Friday, October 30, 2009

SEO - How Important are Those Pesky Keywords?

Everybody seems to be talking about keywords these days. Just what are they and how important are they? Keywords are an important tool in the wonderful world of search engine optimization.

Remember that the internet, for the most part, is based upon words. While we all like fancy, dynamic sites, and know that "a picture is worth a thousand words," we generally find what we seek on the internet using words.

This means that unless your business is already famous, your business name does not qualify as a high quality keyword! (At least not yet.) Think about words and phrases that describe your business and/or service. Then, use your logic and perhaps one or more of the online keyword selector sites to help you research keywords. You are looking for words that other people are using in searches - words that relate to you and your business. (i.e. “pet portraits” and “dog breed art” for an artist who specializes in painting dogs.) You will typically want a combination of 2-4 words. The competition for a single key word if far too intense for most small businesses to make a dent. Let’s use “Artists” as an example. If you expect to be found on a web search of the word “artists,” you will likely be disappointed. “Black and white landscape artist” as a target keyword phrase for example has much better potential for success.

Once you select a keyword phrase, or ideally a number of phrases, you will want to write copy for your website that includes these phrases. Your top one or two keyword phrase selections should be used at least once in every paragraph on the page, as well as in the headline. Other keyword phrases should be used less frequently, though repeated at least once on the page if possible. The challenge here is to write copy that reads well, is informative, and yet enticing to search engine crawlers. (Spiders or webcrawlers are software programs used by search engines to search the internet for sites and site content.) Also, you can target different pages of your site with different keyword combinations to attract more traffic. Any page of your website should be considered a potential “landing” page - the first page a visitor to your site sees. You do this through well chosen and utilized keyword phrases. Don’t assume that all users will go straight to your home page.

Once on your site, the hope is that your visitor will stay a while to navigate the pages and learn more about you and your business. Make sure to highlight your chosen keywords when you give your copy to your site designer so that he/she can include these phrases in the description metatags contained in the source code of the website pages. These “metatags” are part of the behind-the-scenes workings of a website. While you do not see the actual code when you view a site, the code is responsible for how the website looks. Your computer’s browser interprets the code, and then displays the site for viewing.

Another concept that incorporates keywords is the “alt tag.” The alt tag is text that describes a picture or graphic on a website. It shows up when your cursor hovers over an image on the site. The website designer places this alt tag text in the source code of the web pages. The alt tags are one more way to get relevant keyword phrases onto your site. The file names of images and pages should also utilize your keyword phrases. So, if you have a painting of a Greyhound dog titled “My Best Friend,” the alt tag on the image, as well as the image file name, should be something like “Greyhound Dog Portrait,” not the title of the painting. If your images have quality names and alt tags, people who use Google Images to search are much more likely to find your work. Then, the picture will link them into your site! A good practice is to give all images file names that are descriptive (i.e. “vintage horse and buggy painting” as opposed to “my first landscape”) and use similar alt tags.

Once you are ready to address off-site optimization techniques, these same keywords that you've chosen to use come into place. These keyword phrases should become the active links in blog articles you post about your site and any other inbound links you can cultivate. More on that approach in an upcoming post!