Build Search Engine Position Through Keywords and Meta Tags

Move your site up in the search engines with meta tags and keywords.

The info on this page is taken (with permission) from an issue of the deadlock Despatch, a monthly promotion & marketing newsletter by Jim Rhodes at The Art Of Business Web Site Promotion. If you’d like to subscribe to the deadlock Despatch, for free, just click once:


How To Choose Your Keywords

I spend a lot of time talking about how to place keywords for search engine positioning. But which keywords will produce the best results?

It’s tempting to think “what are the most popular keywords?” and then spend hours studying the various search engine ‘voyeur’ pages and maybe the Yahoo Top 200 (see my Online Cool Tools section). You might even be tempted to ask me, as several people have done, “Is there a large database available with collections of these keywords, in large numbers?” Well, if you pay big bucks to one of the search engines for banner advertising, they might give you a few hints. Once upon a time, somebody told me he’d set up a script on his server that harvested keywords from the three main voyeur sites at the rate of 12,000 per day. But he went quiet after a week or so. I can only presume his account was closed or his server exploded.

If this is the kind of strategy you’ve been working on, then I suggest you’re in the wrong frame of mind (unless you haven’t set up your site yet and you’re looking for what might sell well). Granted, if you get high listings for any popular keyword(s) then you’ll get a lot of traffic. But the question is: will that traffic bring you sales?

Targeted Traffic

You should look at the problem from a different angle. Quantity of traffic is important. But unless you’re selling banner advertising, the quality of your traffic will have an equal impact on your ultimate goal — sales. This is what targeting means.

Example: you have a B&B in London.

Strategy A. You position your listings to simply target the word ‘hotels.’ You get 2,000 visitors per week and 1% sales from those visitors — 20 sales. There were a lot of hotel seekers, but they didn’t necessarily want a B&B in London.

Strategy B. You target ‘london b&b’, which brings you 400 visitors per week, but 5% — 20 sales. There were not so many London B&B seekers, but more of them found what they were seeking on your site.

Conclusion: both methods produce equal results in terms of sales. Strategy A will make your log stats look good, but Strategy B will make it easier to get those top listings because there’s less competition. The sensible course of action is to combine the two.

Action Plan

* Step 1: Switch your computer off.

Keywords are not a technical thing. They’re a human thing; you’re trying to guess what people are thinking. A mind reader would would do very well at site promotion.

* Step 2: Do the obvious ones.

The high-traffic keywords are the ones that pop into your head with very little thought. Keyword phrases are a Good Thing. Spend no longer than five minutes and keep the list short.

* Step 3: Do the clever ones.

Take your time and think very carefully about why people might want your product and what problems it might solve for them (you’ve already done this, of course, when you created the hard-hitting copy for your site) then list these needs as your keywords. For example, massage oils might solve: sports injuries; muscle tension; relaxation; skin care.

Points to note:
a) Seek links from other sites that pop up under these keywords
b) I’m not an expert on massage oils, but you are an expert on your product — so make use of your knowledge.

* Step 4: Trim the fat.

Most people who hire me for consulting start off by listing their company name in their keyword list. Unfortuntely Microsoft, Seagate and IBM are not on my client list (yet!). There are very few company names that I would consider keywords — and I hate to burst your bubble, but yours ain’t one of ’em. You probably have keywords within your full company title, which is a good idea, for example “Softsoothe Massage Oils.” ‘Massage Oils’ is a keyword phrase, ‘Softsoothe’ is not. [Editor’s Note: It can’t hurt to list your company in keywords, but put it at the end of the list–Shel Horowitz]

Common words like: internet; web; service; computer; software do not belong on your list because they’ll either be ignored or buried beneath millions of other listings.

* Step 5: Finishing touches.

Common mis-spellings do belong on your list: ‘sattelite’ is fair game for a list that already contains the correct spelling, ‘satellite’.

You should use plurals wherever possible, for two reasons: a) When people (especially newbies, of which there are many) type in a search string, they want and expect a LIST of results, so the natural urge is to type the plural. b) It usually involves sticking an ‘s’ on the end of the singular word so, more often than not, your plural will catch searches for the singular as well.

* Step 6: switch your computer back on.

Check the current top listings using your keywords to see if you can squeeze any extra ones from the top few sites. Now apply your killer keywords to your site, as we did at

Final Word on Key Words

It’s all about being in the right frame of mind – thinking like your customers, from the other side of the serving counter.

Your keyword list is the foundation of your promotion strategy. You’ll be spending a lot of time registering with search engines, but if you’ve made a slapdash attempt at your keyword list you won’t be getting the most out of all that hard work.

I put the ‘check the other listings’ tip right at the end on purpose. Take a look, but don’t base your whole strategy on other people’s keywords. What’s good for them isn’t necessarily good for you, and besides, the way to get ahead of them is to be different and better.

