If you have a website -- even a modest one -- or use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, using the right keywords or keyword phrases is vital to success. Well-chosen keywords give you a better chance of showing up near the top of search results. But not just any results. What you want are the most relevant searches conducted by your best prospects.
Keywords tell the search engine robots what your business is all about. Selecting good ones is harder than you think. The bots aren't really that smart, so you have to be clever in what you feed them. Experts at Network Solutions, a top domain registrar and web hosting firm, compare it to placing "bait" on your site. The bait attracts the search engine "spiders" that crawl billions of website pages and index what they find. Most entrepreneurs use common sense to create keywords. That's fine, since they must appeal to real people as well as search spiders. But many keywords are not common sense, and anything you come up with still must be properly implemented to be effective.
Here are 7 steps to improving your keyword power, drawn from experience here at Business.com as well as Network Solutions:
1. Gather your prospects: If you have a typical small business site of 5-10 pages, you'll want to end up with a polished list of perhaps 15 to 30 keywords and keyword phrases. A keyword phrases might include several words, but only counts as one. Develop a list of 30 to 60 and pare it down. Start with common sense. So-called "natural language" keywords tend to work best. These are the terms people would use in everyday language when talking about your products or services. Write down as many as you can think of. Include those you might even think sound goofy.
2. "Spy" on your competitors. Check competitor websites to see what they use. Here's an insider tip: You don't have to read their entire site. Keywords used on a webpage can be found on the site's "Source" page, which you can easily see by clicking "View" on the toolbar at the top of your browser, then selecting "Source." Once the source page opens (it won't look pretty), look for entries that look like this: <meta name="KEYWORDS" content="the keywords you are looking for here">.
3. Use Keyword Services and Tools: There are several helpful online tools and services that will help you find the best keywords and phrases for your business. Paid services such as Wordtracker (www.wordtracker.com) offer the best capabilities (Wordtracker also has a free version). Free online tools include Keyworddiscovery.com, Wordpot.com, and Google's tool at google.com/sktool.
4. Focus on relevancy: If you market to a specific demographic such as teens, seniors, pet owners or fitness fanatics, aim for keywords that appeal to them. But unless you target a technical or professional audience of some kind, stick with natural rather than technical language. Resist the urge to use "bait and switch" keywords from related categories on the chance that customers for those products might also be interested in yours. The leads you get will be a poor fit and will probably click away immediately anyhow.
5. Be specific -- but not overly specific. It's a tricky balance. If you use general keywords -- the same ones used by millions of other sites -- you'll get lost in the crowd. Instead, consider phrases specific to a product or service you sell. Network Solutions uses the example of a pet store that includes keyword phrases such as "jeweled dog dollar," "large dog collar," or "paw print dog pillow" to attract customers. But avoid adjectives, such as colors or "striped" as they can hurt your results. Customers still looking might not yet know what they want and might not use such descriptors in their searches.
6. Pick strong-performing keywords: The best keywords are not necessarily those that show up as most-used in the keyword tools. If a keyword has millions of uses, that probably just means you'd have to compete with millions of websites for clicks. "A better measure of a powerful keyword is the number of times the term is searched, balanced against the amount of competition for that word," says Network Solutions. For example, a phrase that gets just 500 searches per month but has almost no competition is generally a better option than a phrase that is searched 2,000 times but is competing with a million other sites.
7. Consider geographic keywords: If you are trying to attract customers to a specific physical store location, "geo-targeting" some keywords can be a terrific tactic. A pet store, for example, could use "dog collars in austin texas" or "phoenix cat toys" to help attract local customers.
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