What are keywords?
Keywords are words or phrases that best describe your industry, organization, business, products and/or services. They may also include your business name, location or target audience. Most important, they are words you anticipate someone might use to search for topics featured on your website. Keywords are potential search words.
Identify and list your keywords
The first step to optimize your website is to identify and list your keywords and keyword phrases. Then conduct an online search for each keyword and various combinations of keyword phrases. The more specific the phrases (i.e. "Mississippi River Boat Cruise" or "South Austin Animal Hospital") the fewer search results you should get. When your search results begin listing the websites of your competition, you know you have identified important keywords to feature on your website. If your organization has a unique mission, product or service that sets it apart from your competition, be sure to also include these words in your list.
Know your target audience
When choosing keywords, it’s important to know your target audience and the search terms they are most apt to use. If you know they will be looking for a specific product, an answer to a question or a solution to a problem, then include words they might use in their search query in one of your keyword phrases.
In this way you will attract visitors interested in your products and services and "improve the quality of traffic" to your website. The number of visitors a website receives is irrelevant if you don’t convert those visitors into customers or have the information they are seeking.
TIP: Each web page should have keywords and phrases that relate to the specific content of that page, along with a few keywords that relate to all pages.
How and where to use keywords
Now that you’ve identified your organization's keywords and phrases, it’s time to incorporate them into your website. Search engines give the most weight to words used in titles and meta tags when gathering and indexing data.
• Title Tag
This is the title of the web page that appears at the top of your Internet browser window. This is also the top line of text in a search engine listing that links to your web page. Titles should be unique to each page, be limited to 80 characters and contain the most important keywords and/or keyword phrases for that page. Don’t just list your business name. Tell the reader in a few words what your page is about.
• Description Meta Tag
This is a short sentence - no more than 150 to 200 characters in length - that describes the content of each web page. It is included in the html coding at the top of each web page and should contain the most important keywords and keyword phrases for that page. This is the sentence that most often appears beneath your title on a search engine results page. Make the description interesting and enticing so the searcher will want to click through to your website.
TIP: If your web page does not have a description meta tag, the search results page will present either the first line of text on the web page or an excerpt of text that contains the "search words." Some search engines always feature the description while others may feature the excerpt.
• Keyword Meta Tag
This is a list of keywords and keyword phrases featured on your web page and included in the page’s html coding. Search engines once used keyword meta tags to index a web page’s content, but today most prefer spidering the entire web page for information. That’s because keyword meta tags can be stuffed with words designed to manipulate search engine results. Because some search engines still use the tags, it’s a good idea to include them. Google doesn’t use them. Yahoo does.
TIP: The keyword meta tag contains a list of keywords and keyword phrases separated by commas with no spaces. Limit the list to 800 to 1000 characters and avoid repeating the same words over and over to avoid the appearance of "stuffing." List the most important words first and be sure those words also appear on the web page. Never use a "hot" keyword unrelated to your web site content (either in a meta tag or on your web page) in an effort to increase your page ranking. Search engines will catch this and ban your website from their listings.
Numerous articles to help you identify keywords, write titles and compose meta tags can be found online. The more time you devote to these activities, the sooner search engines will find and index your website.
• Headings and Sub-headings
Keywords and keyword phrases used in web page headings and sub-headings are ranked higher by search engines than other web page content. Whenever possible use your keywords and phrases in these headings, but avoid repetition. Too much repetition will make your text unnatural and irritate both the visitor and search engine spider.
• Bold format
Text that appears in bold is given more weight than plain or normal text. Bold formatting tells the visitor - and search engine - that you think the information is important. However, it’s best to use bold sparingly, as too much bold can lose its effect and be distracting.
• Link text
Internal and external links are important elements of any web page. Search engines assign link text more relevance than regular text. Take advantage of this by using keywords and other important phrases in a link’s text rather than using "click here" or "learn more." When linking to another page within your site, always use the page's keywords or title in the link text.
• Graphic text and alt tags
Text featured in graphics, such as a company logo, magazine-style print ad or PDF, cannot be spidered by a search engine. Web crawlers can only collect data formatted as text. Graphic text is also inaccessible to persons who are visually impaired and use screen readers. Good web site practices include creating a descriptive "alt tag" for every graphic. Here’s a good place to feature keyword phrases or other important descriptive content.
Now that you understand the role of keywords in search engine optimization, it's time to write some really great content!