Contradictory thoughts on key words

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There are two very different ways to think about keywords on the Web: one is for writers and one is for researchers. Web copywriters are often advised to use keywords that customers type into search engines. Researchers, on the other hand, are told to focus on the words that customers actually use in online discussion forums.

What's the difference? In general, when customers participate in online discussions, they talk about their problems. When they search, they're searching for solutions.

The paradox for our purposes has nothing to do with the customer's use of two different sets of words. Rather, the paradox is this: a good blogger is both a writer and a researcher. So you need both sets of words.

The best bloggers listen to their audience and engage in online forums where their target readers are already congregating. How do you find those forums? By searching for the words your readers are using there: their problem words.

Think about what your customers say when they discuss their business pains. Plug those words into Google blog search, Twitter search and Boardreader. See what you find. Answer a few questions there, and then write a blog post about it. Use a few solution words when you're writing the post, and hyperlink those keywords to some additional online content.

Now, let me conclude with one very the big caveat. My favorite piece of advice about keywords kind of kicks everything I just said in the head. It comes from Scott Stratten of Unmarketing fame who says, "Nobody looks at a post and goes, 'That was a pretty bad post, but it was really keyword rich, so let me pass it along." Nope. Nobody does that.

The point here is that your content has to be useful and interesting to read, or it doesn't matter how many people get to it via search. Visitors have to like it, bookmark it, want to pass it along, or - at the very least - want to continue reading past the first sentence for the post to make a difference.

So use those keywords - both sets - but have an opinion first. Or be interesting. Or share something with readers that makes them think. First and foremost, be useful.

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About Author

Alison Bolen

Editor of Blogs and Social Content

+Alison Bolen is an editor at SAS, where she writes and edits content about analytics and emerging topics. Since starting at SAS in 1999, Alison has edited print publications, Web sites, e-newsletters, customer success stories and blogs. She has a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and a master’s degree in technical writing from North Carolina State University.

3 Comments

  1. I don't understand your comment that "a good blogger is...a researcher." I must be using a different definition of "researcher" than you are. Are you saying that a good blogger needs to research the keywords that customers are searching for? Could you expand your second paragraph by giving an example?

  2. "Listener" or "community participant" might be better terms than "researcher" for what I'm trying to say. I mostly mean that the top bloggers in most categories participate in broader community conversations online. But if you're new to blogging, as many corporate bloggers are, it takes some research to find those communities and discussion forums & using keywords can help you find them.

  3. Ah, my favorite subject. First, relative to Rick's question - I agree that bloggers must be "researchers," if by that we mean studying the landscape and learning who is talking, how they talk, and what they are concerned about. The flip side is merely spewing - the great mistake of so many corporate blogs.
    Re the keywords, I don't see the conflict. As a copywriter, I always looked at my work as a puzzle. Make the pieces fit. Back in the 80s, it was balancing creativity with communication - it just ain't that clever if it doesn't sell. Visual elements, too, were pieces that had to fit. E-mail complicated things, as the deluge required us to replace catchy headlines with clear and specific descriptions - if readers couldn't immediately see why they should bother, they would just hit delete and relegat all your brilliance to the trash bin.
    The addition of keywords to the puzzle in no way eliminates the need to write well. It just makes it all more, well, interesting. If you can write elegant, informative, concise, keyword-rich copy, you've got it licked. Simple, right?

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