Keywords and Your Web Site

Keywords That’s a term you hear associated with search engine optimization all the time. In fact, it’s very rare that you hear anything about SEO in which keywords aren’t involved some way; so what’s so special about keywords?

Simply put, keywords are those words used to catalog, index, and find your web site; but of course, it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. There is a fine science to finding and using the right keywords on your web site to improve your site’s ranking. In fact, an entire industry has been built around keywords and their usage. Consultants spend countless hours finding and applying the right keywords for their customers, and those who design web sites with SEO in mind also agonize over choosing just the right ones.

Using popular — and effective — keywords on your web site will help to ensure that it is visible in the search engine results, rather than be buried under thousands of other web site results. There are keyword research tools that can help you find the exact keywords to use for your site and therefore for your search engine optimization. Understanding the use of keywords — where to find them, which ones to use, and the best ways to use them — enables you to have a highly visible and successful web site.

The Importance of Keywords

On the most basic level, keywords capture the essence of your web site. Keywords are the words or phrases a potential visitor to your site enters into a search engine to find web sites related to a specific subject, and the keywords that you choose will be used throughout your optimization process. As a small-business owner, you will want your web site to be readily visible when those search engine results come back. Using the correct keywords in your web site content can mean the difference between being listed as one of the first 20 sites returned from search engine results (which is optimum) or being buried under other web sites several pages into the results (which means hundreds of results are returned before your site). Studies show that searchers rarely venture past the second page of search results when looking for something online. Consider for a moment the telephone book’s Yellow Pages. Suppose you’re looking for a restaurant. The first thing you’re going to do is find the heading restaurant, which would be your keyword. Unfortunately, that’s pretty broad, and even in a smaller city, there might be a page or more of restaurants to look through. If you’re in a large city, there might be hundreds of pages.

If you are so inclined, you can narrow your search to Chinese restaurants, which will greatly reduce the number of entries that you have to search through. Basically, that’s how keywords work in search engines and search engine optimization. It’s also a good example of how people search: They begin with the broadest concept and then gradually narrow their search criteria, based on what they learn in each step of the process. Recall from the discussion of Long Tail search in previous post that what leads visitors to your site can be either the broad search term or the more narrow (and very specific) term. Based on that concept, choosing the appropriate keywords for your web site will improve your search engine rankings and lead more search engine users to your site.

How do you know which keywords to use? Where do you find them? How do you use them? Knowing the answers to these questions will save you a great deal of time when creating a website. Where you rank in search engine results is determined by what keywords are used and how they are positioned on your web site. It’s critical to choose appropriate keywords, include variations of those keywords, avoid common (or stop) words, and know where and how many times to place them throughout your web site. 

Used correctly, keywords should enable you to be placed in the first page or two of the most popular search engines, and in some cases even as the number one result. This tremendously increases the traffic to your web site. Keep in mind that the majority of Internet users find new web sites by using a search engine. High search engine rankings can be as effective as, if not more effective than, paid ads in marketing your business.

The business you receive from search engine rankings will also be more targeted to your services than it would be with a blanket ad. By using the right combination of keywords, your customer base will consist of people who set out to find exactly what your site has to offer, and those customers will be more likely to visit you repeatedly in the future. To decide which keywords should be used on your web site, you can start by asking yourself the most simple, but relevant, question: ‘‘Who needs the services that I offer?’’ It’s an elementary question, but one that will be most important in searching for the correct keywords and having the best search engine optimization.

For example, if you were marketing specialty soaps, you would want to use words such as soap (which really is too broad a term), specialty soap, bath products, luxury bath products, or other such words that come to mind when you think of your product. It’s also important to remember to use words that real people use when talking about your products.

For example, using the term ‘‘cleaning supplies’’ as a keyword wouldn’t result in a good ranking because people thinking of personal cleanliness don’t search for ‘‘cleaning supplies.’’ They search for ‘‘soap’’ or something even more specific, like ‘‘chamomile soap.’’ Your customers are usually your best source of information about the search terms they use to find your products or web site.One way to figure out what terms people use is to ask them. Most customers don’t mind answering a brief questionnaire, especially when some incentive is involved. Many companies have luck eliciting feedback by offering entry into a drawing for a prize or even a discount coupon to people who participate in surveys. Some people will offer opinions just because you ask. If you have a blog or forum on your web site, that’s a good place to pose a question about the terms people use when they think of your site or products.

In addition to the terms that you think of and that your customers tell you they use, people also look for web sites using variations of words and phrases — including misspellings. An example might be ‘‘chamomile.’’ Some people may incorrectly spell it ‘‘chammomile’’ or ‘‘camomile,’’ so including those spellings in your keywords can increase your chance of reaching those searchers. In addition, remember to use capitalized and plural keywords. The more specific the words and the greater the number of variations, the better the chances that your web site is targeted.

Be careful to avoid words such as ‘‘a,’’ ‘‘an,’’ ‘‘the,’’ ‘‘and,’’ ‘‘or,’’ and ‘‘but.’’ These are called stop words, and they’re so common they are of no use as keywords.

Image source: Google.

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