Keywords are one of the most critical aspects of on-page SEO. Without them, users are unable to find your content through online searches. This means they may arrive at the sites of your competitors without ever learning about your business.
As Google updates its algorithm to better help users find quality information, keyword best practices become more complex. You can stay ahead by finding the appropriate keywords for your needs and utilizing them correctly to bring the right traffic to your website.
Keyword research involves checking your ideas with a keyword tool. The process starts with brainstorming — think about what kind of information visitors to your website are seeking and what terms they may use to reach you. Create a list of as many potential keywords as possible that cover all the topics you write about. You can also find inspiration in your analytics data, where you will see terms visitors are currently using to reach your website.
Turning to your keyword tool, check the competitiveness, ranking, and performance of each keyword. Some tools also provide suggestions of related keywords to try. Narrow your list down to just the best options. To better manage this list and ensure you always find relevant keywords, divide your keywords into groups and subgroups.
Including Keywords in the Right Places
There are several places on your website to include keywords. Some more critical to SEO than others. In order of importance, you should optimize:
- Titles. Keywords need to appear in both the HTML title elements, which appear in a search, and in onscreen titles. Typically, an onscreen title will be an H1 tag, but it could just be a headline at the top of the page. The title element and page title should match to show users they are where they expected to be. Keep titles under 65 characters to ensure they show up on SERPs in full.
- Content. Keywords in content are beneficial both for your search engine ranking and for keeping visitors on the page. You can include more than one keyword, provided all keywords fit naturally into your content.
- External anchor links. Whenever you have control of an external link, utilize a keyword.
- Image alt text and image text. Image alt text ensures search engines know what an image depicts. Be as descriptive as possible, utilizing the most relevant keyword. Avoid using multiple keywords, as Google will recognize this as keyword stuffing. Use the same practices for image text.
- URLs. Use the keyword that best describes your content in the URL. Separate words with hyphens to ensure the URL is easy to understand.
- Internal links.
- Meta descriptions. A meta description is the information below the title element and URL in a search result. Although meta descriptions only have a minor impact on rankings, including a keyword shows users that the content is relevant to their needs.
If you have created any pages in the past without optimizing these elements, go back and update them. Every change can have a big impact on your SEO.
Avoiding Black Hat Practices
We briefly mentioned keyword stuffing above. It is worthwhile clarifying what the term means and why you need to avoid the practice.
Keyword stuffing involves using as many keywords as possible in an attempt to rank high for a variety of terms. Whether you stuff keywords in your content, titles, descriptions, URLs, or even a list at the bottom of the page in very small text, it will have a negative effect on your SEO.
Many years ago, keyword stuffing worked. Search engines now specifically check and penalize websites for practice.
To avoid being caught keyword stuffing, some websites try to hide keywords. Tactics include putting keywords in the same color as the background, placing keywords behind images, and hiding keywords on the side of the page using CSS. Google and other sophisticated search engines have caught on to this practice and, again, penalize websites.
Forcing keywords into content
If you are unable to incorporate a keyword naturally into your text, leave it out. The likelihood is that it is irrelevant to the topic and would work better in a different piece of content. A better option is to try to rank for more fitting keywords. Google is often able to tell when keywords are just inserted for SEO purposes. Plus, it is obvious to users, leading to a lower quality of content and creating a bad impression of your business.
Using meta keywords
Google has publicly said that it does not use meta keywords to rank pages. Whereas meta keywords can carry some weight in a Yahoo search, the minority of visitors using this method to reach your site means meta keywords are just not worth the effort.
In fact, meta keywords can even hurt your SEO. For instance, they tell Google what terms to penalize your site for if the search engine decides you are manipulating SEO. They also show your competitors exactly what terms you are trying to rank for.
Implementing a Strategy
Keyword research is a continuous process. After you draw up an initial list, you will need to keep adding to it and changing it to reflect changes in competition and trending topics. For instance, you may be able to rank well for a short keyword for a while, but the likelihood is you will need to switch to a long-tailed keyword later on to retain a high position in SERPs. Occasionally, you will need to adapt your entire strategy to keep it in line with the latest Google algorithm update.