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Search engine optimization - keywords tips, strategies and tools

If you've been researching search engine optimization for any length of time, no doubt a couple of the terms you'd have come across regularly are keywords and keyphrases. Even if you're fairly familiar with keyword strategies, read on, you may pick up some tips and advice you haven't read before :).

What are keywords and keyphrases?

Basically they are just words and phrases that users may utilize to search on a topic via a search engine. On your site, keywords and keyphrases are the targeted terms featuring heavily in your content.

Where should I use keywords and keyphrases?

Keywords should appear in your visible content, but also in your meta-tags, page title tags and in anchor text. Anchor text optimization has become increasing popular in recent times, but it's important to note that it's only one aspect of a keyword strategy.

Another place you can add keywords is to your images. You can do this by adding the "alt" attribute to the image.


<a href="http://www.tamingthebeast.net"><img border="0" src="../images/tamingthebeastbanner.gif" alt="Internet marketing resources">

My recommendation is that you link images you have added "alt" text to a relevant page. Don't be tempted to engage in keyword stuffing i.e. the practice of adding multiple keywords or lengthy keyphrases to image alt tags - keep it brief.

For FrontPage users, adding alt text is very easy. Simple right mouse button click over the image and select "Picture properties". On the General tab, you'll see "text". Enter a relevant keyphrase in there.

It's also important to have a good representation of target keywords and phrases in the first paragraph of your main body text - and that's not just for search engines.

Another important strategy is to use keywords in your file names. For example, on an article such as this about keywords, a file name of keyword-tips.htm would be appropriate. File names do play a part in most major search engines' ranking algorithms.

If you haven't purchased a domain name as yet for your new project, also consider registering a name containing keywords.

Free trial - Word Tracker keyword search service

Got Keywords? Free trial!

Word Tracker offers a database of over 300 million keywords, plus powerful tools to help you target the right keywords & phrases for your site.

What is keyword saturation?

Keyword saturation is the percentage of target terms in relation to the rest the content of a page. Saturation levels do play a crucial role in the ranking of your pages

How do I determine keyword saturation?

There are varying methods, but a quick way to calculate it:

  • copy and paste the contents of your page into Microsoft Word

  • Go to "Tools" and select "Word count"

  • Note the number of words

  • Place your cursor at the top of the page

  • Select "Edit" then "Find"

  • Type in your keyword or phrase

  • Click "Find next" continually, keeping count of each occurrence

  • Then divide the number of occurrences by the total number of words.

For example, if your page content has 1000 words and there are 50 occurrences of a given keyword or phrase, then your keyword saturation on that term is:

50 divided by 1000 = .05 (5%)

This method is not totally accurate, as it doesn't take into account meta-tags and alt text, but it will give you a good indication of your saturation levels.

What is a good keyword saturation level?

There are many different opinions. If we knew the exact level, then search engines would be spammed left, right and center. Also bear in mind that each search engine's algorithm on this point would be different, and that keyphrase saturation is only one aspect of ranking calculation.

My personal opinion on keyword saturation is to aim for around 3 - 5%; but I prefer to be cautious and usually shoot for the lower end of that scale.

Is there an "over saturation" point?

Most definitely. If you use too many instances of the same keyword or phrase, this can actually decrease your rankings or have your page, possibly your site, banned. That's why I try to stick to a maximum of 5% and often lower. Better to be safe than sorry.

Optimize for multiple keywords and phrases

Another very important point is to not aim for no.1 rankings on one word keywords or the most popular key phrases for starters; you'll have a hard time doing so given all the competition - and really, there's no need to. 

If you achieve good rankings on a slew of 2, 3 or even 4 semi-popular keyphrase combinations, you'll most likely do very well in terms of traffic. Search engine users are a little more savvy these days and tend to use multiple word queries in their searches to help narrow down the results as often they are disappointed with the results on the most popular terms.

This strategy is called "the long tail".

Related keywords and keyphrases and LSI

Somewhat related to addressing the long tail is the concept of LSI - Latent Semantic Indexing. LSI is being increasingly used by search engines as a way of evaluating and ranking pages. In a nutshell, LSI technology can recognize the relationships between different words and a single concept or topic. This allows content publishers more freedom in crafting their pages and also a better experience for the reader. Again, it's a case of not putting all your keyword eggs into one basket and these days you can write more naturally without it negatively impacting on your search engine rankings.

