Everyone wants their company’s website to show up at the top of Google. A top spot on search engine rankings makes it easier for homeowners to find—and hire—you. To make this happen, you could hire a search engine optimization (SEO) firm, or you could try to optimize your website in-house. But no matter what you do, you must do another thing first: Create a list of words people use when doing a search. And you must make this list yourself.

What are Keywords?

There are 60 trillion websites across the Internet, all of them competing for attention. Search engines help bring sites to visitors’ attention by taking the words that visitors type and inserting them into a complicated algorithm. This algorithm—a mathematical formula, basically—tries to discern what the person really wants to see. The results then are displayed, with the most likely results appearing on the search engine’s front page.

Having the right words on your website helps Google and the other search engines determine what your website is about. Those are keywords.

For example, if your company remodels basements, you’ll want the words “basement” and “remodel” on your site. These terms—plus more complex versions of them—should be sprinkled throughout your headlines, in external and internal links, within blog posts, on your logo and image descriptions (called ALT and Title tags), and in your website page titles.

When the search engines send out their little robots to scan your site, they’ll see these keywords and make note that this is what you do. And as a result, they’ll rank you higher when returning search results for people seeking companies like yours.

The Master Keyword List

Here is where things get complicated. Your master list must be more than just a handful of one-word terms, like “basement” and “remodel.” You need to include all the possible variations of the terms and have them in two- or three-word phrases. That’s because homeowners rarely go to Google and type “basement;” that produces overly generic results. Some may enter “basement remodeling,” but that can be frustrating to, as the search will turn up websites with remodeling ideas, galleries, photos, how-to videos, and more.

But the visitor you’re looking for—the potential customer—is likely to go one step further and type in something like “basement remodeling company.” By adding the additional qualifier, like “company,” “service,” “contractor,” or “installation,” they’re more likely to find what they’re looking for.

You’re also going to have people who search for geographical regions. They might have done their search for “basement remodeling companies” and received results from all over the country. Google and the other search engines are getting better about looking at the visitor’s physical location and serving up results in their area. But many people do run searches that look something like this: “Dallas area basement contractors”

Some say you don’t need to include a city qualifier, but the search results are not consistent. Try running a search on Google for “basement contractors” and then do another with your city in front of it. Many times, without the city qualifier, you’ll see results from Angie’s List, BBB, Home Advisor, and more. But with the city in there, you’ll see more local home improvement companies at the top.

Keyword Stemming

A final tactic you want to use when creating your Master Keyword List is to use as many variations as possible. With some recent algorithm updates, Google and the others are penalizing websites that repeat the same keyword phrase over and over. If you just have “basement remodeling” on your home page 10 or 15 times, it can look like spamming to the search engines.

Keyword stemming is where you create a mix of phrases that still tell the same story. Here’s an example of how to stem off of the term “remodeling” to really tell your website’s story:

  • “basement remodeling”
  • “basement remodeler”
  • “basement finishing”
  • “basement refinishing”
  • “basement contractor”
  • “finished basement services”
  • “basement renovations”
  • “basement installation service”
  • “basement renovators”
  • “basement installer”

You can add a variety of plural and singular versions to your list. You can add all the city and suburb terms as well. Just remember to avoid stuffing your keywords all over the place. Of all the words on your site pages, keyword phrases should be less than 10% percent of the total (many say 3% to 5% is optimal). Whether you hire an SEO firm or do the optimization yourself, you’ll want to put your Master Keyword List to good use. This will give Google, Yahoo!, and Bing a better idea of what you do and you’ll slowly start to move up the ranks and be shown to potential clients as they search for you. If you have a SEO firm do the work, make sure you look for all the instances of your main keyword phrases and make sure they’ve been properly “stemmed” for maximum effect.