Keywords are crucial for achieving top search engine rankings, i.e. ensuring people find your site.
However, doing so requires much more than just entering them in the meta keyword tag.
Abuse of this tag by unscrupulous web designers means the metadata keyword tag is now ignored by Google (which currently accounts for around two thirds of all searches made).
Since the other 2 big search engines do still read meta keyword tags, it is worth putting your keywords there.
But the best place to use keywords is throughout your web page – in the body content and especially in these 3 key locations:
Picking the right keywords
Your keywords need to be all possible terms users might enter to search for the main subject of your page.
If your target audience is not exclusively experts in the field, use at least some words ordinary people use and understand, rather than sticking rigidly to the official terms and subject jargon - so interested non-specialists can find your content too.
To guide people to your specific content, keywords must also be unique to each page. Don't just use the same keywords for every page on your site.
Questions to ask for EACH PAGE:
Who are your users? Specialists, journalists, the general public, etc. Don’t go any further without answering this question!
Brainstorm the words you yourselves can imagine your identified users entering into a search engine to find information on the subject of each page.
Expert users?They may well use the same terms as you - which 3 words first come to mind when you think about the subject/service covered on your site? Which other words or phrases do you hear or use regularly about your subject area or service?
Non-expert users?Try to think from their perspective. Imagine how you might refer to things when not in the office, e.g. money not budget.
What sorts of words to use?
- Find phrases(2 or 3 words, not single words) - with no stop words like and, of, the, etc. (over 50% of users make 2 or 3-word searches).
- Opt for longer versions of same term - e.g. European not Europe, since search engines will also look for the shorter word parts.
- Word order is unimportant - “bilateral aid package” will also attract searches for “package of bilateral aid”, “bilateral aid”, “aid”, etc.
- You can combine technical terms + common terms - especially in metadata, which is much less visible to users.
- Look at different mixes of keywords - e.g. rarer vs more common, keywords indirectly related to your subject.
- Try to avoid abstract words - people are more likely to think - and search - in concrete terms, not general, abstract concepts, e.g. “jobs in France”, not “employment opportunities in France”.
- Ask real users (if there's time). This can even be, informally, friends, family, partners, colleagues, etc.
- Check similar sites (e.g. other government sites) for the keywords they use for your subject in their metadata (menu View –> Source) or body text (enter their URL in - e.g. Webconfs keyword density checker).
- When you have some ideas, you can test how frequently those terms are entered into search engines by users - e.g. in the Google AdWords external keyword tool. You can also test out alternatives against each other, e.g. education v university.
- To find alternatives, it can help to use an (online) thesaurus or even just google the word, e.g. education, look at a few pages and see which other words come up.
- Whichever list of keywords you come up with should be checked by native-speakers for authenticity, to avoid e.g. false friends from other languages and jargon.
- Once you have a list of keywords, prioritise them and always use the most important/relevant in <title> tags, H1 headers and links.
- Don’t over repeat keyword phrases. Search engines like to see them repeated, but go too far and your content might look unprofessional or even penalised as spamdexing (your site could be dropped altogether by search engines).
- (after publishing) Test and refine your keywords with real searches for your pages online.