Keywords aren't just about search engines

If you design your site specifically for search engines, then you may get plenty of visitors, but your sales may be very low. Always bear in mind that you should primarily design for humans, not robots. Your marketing copy needs to be engaging, your general content interesting. All things in balance :).

How do I find good keywords and keyphrases?

One of the biggest misconceptions that site owners have is believing that they know what terms that people would search on. Some of those "killer" terms you think may be popular may in fact draw little traffic, or the wrong kind of traffic. If you're running an ecommerce site, it's also important to try and distinguish between "tire-kicker" terms and buy terms - i.e. the terms that people use that appear to convert into sales more frequently.

Free keyword search tools and strategies

A free keyword location tool is Google Insights. Type in a single keyword related to your topic or industry and you'll be presented with the number of searches on that term in recent times. More importantly you'll see other popular variations of that that term and "rising searches", searches that have experienced significant growth in a given time period, with respect to the preceding time period. With Google Insights, you can also compare search level patterns on a keyword or keyphrase across specific regions, categories, and time frames.

While Google Insights is an excellent tool; you should also do some legwork. Check the sites that you are competing with and see what terms they are targeting. This should be apparent in their content. Not only should you compare content, but also how people are linking to them; i.e. the anchor text that other sites are using for links to the competitor site. This can be determined easily via Google by using this command in the search box:


Google will return some of the pages linking to your competitors site. Visit some of those pages and see what anchor text is being used.

Another excellent tool from Google is the Search-based Keyword Tool. Enter in a term related to your industry and it will show variations on the term in order of search popularity. The other interesting bit of information is an indication of what merchants are paying to bid on that term through Google's Adwords service. The higher the bid, the more coveted the term is.

Commercial keyword research services

The information provided by free tools and your own research is useful, but also very time consuming. You may wish to consider using a commercial service to locate keywords and phrases.

WordTracker is one of the best established and most thorough keyword selection services around. Established in 1999, WordTracker has a database of over 300 million search terms which is updated on a weekly basis.

By entering keywords into the WordTracker tool, it will return variations, how often people search on those terms, and also how many competitors use those keywords.

WordTracker allows you to find any keyword combinations that are related to your business. On each occasion that I've used it, even where I believe I have thought of every possible *popular* combination of terms, Word Tracker has always returned new possibilities. In some of those cases, the terms suggested by Word Tracker have converted into many hundreds of sales -it's really an invaluable tool.

WordTracker has some other great features as well. You can organize your various topics into keyword projects, complete with campaign information. You can import and export lists in easy to handle formats - great for Pay Per Click campaigns. Word Tracker also offers a free trial so you can ascertain if it suits your needs.

Buy vs. browse keywords

If you're running an ecommerce site, you'll want to focus on keywords and phrases that actually convert to sales. It's great to have thousands of visitors arriving at your site, but if they aren't purchasing, then it's not worth the bandwidth. 

Your well-established competitors will give you some clues as to what are good paying keywords, but even just starting out with "buy keyword", "discount keyword", "cheap keyword" is a good start; but bear in mind "the long tail" strategy I mentioned earlier.

Need to learn about  search engine ranking and optimization strategies or want to monitor the SEO health of your web sites (and those of your competitors)? One of the most comprehensive set of online search engine optimization tools around -  SEOMOZ.

Keyword do's and don'ts summary

  • Target relevant keywords and phrases
  • Focus on 2, 3 and 4 word keyphrases initially
  • Place keywords in content, tags and image alt text
  • Link images to relevant pages
  • Use relevant anchor text, but mix it up a little
  • Ensure keywords are in the first paragraph of text
  • Research competitors, both in their content and sites linking to them
  • Use keyword tools for brainstorming and combinations you may not have thought of

Another couple of important points :

Give your new keywords time, then tweak

If you make a stack of changes, let them sit for a month before changing them again as it may take that long for the major search engines to pick up on the changes. When you do make changes after that, tweak your pages slowly and keep notes on the changes. It will be easier for you to determine what is working and what isn't.

Copyright applies to keywords

Researching your competitors is a good strategy, but don't lift content straight from their pages or copy their keyword meta-tag statements - you may find yourself at the wrong end of a copyright lawsuit. Use their methods as a guide, not a template.

Further learning resources

Search engine optimization/marketing articles

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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