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In my company websites, we often have the situation at the start of a page where we introduce a [usually technical] phrase, followed by the acronym that it is often know as:

My Special Widgets (MSW) are....blah blah

From a human usability perspective, the mention of the acronym defines the acronym and allows you to use it in place of the full phrase elsewhere in the same page.

I assume that Google may draw some inference from this, that the acronym and the full phrase refer to the same thing? But if nothing else, it is a way of including both keyphrases in the page, which will hopefully catch searches from would-be visitors regardless of which form they use.

I understand a more proper approach might be to us <abbr> - this explicitly tells search engines that we consider MSW to be an acronym (or more correctly, an abbreviation) for 'My Special Widgets':

<abbr title="My Special Widgets">abbr</abbr>

In our industry, there are numerous cases where acronyms are just as well known as the full terms, and we need to do what we can to address this, so that we rank as well as we can for both the longer and shorter term.

The question is how does Google see these alternatives? And can we use both without ruining the perceived quality of the page/site?

I know that my colleagues will insist on My Special Widgets (MSW) - it follows a common convention in print media and both expected and welcomed by readers. My concern is whether we are sufficiently 'spelling it out' to Google - making it clear that the terms are interchangeable.

Up til now we start of with Long Phrase (Acronym) and then we tend to use one term or the other elsewhere in the page - mixing it up enough to provide both variety and some keyword density for both terms.

Can I use both approaches combined...?

<p>My Special Widget (<abbr title="My Special Widget">MSW</abbr>)

Or perhaps mix them up a bit...?

<p>My Special Widgets (MSW) are brilliant...</p>
<p>Our <abbr title="My Special Widget">MSWs</abbr> are the cheapest you will find....</p>
<p>The curious thing about My Special Widgets is....</p>
<p>If you want to find out more about our MSWs, visit our <a href="#">My Special Widgets</a> section.</p>

The more I think about this the more I think I'm over-thinking all this! Nevertheless, I'm curious as to what my peers think is good practice, and ideally what we know to have positive and negative effects on SEO, however little.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

The question is how does Google see these alternatives? And can we use both without ruining the perceived quality of the page/site?

Sure. It's common practice, and good form, to display the acronym after writing the full term for the first time. That way all readers know what the acronym is and to expect the acronym to be used going forward. You shouldn't need to use the <abbr> tag more then once, though, as the first time you use it sufficient for giving the acronym its meaning.

But using the acronym doesn't exclude you from using the full phrase again. There are time where writing it out is necessary.

As far as SEO goes this isn't going to make a big difference one way or another. I'd focus on writing in a human friendly form as usability is SE friendly by default and is always the smartest way to go.

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Our CSS gives ABBR quite a subtle style, so I think I'll include it right at the start. Thereafter I'll use the acronym and the full phrase probably with a approx 60/40 split. –  CJM Apr 24 '12 at 10:44
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