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How to Use Keywords Effectively: The Basics

Inbound Marketing

Here's what most people starting out with SEO don't realize: Google doesn't care about your meta keywords. They don't matter. Really. No, really. You might want to sit down for this one.

The truth is you can leave that field completely blank if you want to because Google hasn't paid attention to meta keywords in years, despite an abundance of articles online still preaching otherwise. (Part of that, as I mentioned in "5 Reasons You Should Be Blogging," is because online content never expires, it just keeps perpetuating itself.)

So what's the point of keywords? Why do all the backbreaking research and competitor analysis for something that doesn't matter for search engine optimization? Why are marketing companies still shouting about how much keyword analysis and optimization they do?

Answer: There's more to keywords than your meta data.

Keywords are incredibly important, you just have to be clever about how you use them, and many folks are still under the impression that once you get that meta data form filled out you're ready to rock and roll. Not so. Here's the lowdown on keywords, how to get them, where to use them, and how you can get an edge in the SEO game.

1. Do Smart Research

I could spend multiple posts talking about detailed keyword research, and will in the future for the benefit of fellow analytics nerds, but for now:

  • That's not the focus of this article.
  • Developing keywords is a much more organic process than it's made out to be.

For those well versed in keyword research, skip this section and go to part 2, because I'm presenting research for beginners.

Here's the basics: check out your competition, and see what's trendy. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and it doesn't need to be that complicated unless you're neck and neck at the top. You can spend that time elsewhere for better ROI. That will ruffle some feathers, but starting out, it's important to just figure out what's going on.

There are many ways to do this. One tried and true method is this is to see what your competitors are doing. Take 3 of your closest competitors, "View Source" code on their home page, and look in the header at their meta data. Here's Mojo's:

Meta Data Keyword Example

This is, by the way, the only thing meta keywords are really useful for. Copy these keywords, look at what's common between your competitors, and save that data.

Also take the time to look over your competitor's homepage and look for 1 to 3 word phrases that keep popping up. You're looking for industry terms that people would search for if they were looking for something in Google. Save those as well.

Next, go use a tool like Google AdWords to see what search terms are common in your industry. I'm using Mojo as an example again, but put in a couple of your competitors to get some ideas.

Google Adwords Keyword Research

On the list that pops up, sort the keywords by global monthly searches and try to find terms that aren't overlapping.

For the marketing industry, these are terms like "SEO," "branding," "Internet Marketing," and "Use keywords effectively." One to three word phrases that people are going to look when they're trying to find information; it's common sense stuff and usually these are inline with the services you offer.

You want a dozen or so terms and short phrases that people will look for and that your competitors are using. You can come back to this later for real optimization. If you want to learn more about optimization now, here is a great article on detailed research.

2. The Meta Data That Matters

Here's where you need to focus when making your website: your site title and description. The most heavily weighted words in your meta data is your title. This needs to be your company name and a couple of keywords, nothing long. Try to do it in the form of a tagline.

Mojo Meta Description

For mojo, we use "Mojo Media Labs - Digital Marketing Experts." Our key phrase here is "Digital Marketing." You want something that will be searchable but doesn't stick out like a sore thumb.

Don't overload your title with a million keywords, because Google knows what's spammy. Save the majority of keywords for your description, and word it in a way that comes across as a natural sentence. In storytelling this would be your logline - a brief description of what you're about.

You're going after word efficiency. Most search engines cut off after 150-160 characters, so unless you want half a description with "..." on the end, keep your description from 140-150 characters.

3. It's Still About Content, Baby

This is the meat of keyword implementation, and it's where a lot of people don't think about. You want your keywords present in your content. Not spammy or distracting, not thrown in a million times, but worked in naturally. Fit them where they make sense, and try to reword things if they don't fit.

Your front page is where you want to talk about all your services, and try to phrase things in a way that people would search. Instead of saying "We offer digital marketing services," you could say, for example, "Learn how to use digital marketing," and you'll get more results from people looking for the "how to." It's a more relevant result. Put yourself in the shoes of someone doing research.

Your main site is great for this, but you know where's even better? Your blog.

You should be blogging. If you aren't, start blogging. Your blog posts count as indexed pages and the search terms can keep piling up the more pages you make that talk about relevant content, and you can better target key search terms in your title.

For example: "How to use keywords effectively." It's likely that many people will come here having searched that exact phrase.

When blogging, try to saturate the first couple of sentences with terms as well, because when people share your site over social media, that normally appears along with your article title and you want those words appearing with your links in as many places as possible. Social media is huge for spreading your keywords around.

When you blog, make sure to use images and put keywords in your alt text and image titles to get that Google Images search love. Plus it gives your readers something to look at.

Keywords aren't everything to do with SEO. What's more important is indexed pages and, even more important, cultivating your inbound links through great, useful content.

I'll say it again: creating content is where you need to focus your energy--simply be mindful of keywords when you do create that content and you'll start to see results. It isn't as hard as it's made out to be.

And remember, SEO doesn't happen in a day. It takes time, and there's no quick fix.

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