If you’re a business owner, you have a website. Otherwise, I assume you’re Alex Hitchins from Hitch and must operate entirely from referrals and a total PR blackout. Although, let’s be honest, I think even Alex has probably gone digital at this point. You’ve got to have a website, and if anyone has your business card with the exact html address written out, they’ll be able to type it into their search bar and find it. Which is great for those lucky few, but the reality is: you only have so many business cards.
What about the people who don’t know you? Who’ve never met you? Who live halfway across the country — but who in fact desperately need your product? How do they find your website? The whole point of going online is to be more discoverable, but the problem we’re all way too familiar with by now is there are so many websites. There are over 1.2 billion — yes, billion — live websites right now, and that number is growing by the second. Even if someone is searching for the exact type of product or service you offer, finding your particular site with a search engine is about as effective as searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Except, well, it’s more like searching for hay in a haystack, because that potential client can simply pick one off the top of the pile to get what they need. Are you on the top of that pile? Or are you on the forgotten page two of the search results?
That’s where SEO, or “Search Engine Optimization” comes in. You’ve got to let those search engines know that your site should go first, and one of the most effective ways to do that is a strategic use of keywords.
Keywords are the words you include throughout your website that will connect to the people searching for your website. What types of phrases, words, or topics are your potential clients going to search via Google? Those are the keywords you want to make sure show up on your website. You’re communicating with search engines, calling out, Hey, look, over here! This website can provide what that person is looking for!
One important thing to remember here is that search engines want to maximize the experience for users — not necessarily for you. They don’t really care if you get clients; they want to make sure they’re sending clients to the best sites. So don’t fall into the trap of using keywords without great content; you need to actually deliver what those keywords imply, or else you’ll end up damaging your SEO in the long run. Search engines will catch on to your schemes, so don’t be schemey. Be sincere. Deliver the content those people want, use the appropriate keywords while you do, and your SEO will grow.
John Bergquist, a new media consultant and communications expert who supports companies like The Mountain Group, Saddleback Leather, Soma Games, and Code Monkeys, and currently works with Natural High, believes keywords should be all about trust. “If you are actually doing what you say you are in your website, then those keywords are seen as valuable by search engines,” he explains. Search engines want to send their users to valuable sites, not sloppy, thrown-together pages that you injected full of forced key phrases.
Think of your own process when hitting ‘search.’ It’s frustrating if you can’t find what you want, or if a site looks promising and then proves to be weak, off topic, or out of date. “In a cluttered web, wouldn’t it be great if you actually found what you needed most?” says Bergquist. As someone who specializes in online communications and writes regularly on human connection, he believes your website can be a real source of value and authenticity for potential clients, which, as we’ve gone over before, is really what customers want these days.
Start by picking the right keywords — if you’re not sure how, let Google help you with their keyword tool. Then, make sure each page of your website has three or four of those keywords and phrases strategically implemented throughout. These should be in your title tags and meta tags, but most importantly: They should be in your copy. Your website copy is the value you’re offering these web surfers, and if it’s weak, it won’t matter how great your keyword strategy is. Keep your content interesting, on topic, engaging, and new. Have a weekly blog, if you don’t already. Engage with your audience. The better experience you provide for users, the more effective those keywords will be — and the more your SEO will climb.
“If businesses include the right keywords, and value-rich content,” says Bergquist, “that’s where they’re absolutely hitting the mark.”