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An Introduction to Keywords

What you need to know about Keywords

This is a content brief I gave an SaaS client.
From the first days of Search Engine Optimisation in the late 1990’s keywords have been the main focus of website owners as search engines’ focus was almost exclusively on the text websites owners placed on their websites.

Today, what you need to do get great listings in the search engines is remarkably different, with over 200 individual factors being taken into account by Google to decide which web documents to list in their search results and in which position.

Although other factors, such as links to your site becoming more and then less important we can see that having the relevant text on your webpage will still be of crucial importance to most web-site owners.

What are keywords?

  • It’s a quirk of fate that we use the term: “keyword” when often we mean: “key phrases”. These are phrases that people would place on their website in the belief they are what people search for.
  • The “keywords” people use will be as varied as human nature. They will cover informational terms such as “who shot President Kennedy” to location based: “where can I find a family pub in Nottingham” to transactional such as “buy a YT12B-BS battery”.
  • As the world develops, new items become available to buy, new celebrities become popular, new international events take place; the range of topics people will search on will continue to expand. In fact, around 15%-20% of the three billion searches every day are unique, never been searched for before. That’s a staggering 600,000,000 every day.
  • Keywords, therefore, represent people’s desire to locate information, online stores and entertainment. The secret is understand which of those billions of searches are relevant to you.

How do search engines use keywords now, and what can keyword history teach us about what search engines want?

  • During the early 2000’s search engine’s use of ‘keywords’ or ‘search terms’ were relatively basic. Essentially the number of times those keywords were present in the <title> tag of a page would guarantee high rankings. Search Engine Optimsers ~(SEOs) (the people that try and get websites to rank highly) then repeated keywords in other areas of the page such as the Meta Keywords field, the Meta Description the visible part of a page and the search engines caught on to this.
  • The search engines changed tactics and started placing more importance on if these keywords were present in links to a page. SEO’s realised that if they changed “click here” links on other websites to read “cheap loans” they could get their own websites ranking highly for the “keyword” “cheap loans” - the more of these links there were, the higher the site would be listed.
  • And then the search engines caught on to this tactic too.
  • Then websites became more clever. They found that if they created a site with many links to them and quickly created web pages that targeted very specific keywords such as how to make pizza dough they could make a lot of money. If you wrote articles about very specific topics it became relatively easy to perform well in the search engines. You would then aggregate free resources such as YouTube videos, lists of products, news items and other publicly available information to provide more text to the page and then place adverts around them.
  • These websites used publicly available data such as those provided by Google with their keyword tool, as well as the Google Analytics data to constantly grow the size of their websites with more and more pages focused on even more obscure topics.
  • The search engine results ended up being full with low-quality websites which offered little value to searchers. So Google hid keyword data so that now about 80% of the keywords people use and find your website will be hidden from you.
  • The search engines moved away from this simplistic view of keywords and created a more semantic one where they will generally rank pages that have in-depth and accurate content that explores a wide range of views of the topic as they try and reward “high-quality sites”.
  • The search engines have journeyed from placing an almost total importance on keywords to one where they are just one of many factors.

So what does that mean if I want to get more sales?

  • Knowing that Google wants to list ‘high quality sites’ is an important step, but it’s only part of the solution.
  • Websites in some less-competitive industries will still be able to rank highly in the search engines by simply placing their desired keywords in their <title> tags, whilst more competitive industries will have to implement more detailed and expensive strategies by creating an extensive library of useful content that focuses on target keywords and then share that content by email and social networks.

How do I go about deciding which keywords to target?

  • The conventional way would be to use Google’s keyword tool or Uber Suggest and see which other keywords are related to mine and then simply add the most popular keywords to your current ones or quickly write some semi-useful pages about them.
  • If you ran a website selling shoes then you would create pages such as:
    • shoes for kids
    • shoes for men
    • shoes for women
  • You would make sure your website included these keywords somewhere:
    • shoes online
    • discount shoes
    • shoes clearance
    • office shoes
    • comfortable shoes
  • Many would create a page about “the history of shoes”. Whilst others would craft content about:
    • shoes in London Fashion Week
    • How to measure for shoes
    • What shoes not to wear with jeans
  • Product Pages
    • The secret, however, is to realise that most of the traffic you will be able to convert to sales will come in to your product pages.
      • Initially make sure that you product names are clear and match what people are searching for. An example would be:
      • Black Leather [obscure name or feature] for boys i.e. “Black Leather scuff resistant school shoes for boys”
      • You would then have that product listed in relevant categories that you can see users searching for such as “black leather shoes”, “Scuff Resistant shoes”, “School Shoes”, “Shoes for Boys” and perhaps the manufacturer and size.
  • Categories
    • Getting the initial list of keywords will be crucial. A good starting point would be to collate a spreadsheet from Ubersuggest and then add in the category names you see  your competitors using and then break them down into features “school shoes”, “scuff resistant shoes” and create no more than 20 categories and list those via your navigation.
    • These category pages then should have 300-or-so word content helping users find the most suitable products. If you’ve just completed your keyword research then you will have in mind those ‘semantic’ or related keywords in your mind. For shoes these words could include ‘soles’, ‘uppers’, ‘laces’, ‘leather’, ‘heal’ etc. - words that Google will often find on the same pages.
  • Other content
    • It can be surprising, however, how many visitors you can attract to your site by writing lengthy 1,000 words + articles on topics.
    • An example could be about the podiatry issues children face when parents buy them shoes, or how different cultures have used shoes in their societies, the impact that foot fashion has on our health etc.

How do I find these other topics to write about?

  • Search engines love fresh content so using a tool such as Google Hot Trends may inspire you. This shows what search terms have become much more popular than normal over the past day. You can also see recent ‘trends’ for your topic by using the search box at the top which will also show you related keywords to target.
  • If you have connected your Google Analytics account to Google Webmaster Tools you can still get a list of keywords that people found your website with,  you can use those to create new content.
    • If your website ranks on average 10th for an important keyword, consider if you can write some great new content to focus on it.
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