Keywords that Work

Keywords that Work

Learn about the latest research and best practices for turning your Web site's keywords into search engine magnets.

By Dennis McCafferty

If you arranged to attend a conference on the latest in small business marketing tools and techniques, you would expect to find information there about sales and marketing for small businesses. But imagine if you booked a trip to the conference's hotel location and found only three events being held there: a taxidermy trade show, the local Audubon Society's annual meeting and a comic book convention.

That would be poor marketing, not to mention a bit absurd. But independent-business owners do this all the time when it comes to placing keywords within their Web sites. They load up the pages with all kinds of phrases that don't have any relevance to what they do and hope to land volume traffic. But it's the quality of traffic that matters, experts say, not the amount.

"In order to establish trust and credibility, it's crucial that the user find information that's relevant to the search words they used," says Dennis Kaiser, vice president of the Los Angeles office of Idea Hall, a full-service marketing agency.

It sounds simple, doesn't it? But getting the right traffic by effectively using keywords is tricky for solo-run businesses. So here are some guidelines to help you:

Consider Keywords Before You Develop Content
When you're in business for yourself and you want to build a Web presence, you might be tempted to spend all of your marketing time on graphics, e-commerce tools and other business-focused content, and then consider keywords after everything else is set in place. But you actually need to reverse that approach. Consider keywords the building blocks that establish a foundation for your site. "Keywords and keyword phrases are the life blood of Internet marketing," says Frank Stoczko, founder and president of, an Internet marketing company in Doylestown, Pa. "But in most cases, the choice of phrases comes long after the site is designed and the content is written. This is like going on vacation without knowing where you're going."

Avoid Jargon
A plumber might use the terms "kinetic water ram" and "closet auger," but potential customers simply want their backed-up toilets unclogged. "Too many keyword phrases are industry jargon known by insiders but not by visitors seeking your services," Stoczko says. "Instead, focus on keyword phrases that bring the user to the buying point."

Be Geographically Specific
If you sell helium balloons in Cleveland, you're not going to blow them up and ship to a kids' party in California. That's why you would fare much better with the keyword phrase "Cleveland helium balloons," rather than simply "helium balloons." "Small companies, especially a single-employee/owner-run business, often operate solely in a local area," says John Cass in Boston, a search engine marketing expert and research fellow for the Society for New Communications Research in Palo Alto, Calif. "If your keywords are too broad, you may receive a lot of traffic from customers who will never purchase from you." Similarly, your keyword phrases need to be specific to your particular niche in the industry. So if your helium balloon company in Cleveland specializes in Looney Tunes characters, then go ahead with a "Looney Tunes Balloons" keyword phrase.

Don't Go Overboard
You want keywords to be a constant presence on your pages to bring in customers, but you don't want to take it too far. Too many sites go for the keyword-stuffing approach, which renders their sites incomprehensible. The content, after all, needs to not only make sense, but it also needs to be reader-friendly and inviting to the user. "You need to write for humans, not search engines," says Will Chen, search engine marketing director for the Killer Aces blog network. "Many marketers claim that they can write search engine optimized articles by using the right combination and number of keywords. What they do not mention is that very often these optimized articles make little or no sense to readers. The best way to move up on search engine rankings is to get lots of incoming links, and the best way to get those links is to write helpful articles that other people enjoy reading." Sites such as offer free tools to help you figure out whether you're using too many keywords.

Friendly File Names
Using conversational file names with keywords is the best way to elevate the profile of your Web pages. "In other words, the address,, is far better than," Chen says.