Guide

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Search engine optimisation: keyword strategy

Keywords are essential to ensuring that your site will be visible on search engines. Think about the terms that customers will use to search for your website. Consider which keywords and key phrases best describe your products or services.

Keyword strategy should be central to your search marketing, as it is vital to both search engine optimisation and any pay per click advertising you may do.

Choosing keywords

Choosing keywords is the most important step in building a search engine-friendly site.

As well as generic terms, you should think about the 'long tail' search, ie more niche keywords that are specific to your product or service. Although search volume for these specific terms may be reduced, they are more targeted to your business Long tail keywords can help drive higher value traffic to your website, such as customers who are ready to buy your specific products. For example, if you're selling tropical fish in Northern Ireland, appropriate keywords might be 'tropical aquariums' and 'Belfast' rather than 'fish' and 'Northern Ireland'.

Keyword research

To create a list of potential keywords, you should brainstorm words you think customers would use to search for your site. Make sure you cover all the different services your site offers. For inspiration, you can use free tools such as Google's AdWords Keyword Planner (you must be registered for AdWords, but you do not have to spend any money) or the Moz Keyword Explorer. You can also use any data that you may have from web analytics software to see what keywords your customers are currently using to find your website.

The density of these keywords on your website will also impact on search engine results. Look at your competitor's website and see how they use keywords in their websites. The choice of keywords and the optimal keyword density are difficult to define, although there are tools available that can help you analyse this. Use keywords in your content, page titles, page headings, subheadings and in any metadata that is included in your page code.

Plain English works best

It's important to use real sentences rather than just keywords in your content, and never sacrifice the quality of your page to fit in more keywords. If you are found to be 'keyword stuffing' ie using keywords indiscriminately in an attempt to improve page ranking, search engines will penalise you. See search engine optimisation dos and don'ts.

Keep up to date on how your keywords are performing

In addition to doing the obvious searches on keywords to see where your site comes in the listings, most search engines allow sites to check their status in their indexes. You can use these to monitor your search position to see how changes affect your search rank, and to determine what keywords to add in future.

If you are also using pay per click advertising, you can use this to test and refine your keyword strategy by working out what has and hasn't worked in your advertising campaigns. For more information see pay per click advertising.

Search engines often return results as users type using predictive software - this may affect your keyword strategy. It is important to keep up to date with how search engines are indexing and how any changes to functionality may impact on your search ranking and keyword strategy.