Choosing Keywords Wisely

Keywords are called that for a reason; they’re one of the keys to making sure your web site is seen by searchers who want what you have to offer. But how do you choose them, and how do you use them? Keep reading to find out.

Closely behind link trading as the number one SEO technique is keyword choice; keywords are the words or phrases that people enter into search engines in order to find whatever it is they are searching for.  If you want your site to be listed (and listed high) you need to think carefully about the words people could use to find your site, and use these keywords in appropriate and relevant places in your site.  You also need to think about keyword density and keyword positioning if you are to use keywords successfully.

If you’re building a site from scratch, you should be thinking about keywords when creating the pages that make up the site as well as when producing content for the site. Keywords need to be used in your page titles and in META tags as well as in the content.  You also need to think about using keywords in heading text, bold text and in lists.  Using keywords effectively, however, is far easier than choosing keywords effectively.  Similarly, if you’re working on improving the rankings of an existing site, you’ll need to review not just the content, but the markup behind the pages as well.

Knowing what people are searching for is obviously a fundamental part of keyword choice. If you don’t know what people are searching for when looking for something related to your product, service or company name, then you won’t be able to choose effective keywords that will improve your ranking and ensure that people know about you.  Most general, non-technical people will rely on search engines to find any of the things that they buy online, and most people take search engine listings as recommendations, using sites that only appear near the top of their chosen search engines results.  Choosing effective keywords is about making sure your site is ranked highly in returned search results for the most commonly used search strings. You should focus on choosing keywords that not only focus on your products and/or services but also on your company’s name and related subjects.

Initially, you need to give yourself some time to construct a list of every word or phrase that you can think of that describes what you sell or do or provide to your customers or clients. You should include your company name of course and anything that is related to you in some way.  Every word that you think of may not actually be used in your final list of keywords but don’t worry, this is just a chance for you to let your mind roam free. If you’re not sure whether to include a word at this stage, include it anyway as it may spark off something more closely related later on.

When your initial list is complete, look at common spelling mistakes for these words and add them to the list. Many words are spelled incorrectly by many people; in some searches, incorrect spellings are searched more often than their correct counterparts.  If phrases of more than one word are a feature of your list, think about any variations between hyphenated and non-hyphenated versions of the phrase and whether the words can be used with or without spaces.  You need to take a step back from being an expert to your product or service and think about how your target customers will think about you.  As an expert on your own product you can think of exactly what you would search of were you looking for such a thing; in fact, you should already have searched for similar products or services offered by your competitors. 

General members of the public, however, may not think about your product in the same way that you do, and will therefore use completely different search words from the ones you would use.  Choosing effective keywords is about putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.  An exercise in thinking about how you would describe your product or service to someone that has no former experience in it may help you here.

Your list may be fairly long at this point, but don’t worry, you’ll thin it down as your list progresses to remove any words that, while they may describe your services or product perfectly, simply aren’t searched for very often.  The keywords you end up with will be the closest matching words that describe you that are also highly searched for.

The size of your organization or the scope of your site if you are operating alone will have a big effect on keyword choice.  The more you can simultaneously invest in offline media advertising, such as newspaper, radio or television, the wider range you will have when choosing keywords.  There have been cases in the past where a search term was virtually unused until a company advertised it offline; then the number of searches the phrases appeared in exploded.  This is especially true for catch phrases, slogans or company mottos.

The next stage is to judge how much value each of the words and phrases on your list have as search terms.  To do this, you can enlist the help of free or fee-based online services or applications.

Wordtracker (http://www.wordtracker.com/) is the biggest and possibly most respected keyword research tool.  They have an extensive keyword database (over 300 million searches over the last 90 days) into which you enter search terms to see how often people search for those terms and how many competing sites are using the keywords.  Wordtracker also provides tools that can help you add to your list of potential keywords.  The many benefits of Wordtracker come at a price, with daily, weekly, monthly or yearly subscriptions starting at $7.65 (£4.20) per day and going up to $254.84 (£140) per year.

KeywordDiscovery (www.keyworddiscovery.com) is a rival to Wordtracker. For a slightly higher average monthly subscription rate, they offer a larger database of search terms over a yearly seasonal trend analysis, as opposed to Wordtracker’s 90 day trend window.  Like Wordtracker, they offer statistics on misspellings and fuzzy string searches, related searches and a thesaurus search. KeywordDiscovery also provide results on phonetic matches, keyword translation and keyword permutations.

Google AdWords provide a keyword generation tool at http://adwords.google.com/ to help you choose keyword variations.  The system is designed for use in an Adwords campaign and obviously only covers data on keyword popularity on Google, but you can also use it to help check for keywords you may not have thought of, or to help weed out what you may have thought of as strong keywords that in actual fact are used relatively infrequently.

Once you have narrowed down your list to almost the final draft, containing just the keywords that you are definitely going to use, you should enter each of them into the popular search engines to see what sites they turn up.  Do they return sites the sell or provide products or services similar to your own?  Or do they generate results completely different from what you would have expected?  If they turn up sites that differ vastly from your own, when people want to find your site, they probably won’t use those terms. That means they can be removed from your master list.

Okay, so now you have your final list of keywords that are relevant to your service, product or company, and searched for regularly by your target consumers.  Now that you have this information, what are you going to do with it?  You need to rewrite the content of your site, or ensure that when the content is written, it includes the keywords wherever it is appropriate.  Use them as often as you can in any context that is applicable, but not to the point where it may become tediously repetitive.  Not only will your visitors find this off-putting, but the search engines may penalize you for it if it is anything close to spamming.

Keyword density is a calculation of how many times your keywords are used in a page divided by the number of words on the page.  To a certain degree, the higher this figure is, the better.  There are plenty of keyword density analyzers that calculate keyword density for given URLs, so it makes sense to check the keyword densities of successful, highly ranked sites and to try to match this figure in your own pages.  Different search engines will work keyword density into their algorithms differently, so matching the figure exactly is not strictly necessary; really, this depends on which search engine you are optimizing for.

While keywords are well suited to body text, don’t forget to make use of them where you can in the underlying HTML layer as well: title text, header text, anchor text, alt text, meta-tags and comments or the page title also make excellent repositories for strategic keyword placement.  Do not under any circumstances use underhanded keyword placement methods; filling the background of the page with keywords that are the same color as the background so that they do not appear to visitors, or other such tricks, are more likely to get you removed from the search engines index than ranked highly.

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