If you are just starting to learn about websites, SEO (search engine optimization) and the other related digital marketing practices then one of the things you’ll be wondering about are keywords.
Many new webmasters ask about SEO. “How do I get my website to the top of the Google search results?” The real question is What are Keywords?
First let’s talk a little about how Google Search works. Google, or Bing, or Yahoo, do not rank websites *, they rank web pages. Individual URLs. Their goal is to show you the best pages related to the search you performed.
(* There is something called domain authority. This is based on incoming links to your site and the internal link structure, passing PageRank from URL to URL . We’ll deal with this in another post, it’s pretty advanced stuff. If you want to learn more about Domain Authority from the industry experts, check out this post from Moz.)
Google turned 20 years old recently and they have made some serious progress in that time. But the principles of indexing the web have not changed. What is a page about? How good is the content on that page? How closely does it match the searcher’s intent*? What does the internet ecosystem think of this page and the website in general?
(*searcher intent is a relatively recent concept. Google tries to decide what task the search is attempting to accomplish. Are they looking for products and/or services available for sale, the answer to a question or simply information on a given topic. The algorithm decides the intent based on a variety of signals and tailors the result accordingly.)
What are Keywords?
Keywords are the building blocks of any web page. At it’s most basic they are the words and phrases typed into the search bar by your potential customers.
Most people, when they perform a Google search know the type of company they are looking for. Your job is to shout the loudest. You must sell yourself to Google in order that they show your website to the searcher.
If you are a plumber in Dublin then the keywords for your Home Page or one of your service pages should be “plumber” and “Dublin.” The Title of the page could be “Fully Qualified Plumber in Dublin.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Every business will have 10’s, 100’s, maybe 1000’s of keywords. These could be different services provided, different geographic locations, even stores in different towns and cities. Each web page on your site should target a different set of keywords and a different searcher intent. You do not want 2 of your pages competing for the same results page space (unless the search is for your brand name specifically, then you want all 10+ spots).
How to Identify Your Keywords
Make lists. It’s that simple. here are some tips:
- List all of the services you provide. If you are a carpenter for example some of these might be; kitchens, staircases, first fix carpentry, second fix carpentry, joinery, handmade wooden staircases, handmade wooden kitchens etc.
- Make a list of all the areas you serve or the locations where have shops or offices. Start with the largest area, province or county (Leinster, Munster, Dublin, Cork), then the larger towns and cities ( Swords, Lucan, Bandon, Kinsale), finally any smaller towns that you think may generate search traffic. Include all locations that you have already worked in. If you are a national brand include your country.
- Next combine products and services from the first list with locations from the second. Start by listing all the jobs you can remember doing in the past and where they were. This creates a what is called a long-tail keyword*. This is how you create keyword (search) phrases and blog post/page titles. For example; handmade wooden staircases in Dublin, first fix carpentry in Bandon, handmade wooden kitchens in Ireland.
(*Some statistics about the internet would surprise people from outside the industry. The long Tail refers to the lowest volume of the Search Demand Curve. 3-4 word search terms, that are industry specific and are searched for less than 100 times per month. What’s surprising is that the Long Tail makes up 70% of all searches. 30% of all searches are typed into Google once, and are never seen again. Below is an example of the Search Demand Curve from Moz.)
The rational here is that securing first page slots for high demand search terms, “carpenter” for example, will be extremely difficult, especially for new websites. Targeting multiple Long Tail Keywords offers greater opportunity and better ROI (return-on-investment. Either time, effort or money).
This is not to say that you should not target the high volume, high value terms, you should. But expect to put a lot of work into getting them to rank over a much longer period of time.
Advanced Keyword Research
The first two are easy, these will make up your top level service pages (available from the main menu at the head of each page) and your flagship blog posts. Next-up we’ll look at some ways to generate extra traffic with more long-tail keywords.
- What questions do your customers ask you when they call or at a site visit? What are the questions they ask when they visit your store? These questions can all be turned into website visits. Let’s stick with the carpenter example; Which type of timber would you use to make this type of staircase? What type of varnish do you recommend for my pine kitchen? What is your favorite brand of power saw? etc.
- Lastly, research your direct competition. Put yourself in the shoes of a would be customer. Perform a number of searches for the goods and services you provide. Identify businesses in your target locations (or offer their goods or services in your target locations) that have a blog on their website (you can do this using the Google Ads Preview Tool. In this post, Landing Pages for Local Business, there is a step-by-step guide) Choose posts that fit your needs and write better ones.
How to Use Your Keywords
Now for the post itself. Depending on who you listen to there is somewhere between 200 and 2000 factors that make up the search ranking of a web page. In other posts we will look at more advanced ranking factors such as incoming links but for now let’s look at the basics, keyword placement.
These tactics go way back to the beginnings of Google and SEO. The search engines know what your post is about by finding the keywords you have specified in a number of specific locations. These are;
- Page Title (meta title tag, 50-60 characters)
- Description (meta description tag, approx. 155 character)
- At least 1 sub heading (H1, H2, H3, H4 tags etc.)
- Aim for a 0.5% distribution of the exact keyword/search term throughout the post ( 5 times in 1000 words)
- In at least 1 image title and in all image alt. tags
Here’s an infographic with all these keyword placements. Feel free to use this with a link back to this post…
It can be tough to remember all of these for every post that you write, but you can get a little help. What are Keywords? Yoast know all there is to know about keywords…
A Brief History of Yoast
Joost de Valk founded Yoast. For a long time, Joost and Yoast were pretty much identical. However, over the past six years, the company has grown rapidly. Nowadays, Yoast isn’t just Joost de Valk anymore. It’s a sizable company.
