Update Your Keywords

Hey chicks and hep cats, turn off your eight-track while I give you some groovy advice guaranteed to make your site more popular than a woodie owner on the beach. Here’s a hint: if you haven’t updated your keywords since your website went live, you might sound almost as out-of-date as I just did. That’s the last thing you want to do.

I will grant that if your website appeals to a nostalgic or retro audience, you might be able to get away with certain turns of phrase. Websites focusing on steampunk, old bands, the 1960s and related topics can use older terms to good effect. Those are specialty sites, however. If your target audience lives in the twenty-first century, however – with all of the appropriate trappings – then you’d better make sure you’re speaking their language.

There are a lot of good reasons to make sure your keywords are up to date. Language changes over time, with new words entering the vocabulary and older ones getting dropped. Search engine users enter keywords based on that language. It’s another variation on a possibly familiar theme: it doesn’t matter if you’re ranking well for particular keywords if no one searches using those words.

If your website caters to early adopters interested in bleeding-edge products, you should know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m going to date myself here, but I can remember a time when neither computers nor phones were portable. Even after phones became portable, they weren’t smart at first. That’s why we had PDAs (personal digital assistants) for a while.

You can still get PDAs, but these days they’re often built right into your smartphone, so there’s no need for an additional device. Even so, many people prefer to use other kinds of mobile devices to meet their away-from-desk computing needs, such as iPads – which is what we got when Apple decided to do tablet computers right. And don’t get me started on the evolution of netbooks! I can trace that all the way back through Apple’s iMac to dumb terminals and Sun’s insistence that “the network is the computer.” The idea is close to 30 years old, and it’s really catching on with consumers, finally – but today it’s called cloud computing.

Here is my point: over time, multiple terms evolved for various devices and concepts, even as the devices and concepts themselves evolved. If you want to attract your target audience, you need to use the keywords they’re using NOW, not terms they used in the past.

So how can you do this? Christine Churchill suggests that you start by scanning forums and blogs. Look for threads where forum members are chatting about products that are similar to yours, and look for new terms. Even if you’ve been in a field for a long time – or maybe especially if you’ve been in a field for a long time – you might be surprised at how quickly changes in vocabulary can sneak up on you.

Churchill also suggests checking out Wordspy.com. This website features occasional posts on new words as they’re coined and used, with appropriate citations, links and sometimes even supporting videos. Here’s the site’s discussion of filter bubbles, for example.  

Another way to tell that the language has evolved is to check your site’s performance. Review your keyword list; if you’re getting fewer visitors for certain keywords, but your site still ranks highly for those words, the problem could be fewer people searching with those terms. Take a good look at your site’s performance data and revise your keywords accordingly. Be prepared to conduct this keyword review regularly, depending on how fast your field moves. Good luck!

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