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What are "key words"?

How do you look for information on the web? The chances are that you type a few words into the "search" box of your browser, Then your favourite search engine - Google probably - delivers a list of results. Magic! Those words that you type in a search engine when you are trying to find something are known as "key words" or "search terms".

How does it work?

Let's focus on Google. Google is the main player in the search engine business but most of what we say here applies to the other engines too (e.g. MSN and Yahoo!).

When you look at the results displayed by Google you will usually see some small boxes on the right hand side. Those are adverts and folks are paying Google to appear there - just as in the traditional advertising model. Sometimes you will also see these adverts displayed in a shaded area at the top of the page (and labelled "sponsored links").

So money can buy you an advert on Google - but no amount of money gets you a position in the other results that are displayed by Google. These listings are known as "organic listings" - and they represent the results that in Google's opinion best match the search terms that were typed in.

The web sites that rank well in the organic listings do so because Google judges them to be highly relevant to the key words that are typed in the search box

Research shows that surfers consistently favour the sites that are listed at the top of the organic rankings over the adverts. The click through rate is better. So the poor souls paying Google for adverts do not fare so well as the lucky devils whose web sites are chosen by Google to appear in the organic listings!

Does all this matter to me?

Perhaps it doesn't matter! Maybe you are planning a web site that doesn't need to rank well in search engines. An example would be a support site for your business where customers can view and download technical information about your products. These people will find your site because you explicitly direct them to it (perhaps by including the address of the site in your emails).

Or alternatively your business may be more suited to traditional marketing through newspaper adverts, press releases, local radio and so forth.

Then again your pockets may be deep and you prefer the feeling of control that paid-for advertising gives you.

In such cases there is no need to consider using "key words" in your domain name

What we have to say about using key words in your domain name only matters if you have an interest in doing well in the so-called "organic" search engine results

OK, so what do I do?

It's quite simple really: You need to create a web site that is "search engine friendly"

Google - and other search engines for that matter- want your information. Whatever you have to offer - Google is interested in it. You need them, but they need you in order to deliver quality content to their customers.

But the folks at Google haven't got time to go from web site to web site reviewing the content themselves. Instead they use computers to do this task. They deploy automated "spiders" or "robots" to follow the links on the web from page to page. When a spider visits a web page it analyses and indexes the content it finds there.

Automated spiders are blind. They cannot "see" your beautiful graphics and photos. Neither can they "understand" and interpret the meaning of your web page. All they can do is collate all the words and phrases that they are able to find and add the results to a huge database

When we say that you need to make your site search engine friendly all we mean is that you need to do your best to help the poor little spider critter. Don't make it's already hard task even harder!

Which brings us back to your choice of a domain name...

The Google spider will visit your web site for the clues and pointers it needs in order to accurately index and rank your web pages. There are lots of things it will pay attention to. Obviously it looks at the text you have written. Then there is some technical stuff. For example the spider will look closely at the text in the HTML "Title" tag of your web page. It will also pay attention to the HTML "Alt" tags used on your graphics. Some people say it will even look at the file names of the web page and page resources (such as graphics). The exact details are known only to the boffins at Google.

Obviously the logical starting point for the Google spider when it tries to figure out what your site is "about" is to look at the domain name you have chosen to represent your site. The Google spider would be pretty stupid to ignore that - and the folks at Google are anything BUT stupid!

So therefore one element in your strategy to make your web site search engine friendly is to choose a domain name that incorporates one or two key words that indicate what the web site is about.

Keep this in perspective! This is not a magic route to the top of the organic listings. Your choice of a domain name is just one factor out of a great many that will influence the way your web site is indexed and ranked.

Be nice to spiders - use the dash character to make your key words accessible!

Let's consider these two possible domain names:

  • skiingholidays.co.uk
  • skiing-holidays.co.uk

The difference is just that the second version has a dash in the middle (a domain name can contain letters, numbers and the dash character).

As an English speaking human it's quite easy to see that the first domain name is made up of two key words ("skiing" and "holidays"). But how is the Google spider supposed to figure that out? Pattern recognition is one area where humans are still much better than computers, robots, and Google spiders!

If you are trying to incorporate key words in your domain name don't lose them in a jumble of characters. Use the dash character to help the Google spider "see" the separate words!