Posts Tagged ‘seo keywords


Keyword Awareness: An SEO Lifestyle Choice

Keyword Awareness has been our hobby-horse for over 10 years now. Pretty much any conversation we have on the topic of SEO will contain that magic phrase at least once, and possibly more than twice. Why?

Because keyword awareness is the key to long-term search engine success, that’s why.

A lot of search marketeers approach keywording in a mechanical, goal-oriented, habitualized pattern:

  1. Take content written by marketing department
  2. Select 3 or 4 phrases that seem to reflect the main theme
  3. Plug them into Google AdWords Keyword Tool
  4. Pull out the 5 variations with the most potential traffic
  5. Jam them into the original content’s title tag, <h1> tag, and 3 times into the text, once with bold tags around it.

Which is fine, and usually works pretty well when combined with a link strategy. But it’s really not the right way.

Thinking of keywords as little magic incantations that you sprinkle across the surface of content will cause you trouble. One, your content will read like it’s been edited by monkey (and nobody wants that). Two, it’s a total waste of time and resources to write something once, then go back and try to fit square keywords into round content holes.

When you could work with keywords and content in more natural, synergistic way. You could simply be aware of the damn things from the beginning.

  • When a website is first planned, whoever writes the functional specifications should have at least one keyword (preferably with a high-traffic potential) in mind. What is this business really about? Is it about the share price and how it relates to the CEO’s bonus? Or is it about custom cowboy boots? That will be your business’s primary keyword.
  • When the business is named—and the domain name is purchased—the person responsible should have that keyword firmly in mind.
  • Before MarCom begins writing the first paragraph of promotional material, whether it be business plan, investment prospectus, or staffing ads on Craigslist, the should run that primary keyword through the AdWords Keyword Tool, and pull from that a list of all the keyword phrases that actually fit the business model and mission. Then they should sort that list by the phrases’ potential traffic. Then they should tape a that list to the side of their monitors, and refer to it every now and then as they write. All the while, they must remember: they are not writing about the keywords, they are simply being aware of them.
  • When the web development team starts building a website architecture—the list.
  • When the web design team gets the site diagram and starts to work—the list.
  • When the site is all laid out and the content creation begins—yeah, you got it. THE FREAKIN’ LIST.
  • And link development, and future content development, and PR, and advertising, and HR, and Annual Corporate Reports, and marketing plans, and product launches, and on an on ad infinitum.

If everybody on the team is fully keyword aware, every step of the way, you will never need to hire me. Because a business based on keywords from the start will rule.


10 Step SEO # 6: External links

Time for everybody’s favorite SEO topic! That’s right, Number 6! External links! W00t!

Link acquisition is such an important topic that I’m going to spend two weeks on it. Today we’ll talk about the history of backlinks. Next Thursday we’ll get into the mechanics and mysteries of the arcane art of link building.

First, you should know (or be reminded) that Google’s claim to fame, their reason to be, and the key to their success as a search engine is the concept of backlinks.  Google founders invented the system of ranking search results based on the notion that the more links pointed to a site, the more authoritative it was likely to be, and thence the more relevant, and thence the more likely to be what you were searching for. The theory was brilliant. Worked like a charm and made those two guys rich beyond your wildest imagination. But(and you know there’s always a “but”)—the system could be gamed.

Long ago, back in the dark ages of the early Naughty Aughties, back when search engines could be played like a cheap fiddle, back when anybody with the will and knowledge could get #1 ranks for any keyword they wanted without breaking a sweat, the very first thing an SEO would do for any site was submit it to every directory they could find. Well, every free directory, anyway. And the first directory to move on was always a modest little web catalog called DMOZ.

DMOZ was a noble project. They aimed to categorize the entire internet, weeding through all the crap with an army of volunteer editors who took to their responsibilities with an almost religious zeal. Each editor had control over a topic space. Every submission that came to them was reviewed, approved or denied, and posted in the DMOZ index, usually within a few days. And for several years, getting a link from a DMOZ listing was absolute, unbelievably effective, search rank GOLD.

All the other directories tried to emulate them, only many with a “value-add” like fast-track indexing, or bolded listings, or whatever which was really only about wrestling a revenue stream out of what DMOZ was giving away for free.

At one point, there were thousands of directories, all offering you a backlink and pretending to be a useful source of visits. Of course, with the possible exception of Yahoo and DMOZ, almost none of them ever actually sent any traffic at all. Have you ever used, say, CrazyMoTheDirectoryMonkey to find a decent dentist? Why would you when any search engine does the job better? The answer is the directories never really thought of themselves as traffic generators. They were just big old piles of backlinks.

All of which made backlink acquisition easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.  First, you’d submit your site to DMOZ, then to as many other directories as you could find.

