When a user enters a search term, also known as a ‘keyword,’ into a search engine, the engine runs through the billions of pages in the database and awards each one a ‘relevancy score.’ The higher your score, the higher your listing. If your site doesn’t contain the keyword used by the searcher, the only score it’s going to get is a big, fat zero. Your first task then is to make sure you know which keywords are
most relevant for each of your sites.
There are three ways to figure out your keywords:
Ask your competitors
This is the cheapest way to find many of the most important keywords. Simply log on to a search engine (AltaVista is good, Google is better) and carry out a search for sites like yours. Open the top site, and once the home page has downloaded, click on ‘View’ in your browser, and then ‘Source.’ That will reveal all the HTML used to build the Web page, including all the keywords that have been specially inserted.
For example, let’s say one of your websites sold nutritional supplements. You could carry out a search for ‘vitamins’ in Google. The top site there is called DrugEmporium.com, and the keywords they list are "The Katz group, Snyders, Drug Emporium, Drug, Drug Store, pharmacy, stores."
Some of those keywords will be relevant to your site. Others, of course, won’t be relevant and there will be lots of other keywords that aren’t obviously listed—like
‘vitamins’ for example. But you can repeat the process on other sites, using different keywords, and build up a pretty long list.
Ask the pay-per-clicks
Pay-per-click sites actually let you see how popular a keyword is. They’re not being kind; they’re trying to make money. The more webmasters bid on those keywords, the higher the bids are going to rise—and the more money the pay-per-clicks are going to make. FindWhat, for example, has a Keyword Center, and Overture a Keyword Suggestion Tool. Both are very handy, but they also require you to open an account. That can cost a few bucks, but when you have a lot of sites covering a lot of different areas, it’s usually worth the expense.
Use a specialized tool
Not too surprisingly, a number of companies have popped up to supply specific keyword services for a fee. The best of these is WordTracker.com. They’re not bargain basement, but you get what you pay for. They’ll give you all the keywords
you need and in my experience, they’re a sound investment.
Googlefight.com is another useful tool to see whether one keyword is more popular than another. The site compares two keywords and tells you which is more popular. It’s free and has a limited use, but it’s fun to play with.
As you make up your list of keywords, bear in mind that it’s also worth looking at key phrases. It’s quite possible that a user looking to buy flowers online might search for ‘red roses’ or ‘cheap bouquets’ as well as just ‘flowers.’ Key phrases are often overlooked by competitors, so you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting a high placement with the right combination.
Don’t worry too much about the competition though. Some people will tell you that you’re better off trying to find keywords that no one else has thought of—as if there were any!—and others will tell you to throw in keywords that are only slightly relevant to your businesses.
In my experience, that’s a waste of time. If your competitors are using certain keywords, it’s because they know they work. And if you pick up any users using
irrelevant keywords, you’re not going to sell them anything. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel here: just try to figure out the most popular keywords and the best key phrases to put on your site.
Whichever of these methods you use—and I tend to use more than one—you should end up with a pretty comprehensive list of keywords that you can stick into your website. The next question then, is how do you use them? When a search engine assigns relevancy to a site, it looks for the keywords in a number of specific areas.
The title tag is written in the section of the Web page and after the
That looks long, but the title tag is usually between 50 and 80 characters including spaces. Different search engines have different limits so you want to make sure that your most important words are near the beginning of the title. When you look at the New York Times’ site, you only see “The New York Times on the Web”.
The rest of the title is made up of keywords and phrases but in fact, you don’t want to put in too many keywords here. Just place one keyword as the second or third word in the title. Too many, and your site could be seen as spamming.
You can also list more keywords in the and sections of the area, but because these areas have been so abused in the past, a number of search engines today will skip right past the title tag and go straight to the Web copy.
Web Copy for SEO
The search engines will scan the text on a Web page to see if your site is relevant to the search term. That means that in effect, your Web copy is going to have to do two things: to persuade a customer to buy, and persuade a search engine it’s relevant.
When you write your copy aim for about 500 words a page, but throw in between four and eight keywords. You’ll have to try to balance a smooth text flow with getting in all the keywords you need to be listed.
You can also consider adding text-only pages such as how-to articles, tips or tutorials to your site. Throw in some keywords and they can turn up in search engines and create opportunities for link exchanges.
So there’s a few ways you can try to improve the position of your site in a search engine. More important than where you put the keywords is choosing the right keywords. That’s not really a huge challenge as your competitors are likely to have done the job for you.
Of course, even if you do get everything right, it doesn’t mean you’re going to shoot straight to the top of Google. One of the criteria for relevancy is how long you’ve been online, so success on the search engines won’t come overnight. The sooner you start submitting though, the sooner you can start to rise.