Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Keyword Selection and Website Optimization

Marketing and optimizing a website for search engines is a broad topic. There are many factors to consider when heading out with the goal of improving your website’s visibility and ranking within various search engines. In part one I will discuss the highly requested topic of website keywords. In follow-up articles I will cover additional topics such as page ranking, pay-per-click advertising campaigns, the marketing techniques to avoid, and the latest analysis technologies including eye tracking software.

Choosing the right keywords for a website is an important and informative research task. In the process of improving your website you’ll learn a lot about your industry and your competitors.

Keywords are one the main factors that come into play in the algorithms used by major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Windows Live Search. If a web surfer is looking for home decorating tips and types ‘home decorating’ into a search engine, it will search its database for websites that contain that phrase and those individual words.

Selecting the correct keywords

If you are an expert in your field, you know what your customers are looking for. Specifically, you know many of the words and phrases your customers would use to describe your products and services. Start with what you know.

Write out a list of phrases and words that describe your business. If you have a home decorating business you may think of words like ‘interior design’ and ‘furnishings’. Sort your list so that the most common phrases are on the top of your list.

You will now want to cross-reference the list of keywords that you have compiled with other lists generated for your industry. This will bring to mind other keywords that you may not have thought of. I recommend using a popular web-based keyword research tool named Wordtracker (http://www.wordtracker.com). Wordtracker helps identify additional keywords and phrases and offers a free trial of their service. It provides only a limited number of related words, but is still a great starting point. Searching for related keywords for ‘home decorating’ with Wordtracker produces a list of keywords like 'home', 'decor', 'decorating', 'home decor', 'furniture', 'design', 'interior', 'interior decorating', 'art', 'wall', and 'fabric'.

Other keyword tools, which produce similar results, are also available. These include, among others, the web-based tools provided by Yahoo (Overture) (http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/), and Google (https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal).

After compiling and merging the various lists of keywords, you’ll be ready to move on to the next step.

Using the correct keywords on your website

Now that you have a clear picture of which keywords web surfers may type into their search engine to find your business, you need to be sure your website contains these important keywords.

A strategy is required when updating your website to include the keywords in your list. Starting at the top of your list, quickly review the keywords. Think about which keywords would naturally be present on your website and which keywords you probably wouldn’t use. Using the first list of keywords, you may now start reviewing the different sections of your website.

Your selected keywords should be placed in various areas of your site with the proper frequency. Your website content should focus on making sense to your visitors, not fed with keywords that will hopefully improve your search positioning. Search engine algorithms can detect the over use of keywords, which can negatively affect your positioning. Let’s now look at different areas of your website.

Website Title

Every website has a title. This is not a website logo or a bold heading found on the top section of a website. The website title is displayed in the web browser’s title bar. This is the top most area of the window located to the far left of the window’s minimize, maximize, and close buttons. The website title is also the text that is displayed in search engine search results, which is often in a larger font and underlined. The website title is the first thing that a web surfer sees when performing a search. Web surfers quickly scan through search result website titles to evaluate which website will meet their needs. This is your first opportunity to grab their attention.

A website title should contain as many of your keywords as possible, while maintaining easy readability. This will do two things for you. First, the search engine will find your website in its database and display your website in their results. Second, the website title will catch the surfer’s interest as they see their search criteria matching your website title. Over-stuffing the title with keywords makes the title difficult to read and may be seen as abuse by search engines. The website title is updated by changing the text located between the opening and closing title tags, in the header of the HTML code (Page Title). The title length should be kept to handful of words. The website description allows more space for describing your products and services.

Website Description

As with the website title, the website description should also contain a variety of keywords. Unlike the website title, the website description is not visible on any part of the website itself. The description is the summary information you see in search engines results, displayed below the website title. The website description gives you a little more space to describe your website and your products and services. Again, be sure that your description is easily readable for your visitors, in order to attract them to click your site title. The website description can be updated by changing the text in the description meta tag, in the header of the HTML code ().

Website Keywords

Along with the title and description entries in the HTML code, there is also an area to define a set of keywords that you’d like to associate to the page. This is called the keyword meta tag. Keywords are entered as a comma separated list, as follows (). The industry consensus is that the keyword meta tag is currently of little or no use with today’s major search engines. However, search engines continue to recommend their usage.

Website Content

This brings us to the meat of our website, so to speak. Our chosen keywords should be used throughout the website content where it makes sense. Again, over-stuffing page content with keywords so that the message is unnatural can be detected by search engines. A good practice is to use the keywords to make the page content more descriptive. For example, a pet store may sell a variety of pet foods. This can be written in a descriptive manner, such as, ‘dog food and cat food’, instead of using ‘dog and cat food’. In this example the keyword ‘food’ is used twice.

Headings and Hyperlinks

Special attention should be given to the usage of heading (This is a Heading) tags and anchor tags (click here). Keyword usage in page heading is more valuable than keywords used in a paragraph of text. The same can be said with anchor tags (a.k.a. hyperlinks). Using keywords as the clickable text of a hyperlink is very valuable.

Keyword Density

Keyword density refers to the percentage of occurrences of your keywords compared to the other text on the web page. Keyword density tools such as Webconfs.com’s Keyword Density Checker (http://webconfs.com/keyword-density-checker.php) provides a visualization of the main theme or message on a chosen page. This tool counts the number of times each word is repeated on the page, which is a good test of how you’ve done at inserting keywords to optimize the content. It is also a good representation of how search engines will see your page. ‘More is better’ is not the most effective keyword density goal. Although the optimum keyword density is much debated, having some balance is definitely in order. A density below 1% makes it difficult for a search engine to understand your main message, where a density over 5% will start to make the content appear unnatural. At this stage in website optimization, the page content can be continually edited while the keyword density is being re-checked. Continue this process until your keywords are among the words with the highest density.


Choosing the correct keywords for your website is a must. Website keyword optimization is not rocket science, but it must be implemented carefully. By using the correct keywords, not only will your site be positioned well in search results, but it will draw visitors to your website.
About The Author
Chris Haney is the founder of The Coding Studio (http://www.TheCodingStudio.com), a custom web site development company serving businesses in Calgary, Alberta, specializing in dynamic, data-driven web sites, ecommerce solutions, web-based applications, and search engine optimization.

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