Thursday, December 9, 2021

SEO Basics for Web Developers: Relevancy and Keywords

Creating a website with a professional, high-end template and a flashy logo is great, but it isn’t enough to get people to come to your website. To do that, you need more than just razzle-dazzle and a pretty color palette. First, you have to give them a way to actually find your website. The process of making your website “findable” involves a process known as search engine optimization or SEO for short. Another common term is Internet Marketing.

No matter which moniker you give it, SEO is the process of applying methods and tools that make it easier for search engines like Google and Bing to find your website, “rank” it, and determine its relevancy to a given topic. The more relevant your website is to a topic, the more important Google considers it to be for that topic “keyword.”

What is Relevancy and How Does it Relate to SEO?

When you search for something on Google, you do so by typing in a phrase or word related to the subject matter. Google then takes your input and returns a list of websites it considers to be the most “relevant” to what you are searching for. This list of returned websites is known as search engine results pages (SERPs) and is ranked by the most relevant to least relevant.

For instance, if you type in “dog walking” in the search bar, Google will display a list of millions of websites that it thinks have to do with the topic “dog walking.” The sites at the top of the SERPs will be the ones most closely related to that topic. The ones that are several pages in on the SERPs will be far less likely to have anything to do with how to walk a dog or dog walking accessories. Where a website is placed on the SERPs – its position is known as its ranking.

Google SERPs

Therefore, as a website owner, you want to make sure your website is the “most relevant” it can be to the topic that your business relates to.

To determine a website’s relevance to one or more topics – and to decide how relevant it is compared to competing websites – Google uses what is known as a search algorithm, or, as it is more commonly referred to – the Google Search Algorithm. Note that other search engines, like Bing, have their own algorithms and practices. However, since Google is the leader in search, we will be focusing primarily on their algorithm in this article.

The exact manner in which Google’s search algorithm works is a bit of a mystery, but we can take educated guesses and clues from things the search giant has told us and from tests by leaders in the industry. What we do know is that Google looks at a few key things to determine relevancy.

For starters, the most important thing for a website to rank well is for the website to have content that is relevant to its topic. The more, the better. By content, we mean static web pages (pages whose content rarely changes, such as an About Us page), posts (including blogs, articles, news, and so forth), video content, audio, and images.

What Are Keywords?

Every day Google sends out “web crawlers” to scour the Internet, reading every website it can find and determining what those websites are all about. For instance, using our “dog walking” example, if Google bots crawl a website and find 100 articles on it, and 90 of those articles contain text referring to dog walking, dog walking tips, dog walking accessories, and other content geared towards how to walk a dog, and ten articles discussing the best fast-food restaurants, Google will most likely decide that the website is a “dog walking” website as its primary category.

This is a very simplistic view of this topic, but it serves its purpose for our intents.

The content on our “dog walking” website will have words related to everything that has to do with dog walking. Those words – known as keywords – could include terms such as “dog walking”, “dog leashes”, “dog collars”, “doggie bags”, “dog treats”, and so forth. Google uses these keywords and key phrases to determine what the website is all about.

A website could also have variations on those primary keywords. For instance, a website that talked about “dog walking” might also use words and phrases that were similar or meant the same thing, such as “puppy walking,” “bulldog walking,” “puppy leashes,” “puppy collars,” and “puppy harnesses.” We call these keyword variations. Catchy, right?

Content Is King

At this point, you may be thinking all you have to do is write a bunch of articles and create a ton of pages that are just packed with your keywords and key phrases. That, however, could not be further from the truth. For starters, if your website just contained a bunch of repeated words, visitors would likely never visit your site again. Just as important, Google has been doing this for a long time and has fine-tuned its algorithm to not be fooled by such simple techniques. Adding a huge amount of keywords on your web pages is known as keyword stuffing, and Google is not a fan.

In order to keep readers interested and coming back for more and in order to make Google happy, you want to write all of your content in a natural manner. Include your keywords in your content (and other areas – we will get to that in a follow-up article) certainly, but does so in a normal way. If it feels forced when you read it, reconsider adding it is a good rule of thumb.

If you find yourself having to use the same keyword over and over again, that is okay – just make sure it works naturally in the text. You can also alternate with keyword variations to break things up a little. This also helps you rank better for alternative keywords your competitors might not have considered using. In a later article in this series, we will discuss something known as keyword competition and keyword difficulty. On a basic level, these two terms relate to how difficult it is to rank for a given keyword or term. If there is a lot of competition for a keyword, it means it has a lot of keyword difficulty.

For example, the phrase “dog walking” is used on many websites and is a common, primary keyword. Therefore you will have a lot of competition when trying to rank for it. Keywords variations like “mutt walking,” “chihuahua walking,” “hound walking,” or “canine walking” might be used less frequently and therefore might have lower competition and be easier to rank for.

That does not mean a person with a dog walking website should not focus primarily on “dog walking” as a keyword – it simply means that they also should be mindful of other variations and use those as well.

What Are Local Keywords?

Any type of keyword to consider is the local keyword. These are good for businesses that rely on local traffic or visitors who live nearby or visit the area the business is located in. For instance, if you own a local dog-walking business that only services areas near Atlanta, Georgia, you would want to make sure to incorporate the city, county, and surrounding areas in your keyword. So instead of only using “dog walking” as a keyword, you would also want to consider using additional key phrases such as “Atlanta dog walker,” “Dog walker near Atlanta,” “Roswell dog walking,” “metro Atlanta puppy walking,” “Forsythe County dog walking service,” and so forth.

Again, use local keywords where it makes sense and use them naturally. Do not try and work in every city, nearby city, county, and zip code on a page unless it is logical to do so. For instance, you might have a web page that lists every city you do business in. In that case, listing every city and zip code would be appropriate.

More SEO Basics for 2021

In this search engine optimization tutorial, we learned the basics of SEO and Internet marketing, covering topics including:

  • Google’s Search Algorithm: A method whereby Google determines how relevant a website is in terms of a given topic. One factor of the Google Algorithm is content and the keywords within that content.
  • SERPs: SERP stands for search engine results page. When you perform a search on Google, the results are listed on a SERP.
  • Ranking: Where a specific page of your website can be found – or ranks – on the SERPs.
  • Relevancy: Refers to how “relevant” your website is to a given topic or set of topics.
  • Keyword: Keywords are relevant phrases and words for your page or website’s main topic. There are keywords, key phrases, keyword variations, and local keywords.

In our next article, we will look at other types of content and how to optimize them for Google and other search engines properly, all with the aim of getting your web pages to rank as high as possible in the SERPs.

James Payne
James Payne is the editor for Developer.com, HTMLGoodies.com, Devx.com, CodeGuru.com, and JGuru.com. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of the Developer Shed communities – a network consisting of 14 websites and forums dedicated to programming, web design, hardware, software, web hosting technology, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO). He has also published three books on Python: Python for Teenagers, Beginning Python: Using Python 2.6 and 3.1, and "Python for the Absolute Beginner".

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