Putting a list of keywords into the header of your website, along with your title and description, is a waste of time. It’s true that Google ignores that list, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a list of keywords.
Search engines won’t pay attention to your list of keywords, so don’t make a list for the search engines. Make a list for yourself and your web team. A list of good keywords should be the centerpiece of your content marketing strategy.
We’ve seen some client keyword lists that are not good, though, and that can be harmful. We’ve seen folks working on “quality” or “best” or the brand names of their competitors. We’ve seen plenty of folks working hard on keywords that are popular but unrelated to their goods and services.
It’s not that working on inappropriate keywords damages your website. It’s that working on the wrong keywords wastes your time and money. Pick the right keywords, work on them, and you will get better results.
Three simple rules for choosing good keywords
- Your keywords must be things that human beings type into search pages. Can you imagine a human being sitting down and thinking, “I wonder where I can find those goods and services I need… I guess I’ll just type in the word ‘quality’ and see if that works”? Neither can I. People type in the name of the thing they want, and sometimes the geographical location where they want to find it. They also type in questions or statements about particular information they need. So you shouldn’t choose random words that happen to be on your web page. You shouldn’t choose words that you’d like to have associated with your company in people’s minds. You shouldn’t choose words that strike you as meaningful, philosophically. Just pick words people who are looking for someone like you will use.
- Your keywords should be things you can compete for. Companies that promise you #1 Google rankings know that it’s very easy to get #1 for some terms and very hard to do so for others — that’s the basis of their promise. I was at #1 for “glow in the dark skeleton dice” once with absolutely no effort on my part. But your chances of being #1, or even on the front page, for a term like “books” is very slim. Even if you sell books (and your target customers are people so unfamiliar with books and with search engines that their first thought upon feeling a desire to buy a book is to type “books” in the box at Google), you still aren’t going to show up ahead of Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
- Your keywords should be in your content. If you’re being honest about your website and doing a good job with your content, then the words and phrases that make the best keywords for you will also be elsewhere on your page. I’ve seen many cases where that wasn’t what happened. Maybe all of your text is embedded in graphics and therefore unreadable to search engines. Maybe you have a moody picture on your homepage, or a giant logo, and no text at all. Maybe your homepage talks about only one thing your company does, but there are other things you think are equally important, so you want them in your keywords. In all these cases, you’re making mistakes with your content. Don’t compound them by trying to let your keywords make up for the mistakes.
Choose your keywords well. Then use them consistently. The search engines want to help your prospective customers find you. Make it easy for them.