Keywords & Search

Last Updated: 09/01/2003

Keyword selection is one of the first steps in implementing a search engine optimization strategy. It goes without saying that if you select and optimize for the wrong keywords, your overall optimization campaign is worthless. In this article we will cover the keyword selection process, tools available to assist you in selecting the right keywords, and how best to place keywords throughout your site.

In this article, the term keyword or keywords will be used often. For our purposes, the term keyword or keywords includes the term "keyword phrase" or "keyword phrases".

This article contains the following sections:

Keyword Selection Process

Keyword selection can vary greatly based on the type of Web site the client requires. Static sites (sites that are simple HTML pages and are not database driven) by definition are limited to a defined number of keywords, whereas, dynamic sites (sites that are database driven) can be optimized for an unlimited number of keywords. If your static site is predetermined to contain 5 pages, then the number of keywords is limited to those five pages. I do not recommend optimizing a single page for more than five or six keywords, unless necessary. With dynamic sites it is easier to optimize for single or two word keyword phrases as well as plural and singular terms.

If you are creating a new site from ground up, it is wise to select the number of possible keywords you want up front. Then you can plan the architecture of the site based on your keyword selection criteria. If your client sells 10 different products, create a 10-page site, plus pages for contact information and other boilerplate content.

Based on the type of site you decide you want or currently have, you must sit down and write down keywords. The first step in developing your keyword list is to have a brainstorming session. Anything that comes to mind should be written down. Keep building this list until you have enough to work with.

After you have built up your keyword list, you will want to prune the list down. There are certain factors one should keep in mind when pruning the list. (1) Many search engines to not do "word stemming" (word stemming is adding on to the end of the word, for example the word "keyword" and "keywords"), (2) most people type keywords into a search engine all in lower case, and (3) it is generally easier to rank well for longer keyword phrases.

That covers the keyword selection process; you should however consult the help of the various tools available on the Web to help you select keywords.

Tools to Assist in Keyword Selection

Too often we run into a wall and can't go beyond 10 or so keywords for the site. Lucky for us there are plenty of free and low cost tools available on the Internet to assist in the keyword development stage. We will first discuss the free tools, and then go over one tool that you need to pay a fee for.

Free tools:
Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool:
This is an excellent tool for locating new keywords and determining the frequency that Web searchers search for specific keywords. You simply type in your keyword or keyword phrase into the search box and hit enter. Overture then looks up all the data it has in its network for the past month and brings back your keyword and the number of times it was searched on for that month. It also suggests other keywords that might be good alternatives with their respective frequencies. The only draw back of this tool is that it only has data for the overture network. But that is a small drawback due to Overture's presence on the Internet.

Google Adwords Keyword Suggestions:
This tool is provided by Google to help advertisers determine the best keywords for their sites. This tool functions a lot like Overture's but does not display the frequency of searchers for each keyword. It does however provide a detailed listing of keyword suggestions based on the keyword you entered. And since Google is the most popular search engine, its list represents an accurate representation of data.

Search Engine Related Matches:
Many search engines and directories including Yahoo!, AltaVista, MSN, AllTheWeb contain keyword suggestions after you conduct a search. For example, lets do a search on "design". You will see that Yahoo! has the words "related" directly under the search box followed by related keywords. AltaVista has a section on the right that says "Refine your search with AltaVista Prisma", and a listing of similar keywords directly below. MSN Search has a box directly below the search box that says "narrow your search…" followed by similar keywords. And AllTheWeb has, at the bottom of the page, "similar queries" section that displays four keywords that are similar to the one you searched on. This might have changed since this article was published, but most search engines will continue to offer this service.

For a Fee Tool:
Currently there is only one tool worth mentioning in this section, WordTracker ( WordTracker is the most comprehensive keyword selection tool available in the market today. They compile a database of terms that people search for over the major search engines. WordTracker contains a powerful "lateral search" feature to locate all your related keywords. Just like the Overture tool, WordTracker has a keyword count (frequency) but unlike Overture, WordTracker's database contains more search engine networks. The application also contains lists of misspelled words based on your keyword entries. There are many more features contained within this application, please visit ( for more information.

Keyword Placement Strategy

You should now have a list of keywords that you want to rank well for in search engines. The next step is to place these keywords in the various locations throughout your page's code. Below is a listing in order of importance of the places to put your keywords.

  1. Title Meta Tags (not more than 60 characters)
  2. Anchor Text (incoming and internal)
  3. Header Tag Content (i..e H1, H2, H3, H4, H5)
  4. Title Tag in Anchor Tags
  5. Bold/Italic Tag Content
  6. Body Text on top, middle and bottom of page
  7. Alt Tags in Pictures that are Links
  8. URL/Filenames
  9. Meta Keyword Description
  10. Alt Tags in Pictures that are not Links

There are experts that might argue with the order of this list, and the order might change in the future. There are some items missing from this list. I will try to update the list regularly. The concept is to place keywords in these areas and in order to optimize your site for your keyword list.

Keyword development is a time consuming process. It is a critical component to any SEOs job and has the potential to make or break a site's revenue. Keyword selection is thus an extremely important part of the overall SEO process. It is important to select the right keywords and use the right tools in your keyword development stage. It is then important to place these keywords throughout your site for the search engines to properly rank you based on their constantly changing algorithms.

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