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SEARCH ENGINES :
KEYWORDS, KEY PHRASES
AND SEARCH TERMS

lecturers, trainers & students :
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There is much written about the art [black art?] and science both search engine optimisation and ad placement on the engines sponsored listings. However, far too many 'search' companies and advisers miss out the first and most important step when optimising websites or ads - the word, term or phrase that the searcher will use their search.

sidebar:keyword definition An exercise I have my students perform when I teach the subject is to come up with suitable search terms for a small business that produces hand-made 'teddy-bear' type toy animals. I call them 'cuddly toys' - and therein lies the first problem.

Different folk from around the world [even ten miles down the road] use different terms for the same thing - 'furry animals' instead of 'cuddly toys', for example. However, the students soon discover that terms like 'cuddly toys' return millions of pages, and so getting into the top ten of a search engine results page [SERP] is nigh-on impossible - and too expensive for a small business. This takes us down the route of 'reason for purchase' - marketing students tend to get this quicker than others as it's a standard element of buyer behaviour.

The issue becomes this:

What need [or problem] might the cuddly toy meet [or solve] for the potential purchaser?

That leads us to things like 'birthday gift four year old' and 'children's present ideas' to use as search terms. In this particular instance even these are rather obvious and many sites will be optimised for them - but you get the drift.

There are a number of ways to come up with key terms, including:

  1. Base the keywords on particular products or services that already exist. Hotels, for example, could maximise relevant pages for terms that represent the purpose that visitors use the hotel - such as 'hotel romantic weekend in Lincolnshire', 'accommodation hen weekend and spa in North East' or 'hotel salmon fishing Scotland'.


  2. Use the various software that is available to check on what key terms are used by searchers in specific industries and markets when looking for products or services. These can be extremely useful - but mainly in a generic sense, and of limited value to the aforementioned provider of accommodation and spa treatments for hen parties in the North East of England.


  3. Check your own log files. Properly set up, these will reveal the search terms [and on which search engines] used by people who actually arrive on your site. The log files will also give data on those visitors' activities and so enable you to rate the search terms against conversions. What your log files do not do, of course, is tell you the terms folk use to find other sites that sell similar products or services to you.


  4. Finally - and the one that I like because it is good old-fashioned market research - is this. Ask your customers. This is particularly relevant to SMEs who trade in a B2B environment and have relatively few customers and so the question can be raised as part of the relationship between vendor and purchaser. Pure online businesses can use the Internet as the medium of communication where the question can be posed post purchase via email.

Whatever the method used, getting the key terms right is the most important aspect of search engine optimisation and it is more art [marketing] than it is science [IT].

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