Website Keywords

Most everyone has heard of “keywords” (a Google search turns up 565 million pages) but what are they? How important and what do you do about them? First, a little history.

When the Internet started becoming really popular, people needed a way to find things when they didn’t already know the URL (Universal Resource Locator, or web address). The first online solution was directories (see our last newsletter) but that depended on someone collecting, categorizing and compiling lists. As the Internet exploded, there was just no way to keep up.

At some point in the distant ancient past of the 1990’s, someone had the bright idea of having the websites themselves say what they were about, and then writing computer programs to collect and compile the information. Thus were search engines born.

Websites would say what they were about through “metatags” (these days usually just called “tags”) which the web designer programmed into the website, not visible on your screen. There are several types of these tags, one of them “keywords.” I’m looking at a site I found in a Google search for “keywords”. In that site’s code is a line <meta name="keywords" content="keywords… -- a long string of words follows.

“Robots” (computer programs) could then “spider” (search by following links from one site or page to another) the whole Web and compile a database of all the pages on the Internet and what they say they are about.

To this day, that remains what keywords are -- a way of identifying what a web page is about.  But the way search engines determine this has become, of necessity, immeasurably more sophisticated. As the Internet became commercialized, the game of abuse became a big-time business. First, anyone could put any keywords into the metatags, regardless of what the site was actually about. Other tricks developed as time went on.

In fact, there is a constant battle between Google and the hackers, spam artists and other criminal types who are always trying to find a new way to trick Google into giving their sites high rankings for the search terms (keywords) of their choice. Meanwhile Google constantly refines their programming to defeat the latest trick, in their effort to serve up what people are actually looking for: the websites most relevant to the information or products they are looking for. There are many tricks to getting high search engine rankings which Google will discover and actually blacklist a website for. We’ll have more to say on that in future newsletters.

How do you determine what keywords to promote for your website? The first question of course is, what is your website actually about? If you put yourself in the shoes of a potential visitor, you can imagine several ways someone might be looking for a site such as yours. A person could search on the name or type of product, key benefits it provides, problems it solves, etc.

You’ll probably end up with a long list. How are you going to narrow it down to the most important terms? Here’s one obvious question: How many people are searching for each term? The more searches for that term, the more potential of generating visitors to the site. Then there’s the question of how likely is someone searching for that term to be interested in your product, service or information? Only if you can answer questions such as these can you make wise decisions about the keywords for your site.

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