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Effective Keyword Selection & SEO Tips
When launching a new Web site, one of the most important marketing strategies involved is getting it noticed among the millions of others that pop up when a search is completed. Since findings from Forrester Research in July 2002 concluded that about 85 percent of Web surfers find sites through search engines, having a site in the Top 10 is influential. Although there are companies that have thousands of dollars to spend on marketing, for the smaller and medium-sized businesses, this is not always the case. So in order to make more people aware of the site, and strengthen brand awareness, it is important to choose the right expressions.
Keywords or key phrases are what people who are exploring the Web type into the search engine to find information on any given subject. They are essential. So much so that some designers believe these words and phrases should be decided upon even before the site is created.
But are keywords or key phrases better? An April 2003 survey from OneStat.com found that more than 78 percent of people use one to three phrases to complete their search. Using a specific keyword may mean that more people will visit the site, but the chances of them buying anything are probably low because the audience isn’t very targeted. So, when choosing keywords, businesses have to remember which words are popular; how relevant they are to the site; what content is listed on their page; and how much competition there is.
The most time consuming part of the whole process is usually finding the right keywords or phrases to use. Following these rules should make the decision a little easier:
∑ Who needs this service? Try to think about who would be interested in what the site has to offer. Then use these terms as keywords to reach a targeted audience.
∑ Include variations of the keywords: people search with a variety of terms so try to add misspelled words, capitalize some of them or add the plural version. Remember that people make mistakes, so by adding these words, the engine should pick up on traffic that the other sites have not taken into account. And what about people in other areas of the world? If they use a different term to describe a topic, this should be considered. For instance, in North America, the back of a car is called a “trunk”, but in the U.K. it is called the “boot”.
∑ Be specific: the more detailed the words, the better return the site will get. Be sure that all keywords are relevant to the site’s content.
Although search engines vary in how their sites are indexed, one thing is similar: the ranks are based on the chosen words. Before submitting any site to a search engine, it is important to think about the words being chosen. First, think about which words the average person would use to find the page. Then go to the competitor’s site and look at which keywords they are using (view the HTML source code). While there is no need to copy what the competitor is doing, it should give a good indication of why they are ranking so high. After this has been done, narrow the choices down between three to five words. Then test the competition for these words in a search engine such as Google, by typing in all keyword and phrase ideas. Or, for more help, try Wordtracker.
Catching the Eye of the Spider
Search engines often use spiders to crawl the Web, looking for keywords to pull from all sites. The spider basically counts the number of words on the page and determines what the keywords are by choosing which ones are used most frequently. These words then become the search terms when the spider takes this information back to the engines for ranking. Spiders also recognize key phrases as a single keyword.
Remember not to use common words, such as “the” or “and” because spiders have been programmed to ignore these words.
The best areas of the Web site to put keywords for spiders to catch are in the HTML title tag; page text; Meta description and tags; ALT tags; comment tags; and the URL.
The Title tag is at the top of the page, and basically describes what the page is about.
Be sure to include key phrases on the home page since it has the best chance of being indexed (and the only one cataloged by some search engines). Keep in mind keyword prominence (keywords should be at the start of the page or sentence), proximity (how close each keyword is to another), density and frequency. The recommended density is three to seven percent, which means that the keyword should be repeated three to seven times for every 100 words.
Meta description and Meta tags basically describe the content on the site. This can be essential for some search engines because it is the only tag supported. Each Meta tag should be no more than 250 characters in length (that is only what some results pages show), and should be used on all pages.
ALT tags, which are the captions provided for pictures, can also be used as a way to boost keyword usage and therefore, ranking. Although these tags are primarily used to describe the images on a site, they also make it accessible for the visually impaired.
Comment tags are usually made up of Webmasters’ notes within the HTML code. Some search engines use these for indexing.
Finally, the URL should have some keywords within it. It is also a good idea to include keywords in some of the file names.
Every single page should have its own keywords or key phrases, which is important for those companies who are trying to rank higher. But each page has to be considered carefully. Although designers should use the keyword as often as possible on the site, if the word appears too often, the site owner could be considered as “spamming” the search engines, which can involve being dropped from the ranks or blacklisted all together.
Although it is every Web site owner’s goal to gain a higher rank, there is no point in ruining future opportunities. To ensure this does not happen, be careful not to:
∑ Repeat keywords too often or add any that are irrelevant to the site
∑ Use colored text on the same color background so that keywords are present but no one can see them ó also called “invisible text”
∑ Create pages with “tiny text”, letters so small that no one can see them (much like “invisible text”)
∑ Utilize the same page with different URLs
When trying to choose keywords for a new site, although it might be tempting to solely use popular words, the idea is actually to pick something that isn’t as widespread. This often means better results, and targeted keywords mean a more specific audience. It is also important to remember that common search terms shouldn’t be ignored just because they are prevalent.
Even after keywords have been chosen, there is still plenty of work to do. Some terms are more popular than others, so using them will not mean an increase in rank. There are words and phrases that aren’t as popular among most sites, but do yield higher returns. It takes time and effort to find these words, but the payoff is worth it.
Just remember that it is the customer (and not the advertiser) who initiates dialogue, which could lead to a sale. Constantly looking at traffic logs to see exactly which terms are bringing people to the site is a good way of knowing what is working and what isn’t. Just remember that there are no guarantees since all search engines rank their companies by different criteria.