The only other tactic most people used was the much more time-consuming process of identifying prospective link buddies and then sending them emails requesting a link exchange. This was (and still is, no doubt) absolutely mind-bogglingly tiresome and inefficient. But it was what we did. And after a fashion, the two strategies together worked pretty well.

Until everybody started using them, of course.

That’s when Google and some of the other engines decided that maybe the whole backlink thing was a bit too easy to game. So they tweaked.

  • Devalued reciprocal links (links exchanged between two or more sites)
  • Devalued links from pages that were deemed irrelevant
  • Devalued links from known “link farms” (which is what almost all the directories turned out to be)
  • Devalued links from pages that were dominated by out-bound links
  • Devalued links from “bad neighborhoods” or sites that were known to be sketchy in some way—like selling porn, or selling weapons of mass destruction, or selling links
  • Introduced the “no-follow” tag which allowed webmasters to link to you in a way that gave you no link benefit (or “link juice” as the kids say today)
  • And etc., etc., etc.

In essence, they took all the fun out link building. And made it really really really hard to do effectively.  Bringing us around to these modern times. Where the rules of backlinking are as easy-to-understand as they are cruel.

  1. Link acquisition is not easy
  2. If it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong
  3. Link building is not fast
  4. If it’s fast, you’re doing it wrong

And so, gentle reader, we conclude the first half of Step 6. Stay tuned. Next week we’ll figure out what the hell are we supposed to do now?


10 Step SEO # 5: Internal Links

What? you say? My internal site links affect my SEO? Crap! Is nothing off the table here?

Answers: yes, the links you use on your site—navigation links, text links in content, footer links, and even links that point to other sites—can affect your search performance. And no.  When it comes to SEO, nothing is off the table.

Here’s one useful way to think about links. Every webpage is a big old bucket of beer.  Every link pointing to the bucket is a tube dripping fresh beer into the bucket. Every link pointing away from the page is a tube carrying beer elsewhere. Now, note that I did not say every website is a bucket. Every page is a bucket.

So, a website with 1300 pages is 1300 separate buckets of beer, with tubes running beer in and tubes running beer out. With me so far?

Some buckets have more tubes coming in than they have going out. Those buckets have more beer. They have a positive supply. Buckets with more tubes leading out have less beer. A negative supply. (Okay, these are magic buckets and they never actually run out. I want one.)

The question of beer quality also arises. Buckets with lots of tubes coming in have better beer than buckets with few tubes coming in. Tubes that come from buckets that have better beer, deliver better beer.

For a bucket of beer to get really good, then, it needs either lots tubes coming in, or at least a few tubes coming from really good buckets.

Suppose that every bucket points to every other bucket on the same site. That’s pretty much a wash, right? One tube in, one tube out, no net gain in volume, anyway.

Suppose also that some buckets on the site have better beer than others, due to the quality beer coming in from other sites.

Now one last “suppose.”  Suppose a site manipulates the tubing so that buckets of the best beer put in more tubes pointing to the buckets that need the most help.

Ah. Okay then, now I need a beer. Let’s switch back to the world.

The more links a webpage gets, the better it will rank for its targeted keywords, particularly when those keywords are used in the link text of the link pointing to the page.

So, stay with me.  If you want to improve your rank on a high-value keyword, say “free beer,” and you have a 1300 page site

  • that makes beer,
  • sells beer, and
  • discusses beer, and
  • gives away free samples

And the home page is doing really well for the keywords “beer site” and the discussion forum ranks high for “beer info” and what you want now is to rank really high for “free beer,” you can help the free beer page by doing one or both of two things:

  1. Put a link that points to the free beer page on the home page and on the forum page.  Emphasize these links by making them <h3> or bold or green or something. Be sure that the link looks like:

    free beer!

  2. Put a link on every page that says

    Don’t miss our free beer giveaway!

SO then. Now you have two giant links from high-quality buckets and 1299 links from average buckets all pointing at one page and even better all using the target link text.

Don’t be mistaken: a few links using the target link text coming in from quality outside sites will work a bit better. But all those internal tubes will definitely bring the beer.


10 Step SEO # 3: Meta Tags

Welcome to the third installment of our 10 part SEO series. Today, we’ll roll two steps into one post and talk about meta tags and their cousins title tags. I’m going to assume you know nothing about them. If you already do, feel free to skip ahead.

A meta tag is a little snippet of HTML code that only spiders (such as search engine spiders) can see. Well, actually anybody can see them, if you are looking at the HTML code, which is something you can do by finding “View Code”,  “View Source Code,” “Page Code,” or similar in your browsers menu.  All of the meta tags can be found inside the head tag, which means between a <head> and a </head>.

