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Discovering and Using Popular Keywords

The first thing to do if you want to optimize your pages for search is to find out what keywords related to your theme or topic are most often searched for. These keywords become your site's nomenclature. If you use these words in prominent ways on pages in your site, you will have a better chance to get traffic.

But traffic volume is not the end game. The end game is targeted traffic. You want to engage with your visitors. You want your target audience to come to your site and find that your content is relevant to them. Visitors who find your content irrelevant typically click the back button or "bounce" off your site without clicking any of its links. If you try to get high traffic without taking care to also target your audience in the process, you will get a lot of traffic; but most of it will bounce. What you want, instead, is low bounce rates with relatively high traffic. How can you achieve this? It's not as easy as it might seem. Popular keywords that are used by many people in a variety of contexts will yield mixed results, if all you do is optimize your pages for those keywords. You will get high traffic volume, but also high bounce rates. The first step is to develop a set of related keywords—or a keyword cloud—which your target audience uses frequently. Then you need to develop pages that use the words in this cloud.

So how do you develop these keyword clouds? One way is to use keyword research tools to find related keywords. These tools can help you identify not only the most often searched-on words, but also related words and how often they are searched on. Once you get a sense for the number of users who search on a keyword—or its search demand—you can use the most relevant, high-demand words as the building blocks for your content.

When we use the term keyword, we do not merely refer just to single words. Most keywords that users enter into search engines consist of phrases. A keyword cloud typically contains not only related single words, but also related phrases. Many users search on so-called long-tail keywords to zero in on the exact content they are looking for. These are not just longer strings of words and phrases, though they typically are longer than high-demand single words. The phrase long-tail refers to the demographics of users who search for very particular content, rather than searching on more generic topics. Users who enter long-tail queries tend to be more search savvy. If your content ranks well for these, you will attract a highly targeted audience. But no single long tail will garner much traffic. The number of long-tail keywords in your content will need to be enough to drive targeted traffic to your site. For these keywords, you have to understand the language of your target audience at the sentence level, rather than at the phrase level. One way to develop this understanding is to research your target audience's social media hangouts, such as blogs, communities, and forums. Because users tend to use the same sentences in their long-tail keyword searches that they use in social media contexts, knowing the writing habits of your target audience will help you know the best long-tail keywords to use.

There are a variety of tools you can use to better understand the writing habits of your target audience. Very effective ways to do this include Google Alerts, Yahoo Alerts, and a method that uses Yahoo Pipes to track mentions of your company via RSS feeds—subscription feeds that automatically update when the source content is changed. You can use these methods to guarantee that whenever someone mentions a particular phrase (such as your company name) in a blog post, you get an RSS notification and can look and see what that person has said. This not only helps you get a sense of how users feel about your offerings, but also about what kind of language that blog's readers use for them. Later, we will show how to use free tools like Yahoo Pipes to monitor social media for common keyword-related activity.

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