Monday, March 22, 2010

Finding Keyword Phrases - Part 1

Following up on my deep linking post of the other day, I thought it would be a good time to talk about keyword phrases since there's so much misunderstanding about them.

The common mistake that people unfamiliar with SEO (search engine optimization) make is to add as many words as they can to the metadata in hopes of improving their search rank. A common example would be for the website for The Blu Bullit Band to use an assortment of meta tags like "blue, bullit, band, group, guitar, music, vocals, blues, willie dixon, eric clapton, robert johnson, etc.

Here are the problems when this occurs:

1) Don't underestimate the boffins at Google. They're smart and always ahead of the curve. Whenever they think that someone has figured out a way to game the search rankings, they change the algorithm to compensate. Google figured out years ago that web designers were typing in hundreds of keywords into the metadata to ensure a higher search ranking, so they changed the system. 4 or 5 is now the most that will rank, and adding more is known as "keyword stuffing" for which you'll be penalized.

2) Choose those 4 or 5 keywords (or keyword phrases) carefully and keep them relevant to the page. In our example above, The Blu Bullit Band used "willie dixon, eric clapton, robert johnson" in their metadata. If the copy on the page with those metatags doesn't contain those phrases somewhere, then Google raises its digital eyebrows and penalizes you again. That's to prevent you from just using Lady Gaga keywords (like Lady Gaga, Pokerface, Paparazzi, Just Dance) in an effort to have her traffic give your site a look.

One of the good things about Google is that it places great importance on the user experience, and if anything diminishes that experience, the website owner will pay for it. In this case, if someone searching for Gaga or Clapton or Willie Dixon was directed instead to The Blu Bullit Band's site, that wouldn't be a great user experience unless there was something relevant to those keywords, so Google guards heavily against that. That's why all links must be relevant. If you put Gaga in the keywords, Gaga better appear on the copy of the page.

3) Don't use those keywords too much. Keyword stuffing can work another way as well. Even if you only use 4 or 5 keyword phrases (that's a multiple word phrase that counts as a single keyword like "Blu Bullit Band" or "black mini HD camera"), but then repeat them over and over in the copy of the page, that calls for a spanking from Google too. Different experts will tell you different ratios from as low as 1% to as high as 5%, but if you keep those keywords in the 2% range you're probably safe. That means that for every 100 words, you can only use your keyword twice.

Although not directly related to keyword phrases, Google also penalizes your website if you have broken links (a big no-no), and although you don't get penalized, Google can't index Flash files so any text within is never seen by the search engine.

In the next part of Finding Keyword Phrases, we'll look at how to find phrases that work and how to apply them.

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