Here’s what it looks like:

Actually, any sort of information can be conveyed to the search engines by way of a meta tag. Most of engines are only set up to recognize a few of them. In the illustration, you can see three meta tags, named “Description,” “Keywords,” and “Author.” For the purpose of this discussion, we’re going to count another tag as a meta tag, although it technically isn’t one: the “Title” tag. (If you’re interested, it’s not a meta tag because the information in it appears visibly in the browser, although I lump it in with meta tags because the title tag information is displayed outside the browser main section, right at the top of the window.) As it happens, the “Title” tag is the most important of them all, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Historically, the meta tags that have had some influence on search performance are title, description, and keywords. There was a time, way back in the early years of this millennium, when search engines read the keywords meta tag to actually determine what a web page was about. Hoo-hoo! Party time for SEOs! All you had to do was stick a few highly searched terms in the keywords meta tag and you were golden! “Free MP3,” “sex,” and “software” started showing up in the keywords meta tag of all sorts of web sites that nothing whatsoever to do with any of those things. Since almost no real people ever look at source code, no harm was done to a company’s reputation, and search spiders ranked, say, leading department store sites for searches on “Free MP3.”

The “Keywords” meta tag was the first one to be almost universally devalued, then finally, ignored completely. (I still use it, but for a different reason: it’s a convenient place for me to keep a page’s primary keywords in case I ever need to remember what the heck I was thinking about this one of the 425 pages I optimized on some random site and don’t have my spreadsheet handy.) So, scratch the keywords meta tag. I has zero (0) value in today’s search environment.

Then there is the “Description” tag. This tag has also lost a lot weight over the years due to abuse by enthusiastic SEOs. However, it does serve a valuable search function. In many engines (other than Google, who tends to do things their own way), the description meta tag is what gets displayed in a search result (along with the title tag). That means it’s one of your best shots at convincing a searcher to visit your site. Ever web page should have a short description meta tag that contains an important keyword and is, well, descriptive. Google calls these little pieces of info “snippets” and uses the description meta tag sometimes. They seem to prefer picking a sample of text from the page themselves as the snippet (which sometimes leads to pretty funny search results). Still, you should put some effort into description meta tags.

All the other meta tags are there for uses other than SEO keyword ranking. An “Author” meta tag will help the webmaster keep track of who created what content. A “Robots” tag can be used to tell search spiders not to index a particular page.  Etcetera.  If a webmaster has a use for some weird meta tag, they will use it. But there aren’t any others currently in use by major search engines. Subject to change without notice, of course.

10 Step SEO # 4: Title tag

Now, the honorary meta tag, “Title.”  This little sucker is deadly useful. If you have a web page it absolutely, without question, doubtlessly, not-subject-to-debatedly, seriously, no-kiddingly, positively, needs to have a concise, unique, relevant, and descriptive Title.

This is the primary identification used by search engines to label your page. It shows up as the link in a search result. It carries significant weight in terms of ranking for a keyword phrase. It is your very best shot at convincing a potential customer to visit. It can be an effective reinforcer of branding. So.

  • Concise. Search spiders are typically configured to only read and/or display the first 120 characters or so of a title tag. Google only displays 60 characters. So try to your titles under 60.
  • Unique. No two pages on your site should ever have the same title. Not ever. I will go even further and suggest that you don’t begin any two or more page titles with  the same character string. For instance, your brand name. 10,000 page titles that are all “ACME Medical Laboratories: keyword here look like poop when you put them all in a row. They also tell the search engine that you care more about your brand name than you do about your content.And think about it. You are probably ranking pretty well for your brand name anyway.
  • Relevant. Your page title must must must must be relevant to the content on the page. No really. Must.
  • Descriptive. This is really just another way of saying “Your page title needs to contain (or even just be) the single best keyword for that page.” My most frequent title strategy is “Keyword here |ACME,” or some similar variation. That tells a search spider that the page is about the keyword. And there’s just enough branding to keep your MBA CEO happy.

So, there you have it, Bob’s yer uncle. Meta tags in one easy lesson. Next week, the mysterious and sexy Headline tag.

search marketing magic i

10 Step SEO # 1: Keywords

This is quite oversimplified, of course, but if you’re having trouble getting your brains wrapped around the process of Search Engine Optimization, you can break it down into 10 easy-peasy steps. Well, it seems easy enough….

  1. Keyword research
  2. Content
  3. Meta tags
  4. Headline tags
  5. Internal links
  6. External links
  7. Labels
  8. Content
  9. Navigation
  10. Sitemaps

I’m going to go over these steps, one every Thursday, for the next ten weeks. Today, we start with the job that has to come first, and that is probably the hardest task for people to get a good grasp on:

Keyword Research
You cannot do anything else with SEO—not a single damn thing—until you have determined at least a handful of the most important keywords/keyword phrases for your website. “What?” you say? Keywords before content?

Yup. If you plan to do this thing right, it has to be first things first.  Of course, you can optimize existing content with your keywords (in fact, that’s mostly what professional SEOs do for a living). But that’s really missing a very important point. Keywords are NOT some magic incantation that creates money from the aether.  What keywords—and the process of keyword research—really truly are, and this is important, is:

Understanding what your website is about, what you want it do, and who you want to visit it.

