A Few Words About Keywords

In my last blog I contended that there’s no such thing as an internet writing style. In response, a reader wondered if I “had purposely neglected to discuss the importance of taking effective print media copywriting and optimizing it for the search engines [with keywords] … an immensely important step …” I didn’t address using keywords for search-engine optimization (SEO) because I feel they are matter of content, so talking about them wouldn’t belong in a blog about style. However, I absolutely agree that including keywords is immensely important in web copy.

As a writer I hate to say it, but including the most effective keywords in your website copy is a much greater success factor than superb style—and unlike style, there’s little if any art involved. It’s a highly scientific endeavor. Everything you need to know about keywords can’t be covered in a single blog entry. Heck, there are entire websites devoted to the theory and practice of identifying, classifying and quantifying the SEO impact of keywords. What I’ll talk about here is where to put them on your website for greatest effect.

First, keywords should be ranked as primary and secondary. The absolutely most important key word or phrase should always appear in the main headline on the homepage and preferably in each page’s main headline. If your market is a limited geographic area, remember that identifying your market area may be almost as an important keyword as your product or service. For example, only fools will look for help with their next party by searching ”gourmet catering.” The rest of us will search, for instance, “gourmet catering boca raton.” If you can work other keywords into the headline without doing grammatical contortions, so much the better. (But not at the expense of brevity—keep the length of your headlines below 75 characters and spaces.) You can always chunk a few more keywords into a subhead that describes your offering or value proposition.

Section headers and subheads within the body copy—always a good idea for promotional copy in any medium—also should contain important keywords. Another target is photo or illustration captions. (Never miss the opportunity to caption visuals; captions receive 30 percent higher readership than body copy in print media, and there’s no reason to suspect the same isn’t true for websites.) Body copy is the place for your secondary keywords, but don’t overdo a good thing. Think smattering rather than infestation. The law of diminishing returns applies, especially because some of the propeller-heads I know believe that search-engine algorithms have become quite sophisticated at detecting gratuitous keyword excess and downgrading offending websites.

Don’t overlook links either. Be sure to use primary keywords in all your links. (By the way, the more links in your website, even internal links from one section to another, the higher your website will rank with search engines. And links to higher-scoring or more popular websites will pull up your own score, so try to link up, not down.) The last point I’ll make is that keyword identification and inclusion isn’t a one-time proposition. Just as you frequently should refresh copy and design to avoid becoming a “cobweb site,” refining your keyword lists is a never-ending process.