E-Commerce Fundamentals (XI) - Keywords in Meta tags : How to select right keywords ?

Thanks for your mails and encouragement. Many of you have asked why your web-sites do not figure among the top in search results when searching major search engines for your product ? And, this is despite using perfectly valid meta tags !!

Though there may be many reasons, but the most probable reason is keywords, or lack of it.

Keywords in meta tags as well as in the text of a web-page play a very significant part in deciding rank of web-pages in search results. Let's look at it from the point of view of a web surfer. A searcher visits one of the major search engines looking for your goods or services. He types in what he considers to be the most important topic, or keyword, or phrase for his search. Up come the results, ten per page.

If the keywords and phrases you have chosen for your web-page and those of the searcher's match - your website should be at the top of search result - Right ?

Wrong ! There may be thousands of web-pages, besides yours, that match the searcher's keywords/phrases, forcing the search engine to list the web-pages in some order of decreasing importance/weightage.

Question - how do search engines decide relative importance/weightage ?

Enter algorithm. Every search engine has its unique way or algorithm (a set of rules or instructions) for ranking a web-page. The algorithm is based not just on keywords, but also their arrangement or order, number of occurrences, average distance between two, nature of pairing (key phrases) and many other factors.

It is quite a challenge to understand search engine algorithms and more important, use that knowledge to ensure high ranking of a web-page. Web experts have written hundreds of articles, books, magazines on this subject. There are dedicated websites on the topic, notable among them being www.searchenginewatch.com

The main difficulties are:

1. Search engines don't publish their algorithms
2. No two search engines use the same algorithm
3. Engines change these algorithms all the time

In this article, we discuss some generally accepted best practices related to keyword selection.

1. Relevance

The first principle is that selected keywords must be relevant. Do not use popular keywords (known to be used by searchers often) for attracting large number of visitors - it may add your hit counter but not necessarily sales.

2. Specificity

Generally, the more specific you can be, the better. On the other hand, you don't want to use keywords that are too unique, because no one will ever think to look for them. Use keywords that searchers are likely to use for locating your product.

Research has shown that when a searcher wants to purchase something, he conducts extremely fine-tuned searches to find it. In other words, if he's searching for a CD title by a particular actor, he'll search for the exact title or under the name of the actor, rather than simply "CD." So, while having a web page that ranks extremely well for a very general keyword seems like the ideal situation, keep in mind that you may get more traffic, but you won't necessarily get more sales.

3. Combine General with Specific

If you can only think of very general keywords, start with a list of those keywords, and then add specific words to each one. For example, while 'Handicraft' or 'Religion' may be considered too general - 'Indian Handicraft' or 'Hindu Religion' may be specific enough.

4. Use Plurals

If you pluralize your words, those who search for the singular and plural will both find your site.

5. Diversify

One word alone will get a few people, but not everyone thinks like you do. Once you select a keyword, try to find as many words with same meaning (synonyms) or related meaning as possible. Use thesaurus, if necessary.

6. Do not repeat excessively

Some search engines are beginning to filter out sites that repeat words too much (though a few repetitions of vital keywords may be necessary) Check submission policy of Search engine

7. Varying Forms

A keyword may be used in multiple forms depending upon individual choice, whims or fancy. It may seem silly to you, but makes perfect sense to someone else. For Example, IQ Test, I. Q. Test or IQ-Test - all convey same meaning but are written in different forms. It will be wise to use all forms of the keyword.

8. Key Phrases

In a recent study conducted by one of the major search engines, it was revealed that over 65% of all searches made use phrases rather than single words. So, by using key phrases like 'Indian Handicraft' or 'Basmati Rice' - you may score over those who use only keywords.

9. Optimize each page separately

Consider the focus of each page separately, because the search engines do exactly the same. So, if you want top ranked pages, create content-rich information pages that center on one or two topics only, and use those fine-tuned topics as your keywords for that page. If you try to target more, your page will lose relevancy for all words concerned.

10. What keywords are your competitors using?

Search for your competitors' sites and see what keywords they're using. Do NOT copy their tags or anything else. Simply review their pages to see if they might be using a keyword phrase that could be helpful to you.

Related Links:

Source: FAIDA - Newsletter on Business Opportunties from India and Abroad Vol II, Issue 28' December 19' 2001

Author : Dr. Amit K. Chatterjee
(Amit worked in blue-chip Indian and MNCs for 15 years in various capacities like Research and Information Analysis, Market Development, MIS, R&D Information Systems etc. before starting his e-commerce venture in 1997. The views expressed in this columns are of his own. He may be reached at amit@infobanc.com )

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