Acronym Tag and SEO


There’s a subtle difference between acronyms and abbreviations. “An abbreviation and an acronym are both shortened forms of a word, phrase or name. The difference is in whether or not the resulting abbreviation can and is articulated as word. If it articulated as a “new” word, it is an acronym; otherwise it is a plain old abbreviation… Here’s one to ponder: the World Health Organization is abbreviated to WHO. However, the abbreviation is not pronounced like the word “who”; instead it is spelled out: W – H – O. So, while it can be articulated as a word, it generally isn’t, so would not be considered an acronym” – source

In terms of accessibility if you mark the shortened words properly in your html code, the screen readers will differentiate between spoken words (acronyms) and will read them as words, while if you mark words as abbreviation they will read it letter by letter.

The abbreviation tag is yet another tag that can be used to enhance the experience of disabled audience and at the same time provide more clues to search engine bots about the theme of a particular web document.


Can I get this ASAP? Mouse over the word ASAP to see it in action. For more information on optional and standard attributes of <acronym> tag you can visit the HTML acronym tag page.

Avoid using the acronym tag in headings, menus or links. As a rule of thumb use this tag on the pure content of a document and not on html elements (this tag will put an underline on the word wrapped into it) that can mislead users into clicking on acronyms.

In terms of how this tag has to be used by the designers, programmers, SEO and copywriters there is not much difference as compared to the usage of the abbreviation tag. I would recommend following the same best practices:

What designers should know about the usage of acronym tag for SEO

  • this html tag – as well as any other html tags – should be altered using CSS (and maybe some jQuery for some nice tooltips) to make it more visually appealing
  • while IE and Chrome are supposed to support this tag, it is not always the case, so pay attention to cross browser compatibility of your CSS
  • when you alter (CSS) this tag make sure it doesn’t look similar with the hyperlinks on your website. In fact make it look totally different so there’s no bad user experience for people click on it and going nowhere

What SEO professionals should know about the <acronym> tag

  • if you still believe that keyword density should be watched under the magnifying glass and if the content wrote by the copywriter(s) doesn’t meet your keyword density requirements, use this trick to play with the density (search engine do index and cache acronyms)
  • don’t over use it – I would use the acronyms tag on the first instance of the acronyms on the page, once in the main content and somewhere near the finish line of the body text
  • if you optimize a long copy (e.g. a sales letter) you can increase the usage of the acronym tag (maximum 2 times for each 100 words)

What programmers should know about the implementation of the <acronym> tag

  • there’s nothing much to worry about this tag for you as this is content-related SEO
  • it’s usually a good idea to avoid using the acronym tag in headings
  • you could create a rules-based script that parses all the content on the website/database and automatically inserts the acronym tags on the needed words.

What copywriters should know about the acronym tag

  • you should use acronyms to provide clues to search engines on the subject matter of a page and help them differentiate subtle differences, e.g. Indian arm (as river) and Indian arm (as part of a body)
  • once your copy is live sure that you (or your SEO colleague) used the acronym tag on the first instance of each shortened word.
  • pay attention to the words used in your copy – you may want to target content with more acronyms towards an educated audience and content with less abbreviations towards an audience you intend to educate about your services/products
  • don’t write acronyms-only content even if you target highly specialized audience that uses acronyms in their day-to-day life. For ranking purposes, search engines should be feed both acronyms and full versions of the targeted keywords

Are you a web designer, a copywriter, programmer or search engine optimizer and have a suggestion about this tag and should it be used for SEO purposes? Please leave a comment or contact the author for suggestions.

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Traian is Director of Search Marketing at Pitstop Media Inc. He has more than 11 years experience in helping small and medium businesses generate and convert organic traffic from search engines. Connect with Traian on Google+. He is also the author of the Ecommerce SEO book.