Before 2006, Joost never had any interest in SEO, but that was about to change! Joost: “As I was able to write code and develop websites, I immediately understood all technical aspects of SEO.” This technical background combined with his ability to write appealing copy and to speak in public were the perfect ingredients to become an SEO expert.
In 2010, Joost decided to give up his job as an SEO consultant. He took a leap of faith and began a company. Back then, he was pretty sure he would never hire any employees. So he named his one-man-company after himself and his blog: Yoast.
Joost made money by doing site reviews and providing SEO consultancy at major companies like eBay. Besides that, he was developing his SEO plugins for WordPress. In October 2010, Joost finally made one plugin of all these little ones: WordPress SEO (now Yoast SEO) was born.
Today Yoast employs more than 40 people, their blog is renowned as one of the most knowledgeable in the industry and Yoast SEO is the most popular SEO plugin on the web.
The Yoast SEO Plugin
Below is the Yoast SEO plugin installed on WordPress.
This is an SEO treasure trove. It’s this simple; enter the keywords/search term that you want to target. A list will appear, similar to the one below. Make changes to your post until every dot moves from red, to amber to green.
Pro Tip : Write your post first, without focusing on the keyword target. Then enter the keyword into Yoast SEO and optimize. The language will be more natural and you will work faster.
With zero coding knowledge the Yoast SEO plugin will help you write your snippet (the title tag and meta description that show up on the search results page). The plugin will remind you to use the keyword in sub-headings, in image alt. tags and at the correct distribution throughout the text. The premium version even allows you to add extra keywords, so you can target related terms with a single URL.
There are a number of other features in Yoast SEO including Readability Score, Social Sharing options and advanced tagging of the post/page for search engines. On top of this free goodness, Yoast SEO will also create and automatically update your your xml. sitemap for Google to crawl, and learn about the structure of your site.
I would highly recommend that you install, at least the free version of Yoast SEO on your WordPress website today. You will see your search rankings improve almost overnight.
Bad SEO. Keyword Stuffing & Trust Signals
There are some tactics that were very fashionable around 10-12 years ago and some of them did work… back then. They do not work any more. Unfortunately many websites are still using them. In many cases not only do these tactics not work, they have a negative effect on rankings. And not just a single URL, sometimes the entire site.
To illustrate the point I’m going to use the example of company advertising SEO services in Ireland. I’m not going to shame the company by naming them or linking to this example. I don’t think that would be fair. You would think that an SEO Agency would keep up to date with best practices in their field, well not in this case.
Keyword Stuffing the Footer
Above is a screen shot of their footer (the section at the very bottom of the page, usually identical on every page of the site) it’s on every page. It lists every county in Ireland with the letters SEO prefixed. Google hates keyword stuffing, especially in the footer!!
A click on any of these links will bring you to a page with SEO and the county as the title. This is what the URL looks like; /Seo-Roscommon.html. The pages are identical to each other. The only difference being the the change of county name where appropriate. Google hates duplicate content!!
Inconsistent & Misleading Trust Signals
On top of these glaring errors, there’s more. Every page has a bold title proclaiming, “The #1 SEO Agency in… (insert county name here).” Even if this were true, for all 32 counties, which I’m sure it’s not, they are not based in even 1 of these counties. Their registered address, almost invisible in the footer of the page is Wiltshire, Warminster, United Kingdom!!! Google hates inconsistent trust signals* and contact info!!
(*trust signals can be defined as anything that gives a positive feeling about the reputation of a company to a website visitor. This can be badges from associations or security providers, seeing https in the search bar or simple things like contact info.)
Thank you for reading this post… and getting here, the very end. It’s an in depth subject, but I hope I’ve answered the question What are Keywords? in simple enough terms for you to get a grasp of the subject and to introduce you to more advanced techniques. Below are some posts from around the SEO industry that cover some of the topics I touched on above in a little more detail.
100+ Google SEO Success Factors, Ranked
At the outset I spoke about how the search engines index the web. SEO, as a discipline, is primarily concerned with criteria by which Google judges a web page.
Cyrus Shepard is a bit of a legend in the world of SEO. He founded Zyppy SEO and is the former Director of SEO & Audience Development at Moz. This post is widely regarded as the bible of ranking factors. Learn this post, learn SEO.
How to do Keyword Research
In this post I outlined the basics of identifying what your keywords are. As you learn more about blog posts and SEO there are more advanced techniques.
Rand Fishkin is who I personally admire most in the field. Back when he founded Moz they published The Beginners Guide to SEO. It has been updated on a regular basis since and is the flagship SEO resource on the web.
Chapter 5 covers Keyword Research and this is a good place to start. Continue on, read the rest of the guide and look for other more advanced Keyword Research guides on the Moz website, there are many more.
Why focus on long tail keywords?
Yoast have one goal; SEO for everyone. Above we looked at their SEO Plugin, but their website provides a wealth of knowledge on SEO and especially keywords.
This post from the Content SEO section of the blog covers the benefit of targeting longer search terms. We discussed this topic above under the heading “How to Identify Your Keywords.”
The Ultimate Guide to Bad SEO Practices
Towards the end of the post we looked at a couple of examples of SEO that may have worked in the past but today will damage your website. This post, from the Content Marketing Institute, covers the topic of bad SEO in much greater detail.