One of the most important aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) is the proper selection of keywords or key phrases. Keywords are the terms that searchers enter when using search engines like Google or Yahoo. For instance, a user looking for someone to help them build a small business website might enter terms like ‘website design’ or ‘small business website’ into the search box. The search engines use those terms to find ‘relevant’ web pages.
What makes a page relevant to any search is the topic of another discussion, but it is clear that the presence of related keywords on a webpage creates a high degree of relevance. So, in the search for help building a small business website, search engines will be looking for web pages that contain the specific search terms as well as other information that is relevant to the same term.
Selecting the proper keywords for your website is crucial to making sure your pages are returned when searchers are looking for the products, services or information you are providing. While there is certainly a lot of information available about how to select keywords keyword selection is as much art as it is science. It is a mix of ratios, search probabilities, and good detective work to figure out what searches will be looking for, and how the search engines will relate your webpage to their searches.
In general, you can think of keywords as mini ads for your website. Make your ads to generic and searches, and search engines may overlook the specific thing they are searching for. You can think of keywords as falling into three basic categories: Niche, Primary and Secondary.
Niche keywords are very specific and may result in a low volume of searches but a higher listing in search results. For instance, a site that sells SEO services may focus on the keyword phrase ‘increase Exact Seek page rank.’ For searchers who are knowledgeable enough to understand this term and are targeting the Exact Seek search engine, there is a high chance your site will show up in a search for ‘Increase my page rank on Exact Seek.’ However, there will be less people searching for this phrase then say, ‘get better search engine rankings’ or ‘get better search results on Yahoo.’ The upside with niche keywords is that there is less competition for the keyword.
Primary keywords are those that appear to be a good balance between the volume of search and competitive use. These are the words you should consider focusing your SEO efforts on. These words have good amounts of search volume because they are relatively generic, however, they are a good match for your website’s content. These keywords do have competitors, but there is likely enough search volume to generate traffic for your site. A page optimized on the keyword ‘non-profit website design’ would be relevant to a good number of related searches but would have less competition than a page optimized for ‘website design.’
Secondary keywords provide a good volume of searches but have a higher level of competitors. An example is ‘website design.’ While there are lots of people searching for ‘website design’ there are millions and millions of competitors. Secondary keywords should not be ignored because of the potential volume, however, trying to optimize for such a generic term without other primary or niche keywords will likely not lead to much traffic.
In summary, ideal keywords receive a reasonable number of searches in major or niche search engines, are relevant to your site’s content and are not heavily used by competitors. Keywords that have below-average search volumes still may be excellent choices because they may be very relevant to your specific content and have limited competitors. Select multiple keywords for your site and consider using unique keywords for each page if the content is different.
As a contributor to this article, Aubrey Jones is President and founder of Riverbank Consulting, Inc. Through Webs 4 Small Business he can bring SEO and other internet services to Small Business owners. He has been in the technology and internet industry for over 10 years building and managing large commercial internet services.