If what you are building here is an online business, you really must know these things before you start. It’s Basic Business Building 101. If you know the answers to those four questions, you’ll know what your keywords should be.

What is the site about? Are you selling track shoes? Then it’s about track shoes. Not generic “shoes,” not “shoe-fly pie,” not “stiletto heel shoes.” The site is about “track shoes.”

What do you want the site to do? Direct sales to customers? Then you want the site to sell track shoes. Not elaborate on the history of track, or demonstrate which shoes are worn by which superstar. You want you visitors to “buy track shoes.”

Who do you want the site to appeal to? High school track teams? Then you are targeting amateur runners. Not Olympic stars, not amateur runners, not ultra-chic street fashionistas. You want to attract people who buy track shoes for “high school track teams.”

So far so good! We now now what, why, and who. Time to do some research. Here’s where a lot of professional SEOs start: Google AdWords Keyword Tool. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it rocks. Quick, think of 100 words or phrases that either variations of or related to “track shoes.” Get yourself a cup of coffee. This is going to take a while. OR, you could just think of maybe three or four of those phrases, enter them into the Google Tool, type in the “Captcha,” and push “Search.” Google will spit out a very nice list, but BONUS!!! Not only will you get a whole bunch of variations of “track shoes,” you’ll also get some statistics to go with them! Stuff like “Average Global Monthly Searches,” “Average CPC (that’s the average price folks are willing to pay Google for a single click on an ad generated for that keyword),” and more. This data is going to be Very Helpful.

So you generate a nice list. Download it (there’s a button for that), and open the file into your favorite spreadsheet program. Sort the list by Monthly Searches, ordered from largest to smallest. You now have a list of search terms related to “track shoes” that is ranked in order of the most-to-least searches. Wow. Think of the power of that knowledge. You now know that the search phrase “track shoes” gets searched for in Google about 40,000 every month. You also learned that “running shoes” gets around 1,000,000., and “track shoe store” gets less than 150.  Bingo! You want to use the search phrase “running shoe” on every page! Right? Well, no, not exactly.

Because the next step will help you decide which search terms you can actually compete for. Meaning, what’s the point of all this trouble if at the end of the day, despite all the SEO you can muster, you still end up no higher that Google page 6, because there’s just so much brutally competent competition? You really think a little SEO is gonna get you higher than NIKE for the “running shoes” phrase? Hmmm?

Not going to happen. What you really want is a set of search phrases that

  • generate a useful amount of traffic
  • are highly relevant to your website
  • are actually “winnable”

Quick gut check. Pick the three keywords from the Google tool that you think might help you sell your product, and also have high traffic numbers. Plug each one of those into Google search, surrounded by “quotes”. I’m going with “running shoes (1,000,000 visits/month),” “track shoes (40,000 visits/moth),” and “track & field shoes (6,600 visits/month).” On the search results page, you’ll see a number, right below the search box. For “running shoes” I see About 21,100,000 results, for “track shoes” the number is 520,000. What that means is that there are 21 million webpages competing for the term “running shoes,”  and only half a million trying to capture “track shoes.” You chances of getting somewhere for “track shoes” is 40 times better. What about “track & field shoes”? A mere 6,600 potential monthly visits, but with 200,000 competitors. You are twice as likely to get a good rank with “track & field shoes” but the potential gain is only about 8%. Huh? What up with that? It’s because a lot of websites think “track & field shoes” is better for traffic than it actually is. (Of course, it’s really really really a LOT more complicated than that, but a good enough explanation for this exercise.)

So now what? So now, you sort through the list and pick the best possible compromise keyword phrase between Relevance to Your Business,  Monthly Average Searches and the Number of Potential Competitors. It’s a little bit art, a little bit science, a little bit luck, a little bit instinct, and okay, it’s a little bit dark magic.

Pick the best one. That is your site’s main keyword. This is the one you will optimize into your home page content. Done! Easy!

Now you can go forth and do the same thing for every single page on your site. Crap! That’s a lot of work! Well, we can whittle that down some. Every product page has a built-in keyword: the product name. I.e., “Brooks Nerve LD Track Spike.” That is going to cut out most of your pages, most likely. Also, you can forget about keywords for any pages you have that you don’t particularly care about traffic for: sitemap, list of phone numbers, legal statements, etc.

So you really only have to do keywording for the home page, category pages, and any pages with content that is designed to draw search traffic, like video demonstrations, how-to instructions, and the like.

I keep my keywords in a spreadsheet. Columns as follows:

Primary keyword
related keywords (2 or 3)

Now you have done your initial keyword research, pour yourself a beer to celebrate. Then you can get busy writing content. See you next week!