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How Can Rhetorical Questions Help SEO?

December 8th, 2010

seo-questions.jpgA successful search engine optimization strategy is one that tailors the content of a website to reflect the search terms people will use to find your content. Most webmasters understand this basic principle of SEO but there are other factors to take into consideration to capture the maximum possible traffic through search engines.

Before Google established its dominance over other Internet search engines, there were many search engines competing for the top spot. Amongst the most popular of these was Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves today survives as Ask.com. Alexa currently ranks Ask.com as the world’s 53rd most popular website and 4th most popular search engine.

Launched in 1996, 2 years prior to Google, Ask Jeeves was an instant hit with new Internet users because of the intuitive approach to searching the Internet it provided. Rather than search for a phrase or keyword, Ask Jeeves prompted users to ask a question to Jeeves, a cartoon butler who acted as the site’s mascot. In the wake of Google’s popularity, Ask.com no longer prompts users to formulate their search term as a question, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t still using this method. Asking a question is a very natural way for users to construct a search term. It isn’t only users of Ask.com who search the Internet this way — many people use exactly the same method to search Ask’s competitors, including Google.

To demonstrate how this can affect SEO, let’s imagine that you’re going to search the Internet for a cheap hotel room in New York. You might look for this by entering the search term ‘cheap hotel New York’. You might also enter the search term ‘where can I find a cheap hotel in New York’. Even though the keywords remain the same, both search terms produce differently ordered results, with some sites ranking high for one term that are altogether absent from the first page of search results for the other. Due to the way Google’s algorithms handle multiple word search terms, ‘cheap hotel New York’ actually returns fewer results than ‘where can I find a cheap hotel in New York’, with the first search producing 400 million results and the second returning 900 million.

This experiment proves that keyword searches and question-based searches produce different results. A truly successful SEO strategy will account for both these approaches to searching the Internet.

How can you account for question-based web searches? The simplest way is through use of rhetorical questions. Wikipedia describes a rhetorical question as ‘a figure of speech in the form of a question posed for its persuasive effect without the expectation of a reply’. You can easily pepper your keyword rich web content with rhetorical questions and you may even find that this can make your content appear more persuasive and dynamic.

Many websites use rhetorical questions as section headings. This is an approach to ordering web content that has developed from FAQs, lists of frequently asked questions which have been displayed on scores of websites pretty much since the Internet’s inception. This is not only an effective way of implementing an SEO strategy that accounts for question-based web searches, it also helps draw readers into your content and leads them towards your intended viewpoint.

Rhetorical questions can also be employed in the body of an article. Let’s say you run a car dealership in Ohio. An effective way of using rhetorical questions in the body of your website’s content would go something like this: ‘Where can you find the best car dealership in Ohio? Right here at our Ohio car dealership.’ Although this example might seem a little crude, it clearly demonstrates how easily and effectively you can make rhetorical questioning part of your content.

Google’s eternal battle against black hat SEO techniques has long meant that any SEO strategy needs more than content stuffed with keywords to succeed. Backlinks are one of the most important tools in rising up the search rankings. If you have some degree of control over the nature of a backlink, whether it’s a paid advertisement or a link on another site with which you have a working relationship, you can incorporate rhetorical questioning just as easily as you can within your own web content.

Humans are inquisitive creatures and will naturally be drawn to finding an answer to a question. While a backlink based on an imperative, such as ‘save money at our Ohio car dealership’, may well make potential customers subconsciously suspicious and perhaps even hostile towards your business, the same backlink constructed as a rhetorical question may well appeal to their natural curiosity and make them more inclined to click on it. The imperative backlink can easily be transformed into something like ‘where can I find a new car in Ohio?’ You may notice lots of Internet advertisements contain words like ‘why’ and ‘how’. That’s because rhetorical questioning is an effective technique both in terms of marketing and search engine optimization.

Rhetorical questions can be incorporated into your search engine optimization strategy with ease and will help you capture more of the right traffic for your website. Creating a truly effective SEO strategy is all about tailoring your approach to the methods people use to search the Internet. Rhetorical questions are a vital tool in taking the right approach to SEO for your website.


This article was supplied by Christopher Williams, who holds a degree in English with Film Studies from King’s College London.


One Response to “How Can Rhetorical Questions Help SEO?”

  1. comment number 1 by: Irving

    Hey there…! Another quality content. Things everyone does not know. Now i am going to write rhetorical questions in my posts. Thanks for the post.

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