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What Exactly Are Keywords?

Keywords, and their use, are often misunderstood and we get lots of questions about them at Back2Front. The most important first step to any SEO effort is to identify your best keywords. Next is to use them appropriately in your web site.

First, what exactly are keywords?
Think of the words you type into the Google search field to find something on the Internet: those are the words we are talking about. They are called 'keywords' because they are important or essential words that carry the most meaning. Words like "the, an, a, of, or" etc., are not considered keywords. Neither are words that convey non-specific notions like "synergistic, integrity, very, quality, every, any" etc., considered keywords since they are not valuable for searching purposes. Punctuation, case, and in most cases plurals are ignored during searches so if you were assembling a list of your top keywords the words "child" and "Child's" would be redundant.

How are keywords used in a search?
If you were looking on-line for an accountant, you would likely type the keyword 'accountant' into the Google search bar. On the results page, you would get thousands of listings that include that word. You would see results for accountants in Florida, or possibly a listing for a famous historical accountant. As these results would not be suitable for your purpose, you would perhaps try again with the keywords 'accounting Toronto.' Again, you would get thousands of listings, but now the first listings would have both of the words 'accounting' and 'Toronto' in them. Listings on the last few pages of results could have either the word 'Toronto' or the word 'accounting', and not both.

If you are an experienced searcher, maybe you would type your query like this: "accounting firm located in Thornhill." You would use quotes to surround the words, which tells Google you are searching for the whole phrase. Now your results would be reduced to a few listings and hopefully you would find exactly the web site you were looking for.

When you visit the web site, what are the first words you are likely to see on the page? Something like this:
"Clark and Sons is an accounting firm located in Thornhill and serving the GTA since 1979."

How should keywords be used in a web site?
So if you are an accountant trying to optimize your web site to get more clients, what should you do? You should include good keywords like "accounting firm located in Thornhill" into the text of your home page. The closer the match to the exact keyword phrase your ideal client would use, the better. The more often, the more emphasized, and the higher on the page the search terms appear, the better.

Meta Tags and keywords
Back in the day, it was useful to help the search engines figure out what your web page topic was by adding keywords into the code of the web site using the 'keywords meta tag'. However, search engine technology has progressed beyond that now, and the keywords meta tag is no longer used by most search engines.

However, since the contents of the 'Title' tag of a web page are visible to people, that tag is still useful for SEO, and it helps your users as well. You should include your best keywords in the title tag of each page of your web site.

Keyword Focus, Targeting, and Clarity:
Choose your keywords carefully; each additional keyword you use will take significance away from the previous keyword.

In our example, the search engines have to figure out, "is this page about accounting or is it about the town of Thornhill?" Since you are likely to have many more words relating to accounting than your location, Google will probably get it right. However, if you add too many useless words like "professionalism", "integrity" or "office solutions" instead of good keywords, or if you say too much about the accounting software you use, or start taking about your hobby growing orchids, Google may get confused. In this case, the search engine will rank your page much lower for the word "accounting" than your competitor's web page, which may talk only about accounting. Try to keep each page of your web site focused on a single topic. Your home page should be a synopsis of your web site - focusing on your core message.

Competing for Keywords successfully:
When you are competing on the World Wide Web with a vast and ever increasing number of web sites for traffic the only way to successfully compete is to be focussed in your content, and targeted to your ideal clients. Do not be tempted to be "all inclusive" in your approach to SEO and Keywords. If you don't make it absolutely clear and specific to the search engines what you are offering, then your competitors who are doing this - will out compete you for the traffic you want.

To learn more about keywords and SEO, read our other SEO articles in the "Further Reading" section of our web site.