How To Pick Your Keywords

Relevant, targeted keywords can get you to the top of search engine rankings and help you attract visitors interested in your web site's content and products. When your customers enter keywords to search, do they find you - or your competitors?

Learn how to choose the best keywords for your site.

Keywords Reflect Your Site's Focus

Develop your keyword strategy during the site design process when you are already focused on how to communicate the purpose of your Web site. Selecting your keywords is much like writing an extremely short mission statement. Ask yourself several questions:

  • What is the site's focus?
  • Why is the site's information valuable?
  • Who is your audience?

The answers to those questions will help you select appropriate keywords because they force you to think about how your site's content serves its intended audience. If you already have an established business (online or not), go one step further and ask your customers what words they would use to find you. Don't limit your keywords to your products; people visit your site looking for information too.

For instance, suppose you sell home ice cream making supplies and attract visitors with interesting content about ice cream in general - like ice cream recipes. So your keywords wouldn't only be product-oriented (ice cream maker, rock salt, etc), you would also include keywords and phrases that describe your content (ice cream recipes, history of ice cream, etc.).

Research Keyword Popularity

Now you should have quite a few keywords and keyword phrases that succinctly describe your product or service. You're ready to research their effectiveness by answering 2 questions:

  1. How many other sites use the same keywords?
  2. How many people actually search on those keywords?

First, select several top search engines and find out how many results each of your keywords or phrases return. If you have a number of keywords and phrases to research, consider making a simple spreadsheet to easily organize your information.

Search Term
ice cream 419,374 99,760 541,448 763,000
ice cream recipes 1458 359 779 1100
okra ice cream 0 0 0 6

Overly broad keywords rarely work well. With "ice cream" as a keyword, your site competes with many thousands of other sites for attention. However, the more targeted "ice cream recipes" phrase increases your chance of appearing near the top of the results list. If you really want to get specific, your site would always be at the top of a search on "okra ice cream" - if any users were to actually search on it.

Find out what keywords people actually use to query search engines before you make a final selection.'s web site includes a Keyword Popularity tool that tells you how many queries are made each month at the popular GoTo/ search engine. You'll see how many people searched for a keyword, and all variations of that keyword.

Include Keywords On Your Page

Once you've decided which keywords are appropriate for your site, the hard work begins. You have to integrate them into your site's content in a credible way. Here are a few basic techniques to try:

  • META Tags: Insert a META KEYWORD tag into the HEAD section of your document and list all your keywords. While you should use this tag on every page of your site, you don't have to use the same keywords on each page.
  • Misspelled Names: If you're using a keyword that's often misspelled, include that misspelling as a keyword - but not as part of your content!
  • Plural Terms: Add plural forms to your keywords and using both singular and plural terms in your content. Most people use plural search terms because they hope to receive a list of results and not a single site.
  • Keyword-rich Content: Use your keywords early and often in your page content. Merely including them in the META tag is not enough; search engines assume the terms are more relevant and important if they're used in the content as well.

Don't try to fool the search engines by repeating keywords in a meaningless way (ice cream, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream) or by using popular keywords that don't pertain to your content. They're wise to these spam techniques and often ban sites that use them. If a keyword is really pertinent, you should be able to legitimately include it several times on the page. See this article for more keyword selection tips.

A Delicate Balance

Are the keywords you chose during design still effective? Maybe not. Search engines index new Web sites every day; you have to work to stand out in the crowd. Be prepared to modify your keywords as your site and competition changes.

Keyword selection is a delicate balancing act that begins during design and continues as long as your site is posted. It's can be time-consuming, but it's also critically important to your site's success.

You spend so much valuable time designing a great site. Make sure that everyone can find it!

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