‘A significant word mentioned in an index.’ (Little Oxford English Dictionary)
‘A word used in a computer system to indicate a document’s content.’ (Little Oxford English Dictionary)
‘A term used as a keyword to retrieve documents in an information system such as a catalogue or search engine’. (Unknown)
‘An index term, subject term, subject heading or descriptor.’ (Unknown)
In essence Keywords are either individual words or short phrases that help identify and retrieve stored information.
With the millions of websites and blogs and consequent multi-millions of web pages now in existence finding relevant information and content is no easy task. This is where keywords come into their own. In fact, they are vital to discoverability. The importance of keywords, to both a website owner and a user, cannot be over emphasised. Neither can the importance of ensuring they are clear and relevant.
Note: The term ‘website’, as used in this post, includes: website; blog; pages; posts and content and should be read as applying to these wherever appropriate.
With very rare exception the whole purpose of a website is to attract readers by providing content (information and products) that will meet a user’s need. The aim: to turn readers into contributors; fans; clients; customers. To facilitate that aim website owners should consider the following.
Naturally, including keywords in a heading or title is advisable as search engines consider these first. It also makes sense to, if possible, select an appropriate keyword for each page. These should be relevant and on-topic to the content. If the content includes sub or section headings it may also help to see if keywords may be included in them.
There is also advise available suggesting keywords be included within the actual content. A couple of times in the first paragraph, if relevant, and then wherever possible without falling into the trap of ‘keyword stuffing’ (Abusing the facility by inserting an excessive number of keywords including ones not relevant to the content. The aim of which is to get the website or content to show up in multiple search results even when the content is irrelevant to the topic searched. Search engines will block and often ban such websites altogether.)
Including, relevant, on-topic, keywords as often as possible, without abusing the facility, will enable search engines to find and index the content more easily. This results in increased discoverability/visibility for the website.
Apparently sixty percent of keyword searches comprise two or three words. It therefore makes sense to try and replicate this trend with the keywords selected.
When ‘crawling’ through content, search engines give greater value to links as opposed to the text. It will therefore help if keywords can be included within the link name. If this cannot be achieved, an alternative is to include keywords in the text surrounding the link.
Any ‘appropriate’ method that facilitates a search engine’s indexing of a website should be considered. Keywords in image file names and captions may assist.
There is some thought, though not entirely proven, that search engines ignore anything in block quotes. Of course, keywords may be included but these should not be relied upon for discoverability.
Finding Relevant Keywords
Keywords are vital to discoverability and visibility. It is therefore essential the best possible ones are utilised. Most will acknowledge how difficult it can be to find those that will ensure not only search engines index the website/content but also place them in the high end of search results. A result that appears on third or subsequent pages rarely gets attention: users are busy people and, unless determined to find everything available on a topic, are unlikely to read beyond pages one and two.
Types of keyword
Before considering how to find useful and relevant keywords it will help to understand the intention behind them. Essentially there are three types:
Informational: The user is looking to: learn something; solve a problem; be educated. These focus on question type keywords e.g. How to ……..; Different ways to do …….; Why is …… important; etc.
Navigational: User wants to find relevant information regarding a brand; product; book; etc. These indicate they already know what they are looking for. They tend to be included in: homepages; product pages; brand pages. Also, book titles; author names; etc. can be their own keywords e.g. Charles Dickens.
Transactional: The user intends to take an action: purchase; follow; subscribe; etc. Usually found in: category pages; sale pages; landing pages e.g. ‘Books for Sale’; ‘Subscribe to ….. (The Times)’; etc.
Methods for checking/finding keywords
To discover appropriate, relevant and effective keywords the website owner should first consider the popularity of, and competition for, a keyword. This should be combined with learning what people are looking for. Some statistics indicate thirty-nine percent (39%) of on-line shopping begins with search engine search results.
Some understanding may be achieved by simply reading magazine and newspaper articles and/or taking note of advertising. However, though these may help they do not provide the more detailed statistics that help determine the effectiveness of a keyword. Thankfully, there are some available services to assist in these considerations.
Wordtracker: This allows a user to check up to five keywords a day before requiring them to sign up for a paid account. For most indie (independent), self-publishing authors these accounts are not a viable or realistic option. There are three account types available but, though there is a free one-week trial, they do come at a cost which most indie authors will find beyond their means. In addition, would they really need to check keywords frequently enough to justify the monthly outlay. The daily option would more than likely be sufficient.
The user inputs the keyword (single word or short phrase) they are considering. The system will then display a table that: lists variations; shows volume of searches made against each within the selected time period (users may select the period e.g. month, year); the number of web pages the keyword appears in; the competition for each; how popular each is. The latter takes into account the competition.
Google Adwords: This is Google’s advertising facility. To be able to access their ‘keyword planner’ the user must first have a Google account i.e. Gmail and then sign-up for a Google Adwords Account. Contact e-mail and website/blog addresses are required. The advert has to be created and the billing section completed. The writer has yet to utilise the facility but, from the information available, it appears to probably provide similar information to that supplied by other systems (e.g. Wordtracker above).
Keywordtool.io: There is no free option. Nevertheless, a user may still input a keyword and a useful list of variations will be displayed. The statistics for each are greyed out (only available for paid accounts) but users may still find the displayed variations helpful.
Yahoo! Buzz Index: Yahoo closed this facility in 2011. Mentioned here in case some have heard of it and wondered why it had been omitted.
Naturally, understanding current trends will assist in determining keywords.
Google Trends: Upon first entering the site a list of real-time current trending topics is displayed. This includes graphs of how popular particular categories are and a map of where the current trends are most popular. There is also the option to refine the information by category and country. In both there is a limited drop down list.
The user may also enter a word or phrase in an ‘Explore topics’ search bar. The result page will display the trends over a given period (usually defaulted to five years). Again a graph showing how popular the topic has been over the selected period is displayed. The user may refine the search further by: country (this provides a far more comprehensive list); period (hours, days, years); category (comprehensive list); areas of the web.
Social Media: Many sites e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc. also provide information upon current trends.
The popularity of and competition for a keyword directly impacts upon where a website will appear in a search result. Where a website: is not sponsored (paid advertising) or popular; does not regularly receive multiple visits; is not the only one uniquely dealing with the topic, etc., it will, if at all, most likely appear a long way down a search result. Website owners should therefore consider the alternative and varied keywords the systems referred to above display. The more unique (but still relevant) the keyword the more likely it is the website will be displayed earlier in a search result.
The term ‘website owner’ rather than ‘webmaster’ has intentionally been used because many websites/blogs are managed by ordinary people with no computer programming knowledge or experience. Consequently, it falls to them to select keywords.
Keywords are crucial to discoverability.
Time and care is required for the selection of relevant and appropriate ones.
The popularity of and competition for keywords should be taken into account.
Real-time, current, trends should be taken into account.
Wherever possible more refined (less popular) options should be considered.
Keywords should, carefully, be included wherever relevant and appropriate
‘Keyword stuffing’ must always be avoided.
Keywords should always be considered in website design and content preparation.