Keywords. That’s a term you hear associated with search engine
optimization all the time. In fact, it’s very rare that you hear
anything about SEO in which keywords aren’t involved some way;
so what’s so special about keywords?
Simply put, keywords are those words used to catalog, index, and find
your web site; but of course, it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. There
is a fine science to finding and using the right keywords on your web site
to improve your site’s ranking. In fact, an entire industry has been built
around keywords and their usage. Consultants spend countless hours
finding and applying the right keywords for their customers, and those
who design web sites with SEO in mind also agonize over choosing just
the right ones.
Using popular — and effective — keywords on your web site will help to
ensure that it is visible in the search engine results, rather than be buried
under thousands of other web site results. There are keyword research
tools that can help you find the exact keywords to use for your site and
therefore for your search engine optimization. Understanding the use of
keywords — where to find them, which ones to use, and the best ways to
use them — enables you to have a highly visible and successful web site.
The Importance of Keywords
On the most basic level, keywords capture the essence of your web site.
Keywords are the words or phrases a potential visitor to your site enters
into a search engine to find web sites related to a specific subject, and the
keywords that you choose will be used throughout your optimization

process. As a small-business owner, you will want your web site to be readily visible when
those search engine results come back. Using the correct keywords in your web site content can
mean the difference between being listed as one of the first 20 sites returned from search engine
results (which is optimum) or being buried under other web sites several pages into the results
(which means hundreds of results are returned before your site). Studies show that searchers
rarely venture past the second page of search results when looking for something online.
Consider for a moment the telephone book’s Yellow Pages. Suppose you’re looking for a
restaurant. The first thing you’re going to do is find the heading restaurant, which would be
your keyword. Unfortunately, that’s pretty broad, and even in a smaller city, there might be a
page or more of restaurants to look through. If you’re in a large city, there might be hundreds of
pages.
If you are so inclined, you can narrow your search to Chinese restaurants, which will greatly
reduce the number of entries that you have to search through. Basically, that’s how keywords
work in search engines and search engine optimization. It’s also a good example of how people
search: They begin with the broadest concept and then gradually narrow their search criteria,
based on what they learn in each step of the process.
Recall from the discussion of Long Tail search in Chapter 2 that what leads visitors to your site
can be either the broad search term or the more narrow (and very specific) term. Based on that
concept, choosing the appropriate keywords for your web site will improve your search engine
rankings and lead more search engine users to your site.
How do you know which keywords to use? Where do you find them? How do you use them?
Knowing the answers to these questions will save you a great deal of time when creating a web
site. Where you rank in search engine results is determined by what keywords are used and how
they are positioned on your web site. It’s critical to choose appropriate keywords, include variations
of those keywords, avoid common (or stop) words, and know where and how many times
to place them throughout your web site.
Used correctly, keywords should enable you to be placed in the first page or two of the most
popular search engines, and in some cases even as the number one result. This tremendously
increases the traffic to your web site. Keep in mind that the majority of Internet users find new
web sites by using a search engine. High search engine rankings can be as effective as, if not
more effective than, paid ads in marketing your business.
The business you receive from search engine rankings will also be more targeted to your services
than it would be with a blanket ad. By using the right combination of keywords, your customer
base will consist of people who set out to find exactly what your site has to offer, and those customers
will be more likely to visit you repeatedly in the future.
To decide which keywords should be used on your web site, you can start by asking yourself
the most simple, but relevant, question: ‘‘Who needs the services that I offer?’’ It’s an elementary question, but one that will be most important in searching for the correct keywords and having
the best search engine optimization.
For example, if you were marketing specialty soaps, you would want to use words such as soap
(which really is too broad a term), specialty soap, bath products, luxury bath products, or other
such words that come to mind when you think of your product. It’s also important to remember
to use words that real people use when talking about your products. For example, using the
term ‘‘cleaning supplies’’ as a keyword wouldn’t result in a good ranking because people thinking
of personal cleanliness don’t search for ‘‘cleaning supplies.’’ They search for ‘‘soap’’ or something
even more specific, like ‘‘chamomile soap.’’ Your customers are usually your best source of
information about the search terms they use to find your products or web site.
One way to figure out what terms people use is to ask them. Most customers don’t mind
answering a brief questionnaire, especially when some incentive is involved. Many companies
have luck eliciting feedback by offering entry into a drawing for a prize or even a discount
coupon to people who participate in surveys. Some people will offer opinions just because you
ask. If you have a blog or forum on your web site, that’s a good place to pose a question about
the terms people use when they think of your site or products.
In addition to the terms that you think of and that your customers tell you they use, people also
look for web sites using variations of words and phrases — including misspellings. An example
might be ‘‘chamomile.’’ Some people may incorrectly spell it ‘‘chammomile’’ or ‘‘camomile,’’ so
including those spellings in your keywords can increase your chance of reaching those searchers.
In addition, remember to use capitalized and plural keywords. The more specific the words
and the greater the number of variations, the better the chances that your web site is targeted.
Be careful to avoid words such as ‘‘a,’’ ‘‘an,’’ ‘‘the,’’ ‘‘and,’’ ‘‘or,’’ and ‘‘but.’’ These are called stop
words, and they’re so common they are of no use as keywords.