Sunday, 28 March 2010

Psycholinguistics and SEO

The study of how an individual chooses which word to say in what circumstance is known as psycholinguistics. It is a discipline which investigates the way we categorise and use language. Incidentally, it also offers the strongest argument as to why an SEO copywriter should never optimise a website for just one keyword.

It is estimated that there are over 750,000 words in the English language. Naturally, only Stephen Fry can remember them all and the rest of us have to put up with knowing only a small proportion of the dictionary.

Still, we don't all use the same words and each of us has a completely different armoury of lexical choices to choose from in daily life. There are a number of factors which can influence the vocabulary range of an individual, such as education, location and experiences. Users do not all use the same words and lexical choice widely differs from person to person. It can be be as individual as someone's choice of clothes, music and favourite films.

How people choose words

One of the main psycholinguistic theories stems from the belief that every person chooses individual words from a self-defined network of categories; different words are grouped into a number of mental boxes depending on the personal views of the speaker.

Imagine a collection of CD's – they can be arranged alphabetically, by genre or by the colour of the album cover. The categorisation depends on the owner. The same principal applies to words.

For instance, jeans can be categorised as clothes, clothes which cover the bottom half of the body, or clothes which have buttons. Each individual decides which mental box to pull the term 'jeans' from, depending on their personal views surrounding the item.

How does this relate to SEO copywriting?

An SEO copywriter needs to be aware that users after an identical item, a pair of jeans for example, may not always use the same keyword. Internet browsers may use a different search phrase depending on their unique semantic network; one individual can prioritise certain qualities of a product in a search in relation to which mental box they place the term in.

Indeed, a user looking for a pair of jeans may do any of the following searches:

  • boot cut
  • straight leg
  • denim trousers
  • trousers
  • men's trousers

Not all users apply the same words in order to get to the same objective. An awareness about semantic networks and a knowledge of how users express concepts, offers SEO copywriters the opportunity to spread their keyword net.

While the majority of users search for the key generic, there are always going to be those searchers who use different words and phrases. Concentrating your SEO copywriting efforts on one term may get you a proportion of browsers searching for that particular term. But where do you rank in searches for the other 749,999?

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