Don't eschew keyword selection in favor of inbound links

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Herndon Hasty
Herndon Hasty

With the major engines putting more and more focus on the number and quality of inbound links to a given site, search engine optimization (SEO) managers have turned largely to building more links to a site to help it rank as high as possible. However, if this is all that your SEO efforts focus on, you're missing out on a much bigger piece of the puzzle.

Don't get me wrong — inbound links are important. Volume and relevance of links play a huge role in determining how high you can rank — especially for competitive terms. But in many cases, what your site is ranking for is more important than how well your site is ranking. For example, it might be great that you're ranking well for the term “kids footwear,” but “kids shoes” fits the same description and drives about 40 times the number of searches every month. For which would you rather rank highest?

Inbound links will help raise the overall ranking for your site. Yet, your site's structure and content represent a huge opportunity to build your natural rankings. So, how do you make the most of it?

Spend some time with keyword research tools like Google Adwords' free keyword tool. Dig deep into the results of these tools. For example, are there multiple ways to describe the same object, such as silverware and glassware? What kinds of adjectives and descriptors do most people use to describe that object? Studying the keywords provided by these tools will give you an idea what the categories are within a product group for which people search. 

Once you've pulled together your notes, take a look at your site. Is it structured in such a way to help you target important keywords? Are your products named along the lines of how people search? Can you build out your content in any way to fill in these gaps?

Depending on how your site is structured, terms that you use to describe products and categories can be integrated into important SEO elements such as title tags. By making good keyword choices up front, you can save yourself time down the road. Of course, integrating keywords and building out content should be balanced with user experience. Content is still king online — it doesn't really matter if you can drive tons of search traffic to a site. If the copy is awkward due to an overuse of keywords, then users will leave as soon as they arrive.

While links are important, search engine marketing as a whole is based on the right words at the right time. Build a solid site targeting keywords that are relevant to your offerings and that have the most traffic available to compete for, and you'll find yourself growing in all the right places.

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