79.3 percent of all SEO articles written have emphasized an important fact: SEO begins with keyword research.
I’m making up that statistic, but I bet you get my point. SEO has been beating the keyword research drum for a long time. And when we write articles or tell clients to start an SEO campaign with comprehensive keyword research, it’s good advice and the right thing to do. But then what?
Not a lot gets written about what exactly you’re supposed to do with all those great keywords that you discovered during the research process. Let’s fix that.
Here’s a list of eight places and ways to use keywords. Best of all, the first seven are directly under your control. So, there’s no excuse for not getting this right on your own website.
1. Page title (title tag/element)
This is generally considered the most important on-page SEO factor, and for competitive terms, it’s nearly impossible to rank well without having the term in your page title.
The primary keyword must appear in the page title, and preferably at the beginning—before your company name and anything else. If Joe’s Widget Supply is creating a page about electronic green widgets, the page title should probably look something like this:
The page title shows up as the clickable link on a search results page, and searchers are looking for page titles that match the keyword they used to search.
2. META description tag
The META description tag has little to no impact on how your pages rank, but it can provide a strong incentive for searchers to click on your result. That’s because search engines often (but not always) show the META description tag as part of your listing in the search results.
Use your primary keyword and perhaps one or two closely related keywords in the description tag, which should be two to three sentences long. Make sure every page on your site has a unique description tag that matches the content on the page.
3. URL of the page
At the moment, optimizers generally believe that using the keyword in your page’s URL is a boost when it comes to search rankings. That may change in the future, but having the keyword in your URL is also good for usability. It helps the searcher understand the content of the page.
For Joe’s green widget page, a good URL might be something like:
I’d suggest not overloading the URL with a ton of keywords, because searchers (and search engines) also prefer short URLs to long ones.
If your website is already doing well where SEO is concerned, don’t change all your URLs just to add a keyword in there. The benefit doesn’t outweigh the risk that you may lose your traffic from Google, Bing, etc.
4. Header tags (H1, H2, etc.)
It’s not necessary to use H1, H2 and other header tags. Millions of pages do quite well without them. But if you do use that markup structure, you should use keywords at the same time. Your primary keyword for each page should be shown using the H1 tag. If you’re using secondary keywords on a page, those can be displayed with H2 tags.
5. Page text
I hope it goes without saying that, if you’re making a page about electronic green widgets, you need to use the phrase in your page text.
But, and this needs to be emphasized: Don’t overdo it! Before publishing any page, read the copy out loud. If it sounds awkward to your ear, you’ve probably overdone it and stuffed your keyword(s) in there too many times. Remember that no search engine spider has ever ordered a product or service online—your writing has to appeal to your human audience.
6. Image filenames
If you’re including photos or images on your page, and that’s usually a good idea, you can often use the keyword as the image file name. In our example, Joe would probably want to show a photo of an electronic green widget on his page about that product, and he should use electronic-green-widget.jpg as the file name. That’s a basic aspect of image optimization.
7. Image alt text
Joe should use the same keyword in the alt text of that image. The alt text is recommended for the sake of usability, so you’re not doing anything wrong by using it. But don’t overdo it. Make sure your alt text describes the image accurately, and if it uses a keyword in the process, that’s good.
8. Text links pointing to the page
This is the one that you don’t always control, because people will link to your site from other sites in a variety of ways. But you do control the links on your own site, and it’s smart to link to your own pages with keywords.
Back to Joe again: If he’s linking from his homepage to the electronic green widgets page, rather than linking with the phrase “click here” or something similar, the link should say electronic green widgets, like this:
- Not good: Click here to learn about our electronic green widgets.
- Good: Click here to learn about our electronic green widgets.
The text of that link helps the search engine associate the page with that keyword.
Your primary keyword(s) should also be used when writing brief descriptions of your business. This is often necessary if you’re a local business that’s using Google Places or Bing’s Local Business Portal, or even on other business directory sites.
Good luck using those keywords and remember—do it, but don’t overdo it!
Image credit: thebarrowboy