An earlier post provided an overview of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. In addition to the new Quoin site, we have applied these techniques on a range of client websites, and have frequently achieved outstanding results for visitor traffic and search results ranking. One of the most fundamental tasks in SEO is to identify and use the right keywords. The process of discovering the most effective keywords, or Keyword Analysis, involves understanding the author's intent and how to characterize content for prospective visitors. In this post, we will look at both the process and helpful tools for keyword analysis.
The original purpose for keywords was to provide page metadata that could be used to index and search websites. However, seach engines abandoned the use of the HTML keywords meta tag because of widespread abuse or gaming of the indexing process. Early 'black hat' SEO practices focused on using a large number of keywords or including unrelated, traffic-driving keywords. In response. the major search engines simply stopped using this content for indexing or determining relevance.
Yet, keywords still have an important role in website design, implementation, and authoring of a website. For example, the Quoin site includes the keywords: "quality", "software quality", and "quality assurance". These words and phrases all relate to a common concept -- building software that functions correctly -- and is critical to what we do as a company. Thus, we want our content and meta data to use these and other keywords to improve the likelihood of a page appearing in search results. Once identified, the keywords can be used in the following ways to enhance SEO.
- Page titles -- embed the keywords in page title, sush as "Quality Assurance" or "Metrics for Software Quality".
- URL -- embed the keywords in the URL, such as www.quoininc.com/capabilities/quality-assurance. (Note the use of a hyphen as the preferred delimiter for distinct keywords.)
- Page content -- embed the keywords in appropriate text, such as description of our capabilities, staff biographies, project summaries, posts, or other content.
- Tags -- assign keywords as tag/value pairs on pages, posts, and any content item. Search engines will likely interpret this as page content.
- Other metadata -- assign keywords to other metadata to increase density of keywords on a page, inclduing image names, ALT tag values, and other indexable page content.
Thus, applying keywords is essentially an editorial process. We are not advocating for over-loading a page or site with keywords. The use in page titles, URLs, content, tags, and other meta data should be related to the particular content. Determing the right context and use of keywords will require an understanding of the objective for each page or content item. Keyword analysis is focused on a few basic questions.
- What are the frequently used words in the content and how do visitors find this content now?
- What are the keywords used by websites for similar or competitive products and services?
- What new words are related to existing keywords?
- How effective will the new or expanded keywords be for the website?
The first step in keyword analysis is to look at the site itself. The simplest way to do this is to use a tool like Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Toolbox. Both tools provide a list of keywords and variants, extracted from the website content, which are ranked by number of occurences. (In Webmaster Tools, this feature is found under Google Index > Content Keywords.) For the Quoin site, this indicates approximately 200 potential keywords ranked by significance. The word 'quoin' had 1,898 occurrences compared to 'agent' with 9 occurences on the website. Other important keywords based on frequency included "project", "system integration", and specific technologies like "Django".
These potential keywords are the people, places, or things identified by the indexing processes, or 'bots'. The 200+ potential keywords are simply the nouns with the 'stop words' removed. A stop word is a common word that is not a likely a keyword, and includes pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and other parts of speech that can be distinguished from nouns. Thus, the potential kewords will include names (e.g. 'Kain' or 'LeJacq') in addition to the usual words.
Yet, the process of extracting and selecting keywords from the existing content only results in the words used and not necessarily the concepts that others might use to find the website. The second step therefore uses the initial keywords to infer additional keywords. There are a number of online tools that can support this step. Google provides a very capable tool in Keyword Planner. This tools allows a user to search for new keywords, estimate search volume, estimate traffic (including impressions, clicks, and cost-per-click), and generate new keywords. We have used Keyword Planner to expand the initial keywords for the Quoin site, based on the actual content, to a significantly larger set of keywords.
There are a number of free and commercial tools for keyword research. The focus is on suggesting new keywords with supporting analytics. For additional options, see this comprehensive list of SEO and other tools. The following should provide a good starting point for most webmasters.
The next step is to look at how the site is found. Again, Google Webmaster Tools is a good starting point, and provides the search phrases/keywords and click-throughs for a site. Google Analytics provides additional results. Using these tools, we found that visitors find Quoin most often by name, which is unsurprisng, but not very useful for SEO. More interesting results includes specific clients and capabilities. Thus, our use on the website of project summaries for clients such as National Geographic, Lowe's, and others should be supported by additional keywords. Our use of keywords focused on capabilities, such as "agile coaching", were likely suficient, but this highlights an area for continued monitoring of search results and click-throughs.
Finally, we have found competitive keyword analysis helpful. This step requires identifying the sites for compettive products, services, or firms. This can be done by selecting certain well-known competitors, or examining search results for certain keywords and phrases. Once the sites are identifed, the keywords for a particular site can be extracted using a tool, or just read directly in the page source. This step is time-consuming, but can reveal some useful additional keywords. For the Quoin site, we have focused on our existing content and analytics-based keyword analysis. For example, several of our competitors included keywords for "business process improvement", "business transformation", or similar concepts. Since our work has often been part of enterprise-level initiatives, these keywords were added to pages that relate to services that can support this type of consulting.