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Premiere Issue December 2001

Search Engine Tips
Picking Keywords

Picking keywords is the FIRST thing you should do before creating or overhauling a website. This area is the one that most people (including web designers) totally ignore and it is the most important part if you want to be found by search engines.

There are two critical methods used by search engines to find pages. The first is by keywords, and the second is metawords or META Tags. An extremely critical part of this whole mix is the keywords and keyword phrases you select that match the services and products you offer. A keyword is the term someone uses when they look for information. What are they actually going to type into their computer? It's really to your benefit to find out what they would enter into the search engine. It may not be what you would use and in many cases it will totally surprise you. What they type would be the "keywords" that the search engine uses to look for the information.

If you kill yourself designing your site based around certain keywords that you think are great, but the searcher is searching using other keywords, then they'll simply find your competition who did a better job of picking out keywords. We don't want that to happen, do we?

Each page of your site may have different keywords associated with it's content, or you could have a site that has every single page optimized to the same keyword. The important thing is that it MUST BE THE RIGHT KEYWORD or you will never be found.

For example, let's say someone goes to the search engine Alta Vista and types in the keyword phrase "presentation skills." Alta Vista has cataloged millions and millions of pages, so they can find the pages on the Internet that are most relevant to that particular keyword phrase. Their goal is to return the proper list to the person that is looking for information on "presentation skills."

What Makes a Good Keyword?
General keywords are not so hot. Here's why. Let's say you are a public speaker an you use "speaker" for your keyword. Go ahead and try typing it into a search engine like Alta Vista and see what you get.  For the most part you get information on stereo speakers. Yes, some public speaker related stuff slips in, but using a general keyword like that gives you incredible competition fighting for the top ten results. And that competition isn't even from other public speakers. It's mainly from stereo speaker companies. Yes, you should use the word, but it should not be number one on your list. There are much smarter words to use.

What products and services do you provide? Let's say you are a customer service speaker based in Los Angeles. Some keyword phrases for you to use would be "customer service speaker," "customer service trainer," or "customer service training."

Here's an even better one: "customer service training Los Angeles." You could add the city name to any of the above keyword phrases to make it more specific. The more specific it is, the better. There will be less people typing this in, but they will be highly targeted people who are better for you than general people. The only exception to this is if you use a keyword phrase so specific that no one is using it. 

OK, OK, I hear you saying, "but Tom, I speak all around the country or the world. Using this technique would eliminate me from all business other an Los Angeles." No it won't! Here are some more keyword phrases that might make you start getting the idea: "customer service speaker San Francisco," "customer service speaker Seattle," "customer service speaker Las Vegas," "customer service speaker New York." 

Tom's answer, "So what?" When someone finds one of these pages in a search engine, the top of the page could read, "Special Discount to Programs in Las Vegas Area" or something like that. You make a special deal for these people. The Las Vegas people won't know OR CARE that you make the same deal for someone in Miami, or San Antonio. REMEMBER: We're playing the search engine game here. Someone searching for customer service training in San Francisco is never going to see the page that says customer service training Detroit. You'll at least get a shot at the business, even though some of the people typing in these phrases are looking for locals so they get out of travel expenses.

[NOTE: If you want the job, and they don't want to pay travel expenses, you could use frequent flyer miles to get there which just might seal the deal.]

Regional Keywords
People in different parts of the world use different terminology for the same product. Where I come from, if you want a soft drink you might say, "I want a bottle of pop." In other areas of the country they might use the term "soda." In some areas they even say, "give me a cherry Coke," when they actually mean a cherry-flavored soft drink. You can seek out and use these alternative keywords by checking with friends or colleagues from different parts of the country.

You can do the same for other countries. The folks in England use the word "bonnet" for the hood of a car. Finding all the name variations for those products and services you sell can be an easy way to get lots of traffic and qualified buyers to your website.

Finding Keywords
How do you find out what people are using for keywords when they find your site? This is where you get into the field of statistics. Statistics are another thing that your ISP might provide for you. Everybody here that has a website or that's thinking about getting a website should ask their ISP, "Do you provide a statistic package? If you do, what does it tell me?" What you'll find out is it tells you what hours of the day people are coming to visit you. It will say where they're coming from and it will tell how long they stayed there.

