Using Special Characters for SEO

This experiment came about like a lot of mine do; curiosity sparked by an accident. I was working on an SEO project for a client and typing at a furious pace, which for me is an invitation to a series of typographical catastrophes. One of these catastrophes caught my eye this time.

The website I was working on is a ski resort in New Hampshire near the border of Vermont. Because search for skiing is much stronger in VT than it is in NH, I wanted to include Vermont as much as I could to tap into some of the SEO juice. I didn’t want to do it in a spammy way that would be obvious to humans and drive up the bounce rate, so I had to strike a delicate balance of inclusion for bots without deception to humans.

As part of a page title I had written “Ski New Hampshire, Skip Vermont” (sorry, VT), but in my hasty, sloppy, ham-handed typing, I inserted a left bracket (one of these -> ‘[‘ ) before the p. So I added the other end of the bracket and sat and wondered a bit how Google would handle “Ski New Hampshire, Ski[p] Vermont”. As readability went, I found it was easy to understand the intent and visually a little clever, but I had no idea how a bot would see it and researching it proved to be a painful exercise in futility. Searching for anything that uses a special character like a bracket or parenthesis was nearly impossible, and eventually turned into a search about how to search for something containing one a bracket. Then finding anything relevant to my needs was another rabbit hole that I started to climb down when I remembered an old experiment of mine that was as simple as it gets. Do it, and see what happens. The original experiment was simply an experiment of targeting a particular phrase to see if I could get the #1 ranking for it. It took a week or more, but the experiment was successful. I figured this was an even better candidate for a do-it-yourself solution since there seemed to be no research on how Google treats brackets in text. My fear was that the Google Bot would see the bracket, drop what it’s doing and skip the rest of the title and move onto indexing the other parts of the page. My hope was that it would overlook the text between the brackets and continue reading the rest of the title. Sometimes dreams do come true. OK, it wasn’t a dream, but my experiment worked and proved that Google Bots will pass over the letters in [b]rackets.