In its purest form, optimizing content for search engines consists of modifying one page to send a strong keyword signal for one keyword or phrase. Sprinkling lots of keywords on the same page will not improve organic search rankings, nor will using the same keyword on lots of different pages. The key to content optimization for SEO is matching one keyword to one page in a methodical and disciplined manner. The content of your website is important for the search engines as they consider your website’s relevancy and importance based on both meta tags and content in relation to the important keywords. There are several guidelines you should follow:
Choose the best keywords
Before keywords can be matched to pages, the optimizer must know which keywords to choose. Make a seed list of the words that will be used on the page. Think of as many synonyms as possible and record them in a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet. Be warned, these are not the keywords with which you’ll be optimizing. The brainstorming process is only the start of the keyword research process. Optimizing with a seed list will result in content optimized for the way you think and search, not the way your customers do.
For example, a site that offers wedding invitations and favors might include the word “opalescent” in its seed list as an adjective describing a type of invitations. But searchers might not search on such a fancy word in high numbers, favoring the shorter adjectives “pearly” or “shimmery.” Next, check out competitors’ sites to see how they refer to their products. Especially note category names in the navigation, title tags, and words used as anchor text in links. If the company has been optimizing for organic search, these areas should be full of valuable keywords. Add any relevant words to the seed list that started with the brainstorm process.
In addition, I often brainstorm a list of adjectives, a list of nouns and a list of verbs, and use Excel to concatenate — i.e. join — them into phrases. For example, the adjectives “affordable” and “modern” might be concatenated with “wedding invitations” and “wedding invites” to form 4 phrases instantly, as follows.
- Affordable wedding invitations
- Affordable wedding invites
- Modern wedding invitations
- Modern wedding invites
Four phrases aren’t very inspiring, but 900 phrases can be generated instantly with a seed list of 30 adjectives, 10 nouns and 3 verbs. The concatenate formula essentially takes the contents of cells or strings of text and crams them together in the specified order in a single cell. Find it in Excel in the “Formulas” tab by clicking “Insert Function” and entering “concatenate” in the search field.
Using Keyword Tools
When the seed list feels fairly complete, turn to a keyword research tool to understand the value of the keywords on the seed list and also to discover additional related keywords. While there are many keyword tools, I prefer Google’s free AdWords Keyword Tool. The vast majority of most sites’ organic search traffic comes from Google, so it makes sense to tap Google’s database of keywords when deciding how to optimize a site. Other reputable keyword tools include Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery, both of which tools have free and paid versions. Searching Google for “keyword tool” turns up a variety of other options, but be certain of the data’s sources and biases before basing optimization decisions on it.
During the keyword research process, patterns start to appear. Different types of keywords emerge that can be logically grouped into different categories that reflect the site’s business goals and core product offerings. For example, if my site sells subscriptions to online games for kids, my keyword research could be 12,000 phrases or more based on the research conducted in Google’s free Keyword Tool. But because each keyword is needs to be related to my core product offering, I can start to categorize them and delete the ones that aren’t directly relevant.
Once the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins. First, make a list of all the URLs that need to be optimized. This list may be the entire site, or it may be a smaller subset of the major categories and most valuable subcategories and products. Each URL needs a unique primary keyword. It’s important that each URL have its own unique keyword theme so that a site’s own pages don’t compete with each other for rankings for the same phrases. In addition, each URL can also be assigned a couple of secondary keywords that are very closely related to the primary keyword.
Include keywords in text
You should make sure that all those keywords you have included in your meta tags and on which searches you wish to come up are included in the text of your site.
Write for Readers, Optimize for Engines
It’s obvious when content is written for search engines instead of customers. It tends to focus on high keyword density — having a higher ratio of keywords to other words — and tends to lack readability and interest. Instead of this, inform writers of the keyword theme for the page and let them write freely and creatively with the keywords and the brand messaging in mind. When they’re finished writing, go back over the fresh copy with an eye to replacing some phrases with keyword phrases. Be careful not to kill the spirit of the content in the process.
Where keywords are placed can have a big impact on how strong a keyword relevance signal they send to the search engines. This is referred to as “keyword prominence.” If a page is meant to rank for “online games for girls” but the keywords related to that phrase aren’t used on the page in prominent places, it will have a difficult time ranking. So before we start flinging words around the page, keep these content optimization guidelines in mind.
- Beginning. The beginning of an element is always more prominent than the end.
- Phrasing. The order of the words within a keyword phrase matters. To target a keyword phrase most strongly, use the phrase exactly as it appears in the keyword map. For example, using the map from “Part 2: Keyword Mapping” — last week’s article — a page targeting “online games for girls” would want to use that exact phrase in the most prominent elements on the page, not mutate it as in “online fun games for little girls.” Similarly, the keyword research and map indicate that the exact phrase “online games for girls” is stronger than a rephrased version such as “games online for girls.”
Mind the formatting of the text
Formatting (bolding, titles, etc.) is also important to show the search engines that certain words are more important than others. Thus, if you bold your keywords in your text, they are perceived as more important than other words and thus your text becomes more relevant to these keywords.
The Prominent Elements for SEO
- Title Tags. The title tag is the most prominent keyword relevance element on the page. For detailed guidelines and examples, see “Title-Tag Optimization for Ecommerce Sites.” In general, place the targeted keywords at the beginning of the title tag and keep the title tag to 65 to 70 characters.
- Headings. While less prominent than they were a couple of years ago, headings are still as prominent as bolded or italicized content. Again, place the targeted keywords at the beginning of the heading, especially the H1 heading that typically headlines the top of the page.
- Anchor Text. Traditionally identified by its blue underlined styling, anchor text consists of the words that users click on to follow a link to another page. Anchor text is doubly prominent because it affects the keyword theme on the page where the words appear, and also passes a keyword signal along with a linking signal to the destination page. Adding relevant anchor text with links to relevant pages to the body copy described below is an excellent way to strengthen two pages’ keyword signals. It’s important to note, however, that a link that uses an image as its anchor does not strengthen either page’s keyword signal, even if that image contains keywords.
- Body Copy. Descriptive text on a page acts as an anchor for that page’s keyword theme. As other features and products come and go, the body copy remains to consistently target the page’s keyword theme. Any block of text that contains several complete sentences like this page at LL.Bean can be called body copy. A page that consists entirely of a grid of product images and names with no descriptive content like this at Bed Bath & Beyond has no body copy. The SEO practitioner’s first challenge may be working with design and development teams to create a space in the template to insert body copy and a method of editing it. Regardless, the most prominent area of the body copy is the beginning of the text block and any anchor text that is used within the body copy.
The other textual elements of the page aren’t as prominent, including meta data, alternative attributes for images, title attributes links and text locked inside of images. That’s not to say that they are completely useless to SEO, they just do not carry the kind of prominence that the preceding elements do. In fact, meta keywords are no longer used by search engines as positive ranking factors. They only count as negative ranking factors if a site tries to stuff them full of redundant or irrelevant keywords.
While not a prominent ranking factor, the meta description is actually a valuable SEO team player. When the engines return a page of search results, the meta description can be used as the black descriptive text for the page’s search result. As such, it’s important to optimize the meta description with the same keyword theme as the rest of the page, because it may influence the searcher to click on your search result rather than your competitor’s. Keep the meta description to about 180 characters and make sure to use the keywords from the map. However, since this element doesn’t impact rankings, there’s no need to be quite so slavish to using the keywords at the beginning of the element.
Add regularly relevant content to site
You should make sure that you add relevant content to your website. This content addition invites Google to visit your site more often and increase its relevance and importance.