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SEO and Keywords: How to Optimize Your Content Using Keywords

October 1, 2013 - Posted by Angela von Weber-Hahnsberg

KeywordsOh, those pesky SEO keywords. Everybody talks about them: “They’re absolutely essential!” “But don’t overuse them!” “Put them here!” “No, put them there!” “Use them this way!” “No, use them that way!” Is it any wonder that they cause just about as much confusion as they do enthusiasm?

But here’s the thing. Keywords don’t have to be scary or controversial. There are some basics that just about everyone can agree on, and if you apply those basics consistently, you’ll be just fine.

When you hear the word ‘keyword,’ what comes to mind? Complex search engine algorithms? Spammy emails for Viagra? Content that sounds like it was written by a 6-year-old? (“I love yellow hats. Yellow hats are cute. When I wear yellow hats, I feel happy. Yellow hats make me smile. Do yellow hats make you smile, too?”)

Well, fear the yellow hat no more, friends, because we’re here to tell you that keywords aren’t all about complicated SEO stuff – and shouldn’t have anything to do with awful content, either.

Keywords, first and foremost, are a way to understand, and then reach, your market.

Yup, that’s right. Forget about all that complex internet stuff for just a minute. Keywords are the language of your customers. They are the words your customers – and potential customers – use when talking about the kinds of products or services you offer. If you keep talking about automobiles, but all your potential customers ever talk about is cars, you’ll never reach them. You’ve got to learn your customers’ language, so you can speak to them. And that’s what keyword research does for you.

On a practical level, that means several things. First of all, finding out which keywords people are searching for online can actually help you find your business’s niche. Say you want to start an online store selling coffee and tea and pastries. But you’re not sure whether you should make it a regular Joe’s online coffee shop, with cheap black coffee, basic tea options, and boxed donuts, or a fancy-schmancy gourmet online coffee shop, complete with European-style espressos, the finest imported teas, and organic, artisan gluten-free pastries.

So you head over to Google’s Keyword Planner, and do a search for keywords like “cheap coffee” and “donuts by mail.” Hmmm, you think – that’s weird. Doesn’t look like there are many people searching for those keywords online. So then you do a search for keywords like “gourmet European espresso” and “artisan desserts made with free-range eggs,” and boom! You’ve found your market!  Keywords helped you to see clearly which business would be more successful.

Now that your fancy online coffee store is up and running, you want to have a blog on your site, of course. But what should you write about? Keywords can help you again. Go back to the Keyword Planner and search for your main keywords – imported teas, Italian coffee, etc. In your results, you’ll see that Google tells you what people have been searching for using those keywords. Maybe it’s “how to brew Italian coffee” or “the health benefits of organic food.” In any case, you can build your blog post topics around the keywords you find!

Once you’ve written those amazing blog posts, you’ll want to get the word out about them, right? But how do you do that? Well, one way is to go back to the Keyword Planner yet again. This time, you’ll be looking for alternate markets related to yours. Maybe searching for “Italian coffee” also brings up keywords like “imported Italian coffee makers.” And wouldn’t a website selling Italian coffee makers be the perfect place for a guest blog post all about how using your delicious coffee is the best way to get the authentic Italian taste you want from that coffee maker? See? Keywords to the rescue again!

Now, all that keyword research is great for choosing your business niche, coming up with blog post topics, and finding places to spread the word about your content. But it also helps a bunch when it comes to optimizing the content on your website for search engines. Because if these keywords are the language of your customers, remember – that’s how they’ll be looking for you in search engines. So you want to make sure that you help them find your business, by including those keywords in your content.

But where to put them? This is where it can get technical.

First of all, you’ll want to make sure that your main keywords for any given blog post or webpage are the first words in the title of that post or page. Not only does this help search engines rank you higher for those words, but it also helps you stand out to potential customers looking for those keywords. Which headline stands out more to you, as a person who just happens to be searching for Italian coffee? “Italian Coffee Prevents Cancer!” or “Studies Show That Cancer Can Be Prevented By Drinking Italian Coffee!” The first one, right? We rest our case.

Secondly, the url of each page should include those same keywords, as well. This helps boost search engine rankings, as well as helping people easily see what your blog post or webpage is about if readers share that link with friends on Facebook and other social media channels.

Of course, the body of your text should also include the keywords a few times. But this is where the controversy comes into play. Because of the way that Google used to rank sites, not worrying about the quality of the content, and instead focusing on the keywords in it, many sites got away with posting terrible content just stuffed with keywords, and were still able to rank high in search results.

Now that things have changed, people are still understandably nervous about using keywords too often in their content, in case they get penalized for it in the rankings. But here’s the thing: if you don’t use the keywords, people won’t be able to find you. End of story. The key is to use them naturally. Don’t write a “yellow hat” blog post, like ours above – write a blog post that is truly useful and interesting to your market, and include keywords where they fit naturally.

When it comes down to it, writing truly useful and interesting content is the key to ranking high in search engine results. The more people share your content on social media, and the more authoritative sites link to your content, the higher you’ll rank. How can you get them to share it and link to it? By writing amazing stuff. But how will they find that amazing stuff of yours in the first place? You’ve got it. It all comes back to keywords.

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