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Keyphrase Tips for the 21st Century :

How to Research Keyphrases, Write Killer Copy,
and Keep Your Text Spam-Free

by Heather Lloyd-Martin

One of the most widely asked online writing questions my partner, Jill Whalen, and I receive in our free newsletter The Rank Write Roundtable, is how to discover and write for keyphrases. Are keyphrases really that important, or can I pull them out of the air? Can I spam the engines with sneaky keyphrases (like "sex")? Will I really receive a number one ranking with just a couple words and some strong body copy? So, let's hash out what these keyphrases are and learn how the heck to work (and write) with them.

Why should you care about keyphrases?

Because your keyphrases, if chosen correctly, will give you the return on investment you want.

As a case study, we have a client who specializes in surgery for the morbidly obese (otherwise known as gastric bypass surgery or stomach stapling). When we reviewed his "old" keyphrases, we found they weren't specific or targeted. As an example, two of their keyphrases were:

Shortness of breath while climbing stairs
Joint pain

At first, the keyphrase choices seem logical. After all, aren't morbidly obese people experiencing joint pain? Could "shortness of breath" be something so common that it's a hot search term?

Rule #1 of keyphrase research - don't assume a darn thing.

Your keyphrase research comes before everything else - your writing, your Meta tags, EVERYTHING! To write successful, keyphrase-rich copy, you need to find phrases that (a) specifically target what you offer, and (b) are what people actually type when they need products or services like yours. If you optimize your site for the wrong words - or if you *assume* what phrases people are surfing for without some proof - you're almost doomed to fail. That is, if we'd optimized for "shortness of breath while climbing stairs," we could have easily gotten the client a killer #1 ranking in the search engines - but the client wouldn't receive any traffic. Why develop killer-marketing copy when bad keyphrase choices can doom you to failure?

BTW - once we found the right keyphrases, this client went from 4-5 Internet clients a week to 10 - 14 a *day*! Not bad for the old bottom line!

Finding the keyphrases you need

Don't worry, it's not difficult. Your first step is to brainstorm some keyphrases and then check their popularity. Our "trick of the trade" is a specialized database called WordTracker, that lets you determine the popularity of certain words and keyphrases. Need more information? You're in luck! You can surf to Detlev Johnson's excellent article, " Method to the Madness: Keyword Planning. "

Some general rules about keyphrase brainstorming are:

Use phrases your target audience will understand. Although your marketing department may argue that "self-directed technology-driven learning" is a great keyphrase, a simpler version like "online learning" may be better in the long run. Remember, you want to create keyword-rich copy around words YOUR audience responds to - not cool-sounding marketing buzzwords.
Don't even think about one-word keyphrases. They ain't gonna work. One-word keyphrases are typically too competitive to be worth anything, and you're wasting your efforts.
Once you've found your keyphrases, it's time to start writing.
Just say "no" to body-text keyphrase spamming

Thinking you can spam the engines with secret keyphrase-stuffing techniques? Two words - get real.

The search engines and folks who run them are not stupid. If you spam the engines within your body text, you will most likely get caught. Sure, we all know people who get away with some questionable methods. But ask the questions: "Do they enjoy long standing results? Or, are they constantly tweaking and resubmitting pages, looking for the latest algorithm secret?" I don't know about you, but I would rather do it right the first time, and just wait for the rankings to pour in.

So, here's a friendly reminder of things that ARE body-text spamming. You may be severely penalized or banned from a search engine if you try these techniques (and your rankings will be in the toilet), so beware!

Putting keyphrases against a background of the same color, which basically makes the keyphrases invisible to your readers - but not the search engines. I'm sure there are people screaming, "Hey, I did that before, and it worked" (as well as others grumbling that they were banned from the engines). To the "success stories" I'd ask - how are your rankings now? What are you doing to keep your rankings high for the long-term? Spam is spam - no matter how well you can "hide" your technique. Why not get over the time-wasting tricks and get it right the first time?
Repeating the same keyphrases ad nauseam. If one of your keyphrases is "warm gloves" don't shove that phrase in there over and over. And DON'T repeat "warm gloves" three times a sentence, or repeat the phrases next to each other like, "Warm gloves, warm gloves." Make your marketing flow work and integrate the keyphrases accordingly.
Don't figure that adding "popular" keyphrases like "sex" will increase your ranking. The rule of thumb is simple - if a keyphrase is NOT relevant to your content, don't use it. It's that easy.
So, resist the temptation of slacking off on your keyphrase planning and thinking, "Whatever. I'm sure these phrases will be fine." Or, pondering if you can somehow…maybe…slip "sex" into your writing. If you do everything right the first time, you can get the rankings you want without constant tweaking. Isn't that easier?
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