January 30, 2012

A Secret Key to Keywords

So we’re agreed: keywords are important.

They elevate your website’s standing in rankings on search engines like Google and Yahoo. The exercise of listing keywords helps you hone in on content, and the combination of keywords and search engine optimization helps users find you more quickly. It’s win-win.

Now we’re moving into the nuances: all keywords are not equal. See, another part of this equation is knowing what words people are using in their searches. You may, for instance, plaster the word narthex all over your website, in keywords and headlines and text. But it’s unlikely that you’ll rise much in search engine rankings. Why? Because few people (outside of seminarians and junior wardens) are searching for the word narthex.

The good news in this wrinkle is that you don’t have to be a mind reader to discover what words people are searching. Google offers a nifty – and free – tool: Google Insights. This tool measures search terms – from frequency to geographic location to seasons. You can enter two terms and see which is most often searched. For instance, you can compare Britney Spears and ubuntu (sadly, in this case, it’s the operating system that pops – not the African concept of interconnectedness that themed General Convention 2009). Click here to see the stats

This makes a fun parlor game, but where it becomes really interesting is looking at different terms that we may use in our church websites. For instance, a quick test between the keywords “church” and “congregation” shows that congregation barely registers. Note to self (or the webmaster): Don’t bother putting congregation as a keyword. Nobody’s looking for that word when they search. 

I’ve been working with Digital Faith, a web management system for faith communities, to take this search engine optimization even further. We’re building targeted Easter pages using popular search terms – keywords. For instance, Easter sunrise service gets way, way more searches than the term Easter worship service. 

Likewise, Easter tops the list, while Holy Week flatlines. 

What this means: I’ll still use Holy Week and Lent and other terms on the website. But I’ll also make sure to use Easter sunrise service in the text and as a keyword. Maybe I'll post an Easter bunny coloring page and information about Easter egg hunts -- other popular Easter-related searches. 

My goal is to get people onto my website. Once they land on my site, I have the opportunity to tell them all about the amazing Episcopal Church. But if I don’t do some of this work upfront, then I don’t give them a chance to find me. The bottom line: It doesn’t matter how awesome it is behind the red doors if people can’t find the doors in the first place.