The more sophisticated ones have the keywords that people typed in and which search engine they used. These are critical pieces of information. The first package I had from my provider did not give me that information. I knew I was getting many people. I knew when and from where they were coming, but I did not know what keywords they were using. This is critical information. I currently use a package called Web Trends. It's actually about a $500 program but my service provider gives it to me for free. Verify these things with your service provider. 

If your own service provider does not have that kind of tracking for you, there are other companies who will do the tracking for you. Here are some paid and free places to get stats. I'm in favor of WebTrends because I use them, but you can check out some of these other places:  

That's great information and yes, there are companies that will do it for you for a fee. I have to tell you that the Web Trends thing is a little bit of a hassle because it's got to run all the log files. This can take a long time so I do it in the middle of the night, and you must learn the program. It's something I usually have a guy in Tucson do for me every once in a while. I don't do it every week anymore because I'm just too busy. You definitely want one that has the keywords though . . . that's one of the critical pieces.

The keywords you find through your statistics package are great to have. The only drawback is that you are getting only those keywords people are typing in that actually find your site. What are the keywords people are typing in that don't find your site? If you find out what those keywords are, you can design pages in your site that are optimized for those new keywords. 

One of the best tools for finding other keywords is a free tool at (formerly called the search term suggestion list. This tool gives you all kinds of variations for terms that people are actually using. If you can't find the tool at Overture's site they may have hidden it again. They do this regularly because it is such a popular tool and it's free. I guess it gets used so much that it bogs down their system. The way to get around it is to sign up as an advertiser and put up a $50.00 deposit. Believe me, it's worth it to get to use this tool.

There is another site called  that has both a paid and a free service. In the paid service, you can enter your keywords. They will search the Internet, doing millions and millions of searches, and find out where those keywords come up and how often they are used. You might find out that one of your keywords is used a lot more than another keyword. With that information in hand, you design around specific keywords because more people type them in. 

You can also take a free trial at / , another service that has tools to help you pick the best keywords for your product or service. Take a peek at this site too:  .

Using these tools can save you lots of wasted effort and money. A client of mine wanted to build his site around the keyword "Value Added Selling." I found out for him that no one was typing that phrase when they were looking for sales training. Knowing this saved him a fortune of wasted time and money.

Want to see exactly what people are typing into the Internet right now in real time? Click here  .

One additional word on what to do with all these keywords. If you find a keyword that applies to you that doesn't get searched on much, don't discard it. Always keep in mind two things: 1. the big target theory; and 2. time management. Work on your most popular keywords first because obviously they will bring in the most traffic the fastest. As your time allows, go down your list of keywords from the most popular to the least popular. After you have worked on the most popular words, start making pages based around the words that are not as popular. People are still typing them in all around the world and they add up to increased, targeted traffic.

An alternative approach is to work on the least popular words first. This is a good idea especially if you are just learning how to make pages. The less popular keywords also have less competition from other websites. You might be able to get high rankings easier on these less competitive keywords. When you add up all the people searching for these less popular keywords it could be quite a bit of traffic for you.

It is very difficult for you to be totally objective when it comes to your own site. It's hard for you to know what someone sitting at their computer in the middle of the day, or the middle of the night, will type in to find your service. Remember -- don't put your name as a main keyword unless you are a celebrity! 

You must make sure your designer knows about keywords 
You need to put a great deal of effort locating keywords that apply to your products and services. These keywords need to be worked into the design of the site. Most designers don't know about this. You must demand that they either learn, or you should find someone who does have this kind of knowledge. If you don't, it is unlikely your site will be found by someone searching for your product or service. You also can't let fancy designers talk you into design elements that will hurt your chance of being found.

For Search Engine Resources click here

Future topics for this section

  • How to submit your website and individual pages

  • How to beat Search directories like Yahoo

  • Using side door / gateway pages to grab lots of traffic

  • Side Doors: How to make pages that get high rankings

  • Search engine ranking software

  • Why you should have lots of links

  • Site Popularity: Writing descriptions that make people click on your site

  • How to keep up with search engine changes

  • The inside scoop on paid top ten placement services

  • How to be sure your web designer knows what he/she is doing

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