When a Web site needs to be optimized for high rankings, usually the first step is to find the keyphrases most relevant to the site.

But what happens when the most relevant keyphrases are not the ones people search out?

Sure, you can probably get a high ranking for "Boston business directories," but if no one is looking for that type of site, your high rankings will not bring your site any traffic.

We recently optimized a portal site for local businesses that had this very problem. Here's how we overcame our keyphrase dilemma.

Mission Impossible?

The site was a portal for regional businesses. Let's say it was based in the Boston area. The site had been optimized to rank highly for phrases such as "Boston business directory." However, a quick Word Tracker report revealed people weren't using that phrase when using search engines.

The report showed that the most searched-on phrases relating to Boston included "Massachusetts Lottery" and "Boston weather." It also showed that people were searching for "Boston zoo," "Boston airport," "Boston classifieds" and "Boston restaurants."

At first, it seemed it would be a daunting, if not impossible, task to optimize for keyphrases that would bring targeted traffic to this site. However, the site owner was prepared to alter the focus of his Web site in any way he could to get more traffic.

Together, we brainstormed an optimization plan. We thought long and hard about how we could integrate some of these keyphrases into this business portal without tricking the engines and the visitors. Finally, a plan began to gel.

The Transformation

First, the client found a script that showed the up-to-date local weather report and added that to the main page of the site. He also hired a programmer to create a script that would integrate state lottery results into his main page.

He already had a listing of local restaurants, as well as a section for free local classifieds. All that was left to do was create a page of links to the most sought-after local sites, such as the zoo and the airport.

The next step was to rewrite the main page, focusing on the fact that this site now offered information on the Massachusetts lottery, Boston weather and Boston classifieds. We also heavily emphasized the most important keyphrases on the links page.

The business directory itself was still prominently featured; however, it didn't get the same focus on the page as it previously had.

Once everything was in place, we optimized the tags and other HTML code accordingly and began the submission process. Luckily, this site had not yet been submitted to the major directories such as Yahoo! and LookSmart.

Using those directories' business express services, we were able to get the keyphrases "lottery," "weather forecasts," "restaurants" and "classifieds" into the descriptions, since these were now a major focus of the main page of the site.

Yahoo! gave us a bit of a problem at first by severely editing the description; however, a simple e-mail appeal worked wonders. Yahoo! restored our important keyphrases.

Lessons Learned

It has been three to four months since submission, and the site is doing terrifically in the rankings. The key to success with this site was the owner's willingness to be flexible.

While not every site will be able to alter so much of its content in accordance with popular search phrases, it's often possible to make a few additions that don't conflict too much with the focus of the site.

The site owner was also willing to take some risks. He was not making much -- if any -- money on his site, but he was willing to spend some money up front. He invested in our optimization services and in a programmer for the scripts he needed.

It's still too early in the game to know for sure how profitable this client will be, but something tells me he will eventually realize a tidy profit.

There are several lessons in this case study for anyone in business on the Web:

  • If your most relevant keyphrases aren't going to bring you traffic, find ones that will and alter the focus of the site if you can.
  • If you're serious about your business, you'll often have to spend money to make money.

Now it's your job to figure out how to use this information to benefit your Web site.

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