Wednesday, July 6, 2011

PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE – SEO BASICS Part III, Keyword Research and Optimization

Keywords exist in two places on a web page. One place is in metatags. These are tags in the code of the page that are not visible to the visitor but are visible to browsers and search engines. Not all sites use them, and there are metatags for a variety of different purposes. We will focus on two types of metatags – the keyword and description metatags.

Meta tags are tags that are in the code of a website page not visible to site visitors readable by the crawlers that search engines use to index sites. To develop a list of keywords you will think in terms of what someone would type into a search engine to find a business like yours. What are they looking for? What problem are they trying to solve?

Keyword Research

A useful trick is to do searches on keywords in a search engine like google and see what sorts of sites come up. Notice differences in variations. The search “web development” and the search “web development las vegas” bring up totally different kinds of sites. You can also use the Google AdWords Tool here:

Google Adwords Tool

to test different keywords and get data on how many searches are done on those keywords globally and locally as well as related keywords. This has the added benefit of allowing you to download your searches as a CSV file which you can open in a spreadsheet.

Another is to visit your competitor’s and colleagues’ sites and right click on the page and ‘view source’. This will show you the HTML and code that is presenting the page in the browser. Near the top of the code you will look for the keywords meta tag which will look like this (not all sites have these tags);

<meta name="keywords" content="Italian cooking, italian recipes, italian food, italian style, easy italian recipes, cooking italian meals, italian meals, italian cooking, italian pasta, italian meats, italian wines, holiday meals, italian desserts, gelato, bruschetta">

The keywords shown above are taken from and Italian cooking website. One thing to notice is that some keywords are single words while others are actually phrases (keywords are separated by commas). These phrase keywords are what is referred to as “long tail” keywords. Usually in the process of selecting keywords the single word keyword selections are obvious. But long tail keywords are very beneficial for two reasons. One, there is much less competition on these keywords and more chance they will place you higher in a particular search. Two, they help you appear in searches that are more likely to yield you results if the user clicks through to your site. One example of this is geographical targeting. An auto dealer in Austin, Texas would want keywords like “auto” and “ auto dealer” on their site but it would also be beneficial to include keyword phrases like “central texas auto dealers”, “auto dealers Austin”, “auto dealers in Austin” and so forth.

Keyword Relevance

You don’t want to just stack your web page with keywords that you think will get you good rankings. You want to use keywords that relate to the actual content on your web page/site. This gives them relevance. Put some thought in to this. Start compiling a list of keywords in a document and test them in the search engines seeing what kind of results they produce. You can use any document format. We have found that a spreadsheet works well for this. For starters you will want to compile between 25 and 100 keywords that appear to be of value.

Don’t forget to consider is the fact that keywords exist on every page of your website. You can adjust the keywords on each page to be relevant to that page. In compiling your document you will want to have a separate section or page for each page on your website. Using page-specific keywords will improve your rankings and will also help people find what they are looking for on your website that much faster in many cases.

Keyword Selection

Once you have your keywords you will want to pick the ones you are going to use for a start. It is a good idea to keep it down to between 25 and 50 keywords per page. Beyond that search engines tend to penalize for “keyword stacking”. Put the keywords in to the keyword metatags on your web pages or if you are using a CMS there is usually an interface in the back end to enter this information. Now you will want to give it some time and watch your analytics to see which keywords are producing results. We usually recommend an initial 90 day watch/evaluate/update cycle. Once you have had time to get results your analytics will show you which keywords, both on and off your page, are yielding results. You can use this information to eliminate dead weight keywords and to find new keywords to try. Be sure and give them time to work. This is the reason we recommend the 90 day cycle for most websites.

Description Tag

The other tag we mentioned is the description tag. This tag gives a summary of what your web page or website content contains. This is an important tag because it is used in the results returned by search engines. It appears in the little paragraph below the link in the results listing. Carefully crafting this summary not only helps build relevance but can also be used to encourage the user to click on your link. The description can be as long as you want; the trick is to put as much pertinent information in the first sentence or two so that it will appear in search results. Usually in the content on the page there is a summary you can draw from to create your description. This practice also improves relevance.

Keywords in Content

This brings us to the other place on your website that contains keywords – page content. You will want to check the copy on your website to make sure you are using keywords in your copy. One thing you want to avoid is keyword stacking in your copy. You want to write your copy for humans not for robots. Obvious keyword stacking in the copy on the page will also count against you with the search engines at some point. Other areas to use keywords are:

  • In your page titles.
  • In the headings in your copy.
  • In the alt and title tags of your images and links.

You now have the second part of your SEO foundation started. In the next article we will explore content a little more in depth both in terms of SEO and also in terms of the user experience and marketing effectiveness.

Addendum – Published Recommendations for Better Search Engine Rankings.

From Yahoo! Webmaster Guidelines.

Many factors influence whether a particular web site appears in Web Search results and where it falls in the ranking.

These factors can include:

  • The number of other sites linking to it
  • The content of the pages
  • The updates made to indices
  • The testing of new product versions
  • The discovery of additional sites
  • Changes to the search algorithm – and other factors

Bing engineers at Microsoft recommend the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • In the visible page text, include words users might choose as search query terms to find the information on your site.
  • Limit all pages to a reasonable size. We recommend one topic per page. An HTML page with no pictures should be under 150 kb.
  • Make sure that each page is accessible by at least one static text link.
  • Don’t put the text that you want indexed inside images. For example, if you want your company name or address to be indexed, make sure it is not displayed inside a company logo.

Google recommends the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as cloaking.
  • Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.