Simple Rules for Keyword Selection

Keywords: pick the right ones and you are well on your way to bringing targeted qualified visitors to your site. Pick the wrong words and you've just sabotaged your entire optimization campaign.

Keyword Selection Is Fundamental

Keyword selection is the first step in search engine optimization. It's also where most people go wrong. If you pick a keyword that is not used by the people hunting for your product, you won't get traffic. You must pick popular keywords to be found.

Get Objective Feedback On Popularity

How do you tell a popular keyword from one that you "think" might be popular? To get objective popularity information you need feedback from the search engines as to how often your candidate keywords are used as queries. Using real world data instead of someone's guess is a vital component of keyword selection.

There is a fine line between keywords that are popular and keywords that are too popular and too general to be useful. For example, if I enter the keyword, "snake" into the query box and hit enter, I am told that snake received 137,516 queries in a recent month at major search engines. Many times you can find phrases on that list you may have completely overlooked in your keyword brainstorming session that would be perfect keywords for your site.

How do you determine if something is too popular or not popular enough? Much of it depends on the competitive nature of the keyword and the usefulness of the results. If someone entered "snake" into a search engine, they would probably find the results too general. They would then enter a new search term that narrowed the scope of their search.

Statistics show that most searchers end up using multiple words in their search. So narrowing the keywords to "snake bite treatment" or "cobra snake" filters out the general information about snakes and homes in on specifically what the searcher is seeking. Similarly, you should target candidate phrases so that they reflect the nature of your site.

Don't Pick Single Word Phrases

If you optimize for a keyword phrase consisting of 2-3 words, you increase your chances that your site will be found. Yes, the keyword popularity will be less than for a single word, but the phrase will be more focused and your traffic will be more relevant.

Here's an example. There was one client who was convinced he had to have the words "swimming pool" as his main keywords because his company installed pools. Now even though the phrase "swimming pool" is 2 words, it is still too general and someone using that term in a search engine is going to get very general non-relevant results - everything from swimming pool supplies to hot tub spas.

The searcher hunting for specific information for swimming pools may initially search on the general term and then refine their search when they see the non-relevant results. The key is: put yourself into the mind of a customer. People wanting to install an outdoor swimming pool don't buy from a company across the country; they buy from a local pool company.

In this case adding the town name to the keyword phrase "swimming pool" and optimizing for the longer keyword phrase allowed this client to get a top ranking in that keyword phrase and traffic that converted into sales. The longer keyword phrase was less popular than "swimming pool", but popular enough and more focused so that it brought qualified motivated buyers to the site. Everyone was happy: the client got more relevant traffic for his business and the customers were better able to find a local swimming pool maker.

Make It Relevant

Another rule to keep in mind when selecting keywords is to make sure they are relevant for your site. Don't just pick something off the Lycos Top Fifty list to try to drive traffic to your site. Optimizing for "Britney Spears" only makes sense if your site actually is about Britney Spears. The search engines learned that scam ages ago and will at best, ignore them, or worst, penalize you. There's no reason to spam if you optimize your page correctly.

Divide And Conquer

Don't try to optimize your home page for every one of your keywords. Focus your pages so 2-3 keywords are relevant per page. Spread out the related keywords on other pages in your site. This will create additional entry pages for visitors to enter your site on.

Select 10 pages on your site and target 2-3 phrases per page as appropriate. Since each page is targeted at specific phrases, they will score higher than a "one size fits all" solution.

Keywords Placement Counts

Once you identify your keywords, it's time to put them to work. Search engines read the HTML code on your Web page and score the page based on established criteria. If the search engine finds keywords in specific locations throughout the document, it will assume that your page is very relevant to that keyword. (Read about the steps involved in page optimization.

After you strategically place your keywords on your page, be sure to proof-read your page - and read it out loud. Make sure the text on your page sounds natural, not artificially stuffed with keywords. Remember, you have to please human visitors to your site as well as search engines.

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