So, what are keywords and why do we need to worry about them?
As far as internet search is concerned, the world pretty well revolves around keywords. These are the, well, key words, that sum up the content of a page. You use keywords on sites like Etsy or Amazon.com when you are searching for a product, on a travel site when you are researching a destination or a general search engine, such as Google or Bing when you are searching the answer to something.
The search engine is what powers the search. All the examples above use a search engine to help people find what they want. Etsy uses a search engine, Amazon uses a search engine and Google is a search engine.
Why Keywords Matter
So keywords matter to us as users because that’s what we use when we want to find something. And that’s why they are important to us as business people who make products that we want to be found. We want that when someone uses the keywords ‘long pink dangle earrings’ that our long pink dangle earrings are returned at the top of the search results.
When search engines were first developing, web pages included a hidden keywords meta tag that the page’s author could use to specify important keywords that summed up the content. This would allow search engines to then connect their users with the page when they searched using one or more of the keywords specified by the author.
For a while this was a perfectly good solution, until some authors started to ‘game’ the system by adding completely unrelated keywords in a blatant attempt to get more traffic to their sites. In time this led to some pages having keywords tags filled with dozens or even hundreds of seemingly random words and so this system came to be untrusted by search engines and the keywords tag is now considered pretty well irrelevant.
Good Use of Keywords
On the contemporary web, search engines now look at the actual text on the page to try and determine the contents. This means that while it’s no longer important to specify keywords in a meta tag, you should give some consideration to the kind of words people will use when searching for content or products like these and ensure that you are including these in the text.
The good use of keywords will add sign posts to your products telling search engines and in-site search tools about your product. Using keywords effectively will mean that users who arrive at your page are far more likely to be interested in your content or product, so offering them a positive user experience. The longer a visitor stays on the page the more authority that page will be deemed to have by Google. If a visitor lands on your page and ‘bounces’ straight off (this is known as the bounce rate), it will reduce the value of your site in Google’s eyes.
Bad Use of Keywords
If this isn’t a good match (for example if you shoe horn key words into your page which don’t reflect your content but to attract visitors) you will be seen as trying to trick the searcher, whether it’s a real person or search engine.
An example of this is eBay. How often have you searched for an item, only to find rogue products in the search results because the person selling the product has added inappropriate keywords to their description to ‘trick’ you to view their product. For example, say you are looking for an item such as an iPhone charger, you may see products in the results with phrases such as ‘similar to iPhone‘ or ‘not iPhone’ in the title – where the advertiser has used ‘iPhone’ as a keyword just with the hope of tricking you to look at their product.
Another form of bad practice is to stuff your text full of keywords. Search engines today are smart and do not need to see the same keyword repeated over and over. In fact, search engines penalise sites with keyword stuffing. The search engines will understand keywords from your titles, your content and through supporting materials (for example images).
How to Use Keywords
In the dark old age of the Internet, there was a practice that keywords had to be used a certain percentage of times within an article for ‘optimum’ results. This formulaic approach led to some odd writing habits because content was being written for search engines and not for users.
Times have changed, and we should now do what is always best, i.e. to write for the reader first. Google urges site managers to write naturally and to focus on the reader. Therefore employ a natural style of writing, without concentrating on how many times you can fit the key words in.
However, while you want to use a natural style, you also need to bear in mind the importance of keywords. This, unfortunately, sometimes means that we need to forsake funny or amusing titles and headings in order to write meaningful titles.
What do I mean? A blog title called ‘my better than sliced bread product’ introducing your new soy bean fiber yarn, may be cute, however search engines at best are going to think that you are writing about a new bakery line. A blog title called ‘My New Soy Bean Yarn, is less fun, but it says exactly what it is. There’s no reason why you can’t combine the two, however. Using key words needn’t (and shouldn’t) drive the fun and personality from your writing. Instead, how about something like ‘My New Soy Bean Yarn Has Arrived and It’s Better Than Sliced Bread!’’
Tip: Be careful when using punctuation in page meta titles. Some search engines may ‘stop’ reading a title at the punctuation.
Here are some guidelines for using keywords in your products:
• URL – Use the keyword in your URL. This is easy with your blog or a product in the store, as the title often forms the URL (this doesn’t apply to Etsy as we have no control over URLs)
• Title – In case you have a separate title to your URL, make sure that your main keyword is in the title and positioned at the front.
• Main Body – It is good practice to use your keyword in the first sentence and then else where in your description where appropriate. You could consider highlighting the words once in bold or italic however only if this is appropriate to highlight a point or give emphasis to your writing.
If you are interested in reading more about keywords and the role of search engine marketing and search engine optimization, the following guide has a lot if useful information.