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Choosing Good Business Website Keywords

Selecting the right keywords for your business website is more art than science. The best search terms are ones that people actually use — and ones on which there's limited competition. At least give yourself a chance to appear on page 1. Phrases are almost always better than single words, except in highly specialized applications with their own terminology.

People’s brains all work a little differently. You might think the search terms you would choose are so obvious that everyone else would use the same ones. It isn’t so. Ask random friends or customers for the search terms they would use to research a topic such as tires or to find your website. You might be surprised.

Finding words

When choosing keywords, start by reverse-engineering competitors’ sites and sites that appear in the first three positions on obvious search terms. View the source for their pages and make a list of the keywords they use. Brainstorm other terms from your text. Then use this list as input for one of several tools that identify good search terms and suggest alternatives.

Don’t use search terms that aren’t relevant to your site. Companies have won legal cases against sites that use trademarked terms in their keyword lists, hoping to divert traffic from the trademark owner’s site. If you're an authorized dealer for a trademarked product, review your distribution agreement.

It generally specifies where and how you can use trademarked terms. As for supercalifragilisticexpialidocious — forget it, Mary Poppins. It already appears on 437,000 pages.

Visualizing keywords in a cloud

Have you seen a paragraph of alphabetically sorted words appearing to the side of a blog or website, with the type set in different sizes and faces? These tag clouds are sets of keywords used to index the content on a page, using a visual metaphor to designate their relative importance.

The larger and bolder the term, the more frequently it is used, either within the content or as a search term. Brainstorm good ideas for keywords by looking at the largest, boldest tags on a competing or compatible blog or news site.

Using keyword tools

You can choose from several keyword suggestion tools that are free, at least for a trial. Google’s tool is available without having an AdWords account. In addition to receiving synonyms and related ideas, you can find the relative frequency that a term has been used on Google over the past year and the relative number of AdWords competitors for that term.

The frequency with which search terms are used varies by season, holiday, news, or entertainment event.

Two other keyword suggestion tools are Wordtracker and Wordpot. Wordpot, shown in the following illustration, displays lists of the exact and total daily usage of search terms. Options on the right let you select the breadth of synonyms to incorporate and specify which search engines to assess.

Enter a keyword on the Wordpot site to receive a report suggesting other search terms. [Credit: Cou
Credit: Courtesy of wordpot.com
Enter a keyword on the Wordpot site to receive a report suggesting other search terms.

Different search word suggestion tools estimate each variant separately (such as singular or plural, past or present tense, or with or without spaces or punctuation). In addition, the tools work from a different database of searches, collected over different time frames and from different audience profiles.

As with just about every statistic on the Internet, don’t worry about absolutes — relative values are the ones that matter. The relative frequency of use of different terms is far more important than the actual number.

None of these numbers can tell you whether these terms are appropriate for your audience or whether your audience would actually use them. That’s where the art — and some marketing judgment — enter the process.

Always test suggested keywords by entering them back into a search engine. Every once in a while, you’ll be surprised to find that a keyword yields a completely different type of business than what you expect.

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