Promises, promises, promises. In your web design and development proposal you probably assure the client that the website you create will be search engine friendly. The SEO (search engine optimization) component could be significant to the client – the client hopes the site will be a source of additional business, and the client expects a level of SEO to make that happen. While you are busily envisioning the design, it would be a good idea to take a step back and assess just how you are going to make the site search engine friendly.

Keywords kick-start the process

Making a website that’s search engine friendly means you’ll need to address three main components of the search process: Keywords, links and engagement. Since the process begins with an understanding of what the prospective customers – the website visitors – are searching for, the focus should first be on selecting and using keywords.

Here are three keyword tips to help you meet the expectations of both your client and website visitors:

Tip #1: Get the site indexed with keywords

The machines we know as search engines are terrific at collecting and processing language, so use this to your advantage. Search engines are poor at decoding images – they can’t process a web page that doesn’t have text (or that has a minimal amount of text). Search engines figure out what the page is about, and how it relates to the rest of the site, from the content and text links.

Search engines are constantly getting smarter – they now understand synonyms and context – so why are keywords still a necessity? The fact is that information on the Web is still language-based, so the words – especially the keywords – are central to how it is indexed by search engines and discovered by people.

Tip #2: The best keywords are customer-centric

Use research to learn how customers search for the client’s products or services. The client probably has several keywords in mind; terms for which the client hopes to dominate in the search results. (Most designers ask for this information when they onboard the client.) Will these preconceived notions produce results to meet the client’s expectations? Your challenge is to either validate the client’s keyword list, or improve upon it.

Why is research necessary? First, your client is too close to the business – she sees her products and services through her own filter. Her customers might see them differently. Second, you don’t want the client to be disappointed; if she expects a large volume of traffic to the website for terms that are rarely used, that’s a recipe for frustration and disappointment. With a bit of research you can learn if there are better keywords for attracting her customers. (For tips on researching keywords, see the resources below.)

Tip #3: Be consistent

You send a strong message by the way you use keywords across your pages. Ensure that the title tag accurately represents the content of the page, and that other elements, such as images, are properly tagged with a descriptive ALT tag to reinforce what the content is about.

Did you know that people will often find the website via the title tag? Search engines lock onto the keywords and display the title tag as the first line in the search result. When people click on it, they hope to find what they are looking for. Meeting that expectation is crucial.

When visitors are happy with what they find they can be persuaded to take the next step, e.g. go to a new page, fill out a form, or download a white paper. But when the content isn’t what they hoped to find, they will bail – they’ll go back to the search results, and the client can kiss those customers goodbye.

Would you ever assemble a web page without regard to the color palette, layout or the relative size of fonts and images? Just as you coordinate design elements to create a strong overall message, adopt a keyword strategy that leads the visitor to think, “I’m in the right place.”

For savvy consumers, searching online has become an extension of our basic brain function, and we expect instant gratification. Likewise, we’ve become less tolerant when results miss the mark. Keywords are an opportunity to connect with the information-hungry public: When they are used correctly they lead people to what they are looking for.   Don’t miss your best opportunity to make your client’s website successful. Meet, or even EXCEED, their expectations with great keyword strategy.

A few of my favorite resources:

Keywords to Concepts: The Lazy Web Marketer’s Guide to Smart Keyword Research

How to Choose a Profitable Niche

(Also, see my previous post on using Google Trends.)

The Complete Guide to Mastering Your Title Tags