[A keyword is the word or phrase you type into a search engine to perform your search.]
Here is how Jakob Neilsen, Ph.D., the #1 authority on web usability puts it:
“ Search is how people discover new web sites . . . unless you're listed on the first search engine results page . . . , you might as well not exist. So, the first duty of writing for the Web is to write to be found . . . when you write, use keywords that match users' search queries. ”
That's it in a nutshell.
And this is where most sites we see every day are missing in action. They need keyword-centered content and proper structure to perform well in the search engines.
Chances are you already rank pretty well for your brand. If fact, many business owners we talk with proudly point out their #1 position on Google for their business name.
But that misses the point entirely.
What about people that don't already know you, or have simply forgotten your name? How will they find you?
When a potential customer does a search, there's a high probability they will use some generic common keyword, or one of the thousands of secondary keywords called the "long tail", NOT your business name. Why? Because if they already know your business, they will already have it bookmarked, or will simply type-in your address.
Searches are typically entered in the form of a problem or a solution. Something like "broken yamaha crankshaft" or "certified architect denver".
So unless your site is optimized for "certified architect denver", or you buy paid advertising for that keyword, you'll almost certainly be below the radar—invisible to your potential clients.
Also keep in mind that on a whim, even your existing clients might start looking for other brands, products, or services, and use a keyword search, not your business name, to find a solution.
[You can hear all about long-tail keywords in our audio archive]
Subtle keyword differences produce very different search engine results, depending on how well an individual page is optimized for that keyword, and what links point to that page. Incorporate long-tail keywords in your text, tags, and links to capture your target market.
So while it always makes sense to build your brand recognition and drive people to your brand-named site, how well your business name or brand name ranks in the search engines is only a small part of the overall picture.
Ultimately, one of the best ways to accomplish your keyword goals is to syndicate — continuously publish articles or blog posts tightly focused on your theme and keyword set. Then, distribute other content with embedded keyword-links that point back to your site. You might also consider starting an affiliate program which will leverage your sales pipeline and traffic.
The keyword-based content process works like this . . .
Update 2010: Microsoft's Bing is taking over Yahoo's search and paid ad programs. When that arrangement is fully in place in 2011, there will be only two dominant search providers. Currently, Google has a 64% share, and Yahoo / Bing a 29% share. The remaining 7% is split among hundreds of smaller competitors.