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Metadata: Seven Tips for Writing Better Keywords

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The shift in how search engines treat keywords is significant. They tend to ignore the keyword meta tag and rather look for keywords in the actual page content.

This means that you need to figure out your keywords before you write any content. Then, you include them throughout your content, particularly in headings and summaries.

Metadata is perhaps the most misunderstood and disliked aspect of running a Web site. Adding keywords to content is generally seen as a menial task that should be automated if possible.

In fact, getting your keywords right is crucial to the success of your content.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to add keywords to content after it is written. It has resulted in some bad practices, including the following:

  • Authors could be sloppy in their writing. They didn't have to worry about writing clearly. They—or someone else—could afterward add keywords that would highlight the key themes.

  • Web site owners could play tricks with keyword meta tags.


These tags are fed to the search engines and are not seen by someone looking at the page. Thus, some tricksters figured, why not place popular—but irrelevant—keywords into these tags and thus attract more traffic? For this reason, most search engines now ignore keyword meta tags.

People search with their own keywords. When they scan a page of search results, they are looking for a match. Should they decide to come to your page, they are looking for an even greater match.

So, if they search for The Passion of the Christ, they are happiest when they see that exact phrase in the actual content.

Here are some tips for writing better keywords:

  1. What are you trying to say? What are the keywords that best summarize what you are trying to say? Answer these questions before you write, not after.

  2. Who are you trying to say it to? Write for how your target audience searches. Writing is a form of communication. You need to understand how your reader thinks. Use the keywords they use. That significantly increases the chances of them finding and reading you. (Use services such as Wordtracker, Overture, Google AdWords)

  3. Make sure that the most important keywords get used in the heading and summary. Always lead with your best keywords. You are not writing a murder mystery. Tell them in the heading who did it.

  4. Avoid single keywords. Increasingly, people are searching with two or more words. So use key phrases rather than individual keywords.

  5. Don't have more than three key phrases in any one piece of content. Web content should be short and focused on a single theme, where possible. That makes it much easier to read and much easier for a search engine to index it properly.

  6. Introduce synonyms in your content where appropriate. Some people search for laptops, some for notebooks. Some people search for heart disease, some for cardiovascular disease.

  7. Don't over-repeat your keywords/phrases. Search engines like to see the keyword/phrase repeated on a page. But don't do it too much, as it will make your content look unprofessional.

After all, there's no point in bringing someone to your Web site and then creating a bad impression.


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Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.

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