META Keywords In Perspective

<META NAME="mania" DISTRIBUTION="global" CONTENT="The whole world has gone META keynuts! The mentality is: META keywords are technical, therefore they must be of overriding importance">

Sure, you should have META keywords and they need to be structured properly, but you should know where META keywords rank in the scheme of things. I would rate them less important than keywords within the text of the page and not fit to lick the boots of page <TITLE>s.

That said, here are some freeeeequently asked questions about META keywords:

* How many repetitions are allowed?

Infoseek said “seven”, then “no, three” in August ’97, then “no, not three, that was a mistake” two days later. Excite say “we decrease the weight of each subsequent repetition of a word”. Alta Vista seem to have gone a bit haywire and started to decrease relevancy for repetition somehow.

The moral is, they’re all doing *something* about it. My recommendation is 2-3 repetitions within the META keywords tag. Of course, you can pepper keywords many times throughout the <BODY> of your page and ALL the search engines will take notice, whereas some search engines are blind to META tags, which is why I rate <BODY> keywords higher than <META keywords.

* Should I use commas?

Yes. If every one of your keywords was a single word then you wouldn’t need to. However, you’re almost certain to have keyword phrases on your list which you’ll be wanting to enclose with commas to show the phrase as a single entity. Semicolons are no better than commas.

* Do keyword phrases count as repetitions?


“sail boats, row boats, speedboats” would count as three repetitions of ‘boats’. That’s an accepted fact.

* What happens when you’re penalised?

In the mildest case, you might overdo the repetition and get a poor listing (see above: how many repetitions…) ie. the same penalty you’d get for having *not enough* keywords. In a slightly worse case the page(s) you submit simply won’t get listed, in which case you can rearrange your HTML and try again, which is actually a milder penalty than getting a poor listing. In the most extreme cases, a whole domain gets blacklisted by the search engine staff. This only happens to very aggressive marketers, I’m talking about people (often in the XXX categories) who submit hundreds of spammed documents, enough to draw the staff’s attention. Weeding takes place on a regular basis. The staff do actually check their databases and kick out semi-spammed documents, so keep popping back to check your listings. Infoseek is a case in point at the moment, the odd prize rose bush has been disappearing lately in their weeding frenzy.


<META NAME="mania" is an attempt at humour. It’s not a real META tag, OK?

META Description Rules

I consider the META description tag more important than the META keyword tag because it influences the human being to actually click to visit your page. A #7 listing will beat a #1 listing if the description is more appealing.

* How long?

These are the approximate maximum numbers of characters for META descriptions:
* Hotbot: 250
* Lycos: 200
* Infoseek: 185
* Alta Vista: 150

…but I doubt if you’ll want to edit each page every time you submit it to each engine, so to avoid your description being chopped off prematurely (ouch!) you want to go for the lowest common denominator, Alta Vista, at 150 characters or less (including spaces).

* What to write?

If keywords fall naturally into your META description, then all well and good. However, this is not your main concern. Your real objective is to write something that’ll make the user’s mouse finger itch.

Your description is the “teaser” for what’s on the page. For example: “Massage oils: photos and quick price list, with links to aromatherapy and sports injuries info.”

Your description is NOT a pompous boast about your company: “Softsoothe is the premier company on the net for massage oil products and accessories. Over a million sold!” just doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid.

Use a fresh META description for each of your pages. If you don’t and your pages appear on a results list one after the other, with the same description, your user will be bored before they even reach your site.

Avoid sensational words like premier, fantastic and best, because they don’t mean anything to the user – that’s only your opinion — and, of course, you’re going to be biased.

UPPERCASE lowercase

Q: For an identical keyword, which will draw more traffic — UPPERCASE or lowercase?

A: Whichever is more relevant to the search string used.


* For a search string of ‘Massage Oils’, your keywords ‘Massage Oils’ will appear above both ‘massage oils’ and ‘MASSAGE OILS’

* For a search string of ‘MASSAGE OILS’, ‘MASSAGE OILS’ will come out on top because it’s an exact match. All other permutations will appear more or less randomly, below the exact match.

So, the case you should use is the one that’s going to match the majority of user requests. The choices are: UPPERCASE; lowercase; Initial Caps. This is where you can really put the voyeurs to good use. You might be surprised at the amount of UPPERCASE that appears, but lowercase is still the champion.

Verdict: use lowercase in your META keywords tags.

Should you use lowercase in your <TITLE>s too? Maybe. I personally use Initial Caps in my <TITLE>s for two reasons. First, I like to write all my titles and headings with Initial Caps, as you can see in this newsletter, and I never sacrifice my layout on the altar of promotion. Second, I believe (by instinct, not evidence) that Initial Caps are more striking than limp lowercase and ANTISOCIAL UPPERCASE.