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What are keywords anyway?

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Scrabble What are keywords anyway?This post was inspired by a request I received when doing some work for a marketing company.

The request showed that there are people moving into online marketing who do not understand what keywords are or how they are used in the optimisation process

I was presented with a list of 5 key phrases and asked to add them to the current list. I discovered by the current list they meant the list in the meta keywords tag and the list in the ranking software. That was it, that was how they saw optimisation – the adding of as many keywords they could think of to the ranking software and meta keywords tag. There were already 38 key phrases in the list and the new ones took it to 43. This was, however, small compared to some of the lists that had been created, one of which was 85 phrases in length.

So why were so many keywords being identified and placed in the meta keywords tag? Because it was felt that is was important to identify as many keywords as possible to cover all the angles.

So what should they have been doing?

Well to start with, there is nothing wrong with how they started. Identifying as many keywords related to the subject matter as possible is fine but these then need to be refined through a process of analysis.

Let us remind ourselves of what keywords are. They are what we use to find what we want on the web through the use of search engines. These search engines, such as Google, crawl the internet indexing the content of websites and, using algorithms, return those sites in its search engine results page (SERP) that are relevant to those keywords. SEO is not about tricking the search engines into listing your site high in the results pages, it is about showing the engines what it is your site is about and what makes it relevant when a particular phrase is searched for – relevant enough for the search engine to place it, ideally, in the #1 position.

So lets take that list we have identified and look at it again but this time lets really look at it. Which of those keywords can we drop. Lets start with anything that is so broad that it will be frequently used by people searching for things that have nothing to do with our site. These maybe single word keywords for example.

Use the concepts of relevance, search popularity and competition level to further refine your list. Don’t worry, I’ll be posting more about these later. Meanwhile basic information on search popularity and competition level can be obtained from Google’s Keyword Tool. It’s free and a good place to start. Subscription tools that offer more options include WordTracker and Keyword Discovery. Once again, I will be posting more information about both of these soon.

Once you have done this whittling down you should be left with around 10 key phrases. There is no precise number it depends very much on how competitive the subject of your site is and the chosen keywords. If your keywords have a very high competition level you should be looking at one to two keywords per landing page. The number could be increased where the competition is lower but try and keep to a maximum of 4-5 key phrases per landing page even for the most unique subject area. With around the same number of landing pages we are still looking at a maximum of 20 key phrases.

All in all using this approach will help us focus on what it is that is important about our site and what the critical keywords are which in turn will help drive qualified traffic, increasing goal conversions. Something we are never going to achieve by placing 85 keywords in the meta keyword tag and calling it SEO

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