an existing page. We take a look at the “About Acme” page of our site (a page that describes our company and our philosophy) and realize that we could probably work the phrase “custom widget manufacturing” into the copy a few times without too many changes.

This will help us to achieve better rankings for the search term—so everyone is happy, right? Well, not exactly.

Limitation of the Shoehorn Approach

The problem with this scenario is that while we may have added some helpful ingredients for our search engine rankings, we haven't really added much helpful information for our visitors.

In other words, they may find our “About” page when typing in the search term “custom widget manufacturing,” but the existing page copy doesn't really address this phrase specifically—it just gives them blanket information about our company that happens to contain the term. Many searchers (perhaps even most) may quickly decide to look elsewhere because we have not adequately addressed the search term.

The Comprehensive Approach

Although it takes more effort, a comprehensive approach can greatly increase the likelihood of keeping the interest of your visitors and eventually getting them to take the action on your site that you desire.

Creating a New Page

Using the same scenario, we look at the Wordtracker numbers for the search term “custom widget manufacturing” and realize that this term is of interest to many of our potential customers. Rather than asking, “Where in the world can we fit this search term into our existing site?” we ask, “Why in the world do we not have a page of our site devoted to this popular topic?”

We then go on to create a new page, built into the main navigation, and directly address the topic of custom widget manufacturing—how we design custom widgets, our proprietary custom widget manufacturing process, and why we are better than everyone else at dealing with custom widgets.

Now when visitors find our page through a search for the term “custom widget manufacturing,” they are finding information that is much more likely to address their interest—and each time we end up with a visitor who is much more likely to read what we have to say (and again, hopefully take the action that we desire).

Repeating the Process

Continuing our comprehensive approach, we may find many other popular and specific search terms that command pages of their own (e.g., “plastic widgets” or “rotating widgets,” where we talk about our approach to each of these specialized items).

The main idea is that we use software such as Wordtracker to identify the interests of our potential prospects, and then we devote pages of our site (always built into the navigation) to telling our prospects about our experience and expertise in the topics that interest them.


A comprehensive approach is not necessarily visibly better than a shoehorn approach in terms of sheer search engine positions. True, the two approaches may yield similar ranking results; however, a comprehensive approach will almost always yield better results when it comes to the time that each search engine visitor spends on your site, and, more importantly, the overall sales that originate from the site.

And bottom-line revenue, rather than high rankings alone, is what search engine marketing is really all about.

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image of Scott Buresh

Scott Buresh is founder and CEO of Medium Blue, an award-winning search engine optimization company.

LinkedIn: Scott Buresh