The 5 Most Valuable Places for Keywords on Your Website

If you want traffic from search engines, you know that you need to optimize your page for your target keywords. But where on the page should you place your keywords?

Imagine your target keywords are seeds: will you throw them in the air and hope they grow wherever they fall, or will you place them precisely where they’ll get the most sunlight (and capture the most attention)?

When you look at the big picture, popular search engines like Google have been so successful because they are able to determine the most relevant websites for the keywords queried, while penalizing sites using spammy tactics. This has led to a more satisfactory search experience for users, and a more challenging experience for web marketers and developers.

Forget The Keyword Tag and Keyword Stuffing

For example, the once-meaningful keyword meta tag has been relegated to the “obsolete” corner for its heavy abuse by SEOs hoping to gain an edge by keyword stuffing. The same can be said for description tags and pages bursting at the seams with repeated keywords. The goal of search engines is to deliver the most relevant content to their users, and that should be your goal as well. Rather than trying to trick search engines into ranking your site higher, which often works against your rankings, focus on delivering more appropriate keywords in well-placed areas of your site code. Here are five important areas to focus keywords on:

Title Tag

The title tag, which shows up as the title in search results and on the browser window, is the most important place to place your keywords. There are several ingredients that should go into a well-optimized title tag:

  • A title tag should be about 65-70 characters or less, so use each character well. Choose several keywords that correspond with the content on the page, but don’t overload the title with a nonsensical combination of words—remember, it still has to be appealing for a user to click on it in the search results.
  • Put your most important keyword(s) at the beginning of the title tag.
  • Customize the title tag on each page to help avoid duplicate content filters. Consider this an opportunity to get more keywords in—just make sure the title accurately corresponds with the content.

URL

Don’t overlook this fundamental element of each web page. While it helps users make sense of what they will find on the page, it does the same for search engine bots. Use the URL to include keywords from the page, making sure to keep it concise and readable. Users find links with readable, descriptive terms more trustworthy, so there’s no reason not to name your directory files and folders logically with keywords.

Note

Use caution (and the correct redirects) when changing the URLs of existing pages.

H1 Tag

SEOs have considered h1 important for years. With the advent of HTML5 and its new semantics, mass confusion has ensued about whether search engines will understand the new structure. Whereas before websites were generally discouraged from using multiple h1 tags, the new semantic markup encourages h1 tags at the head of multiple sections.

As it turns out, search engines won’t be penalizing you for using multiple h1 tags, and apparently never have. Google engineer Matt Cutts said in a 2009 video, “Use (the h1 tag) where it makes sense and more sparingly, but you can have it multiple times.” That doesn’t mean the tag should be abused, however—there are still safeguards in place to penalize sites using spammy tactics, such as using h1 tags for large amounts of body text. To learn more about this topic, check out What Potential Impact Can HTML5 Have on SEO?

Body Text

Of course, it would only make sense that your body text should contain keywords. If your site is legitimate and you’re targeting the right audience, it should be easy to naturally weave keywords into the copy. But how many keywords are needed to affect SEO?

SEOmoz recommends that writers aim for for 2-3 keywords on a typical page, and 4-5 on pages with more copy. If more keywords appear naturally as it is written, it won’t hurt anything, but don’t add more for the sake of SEO; anything above those limits won’t affect rankings much, if at all. In a nutshell, relevance and quality reign supreme over keyword density, so make sure the keywords flow well with the text and don’t sacrifice quality for more keywords.

Image Name and Alt Attribute

Images are sometimes the forgotten child of SEO, but they too can bring valuable search traffic—even some traffic that regular text can’t reach. How many times have you searched for an image and ended up on the website that hosts the image? People often search for images alone, so it’s worth your time to optimize yours with keywords.

First, make sure the images are given logical, readable names—with keywords, if appropriate. For example, cupcake.jpg is better than img-00012.jpg. Next, don’t skimp on your alt tags; they are required for better usability in case your image can’t be seen, and they tell search engines what the image is. My advice is to write whatever you would want a user to know if the image didn’t load, ideally using some keywords.

Finally, ensure the image is in the right context—this is perhaps the most important feature that search engines look for. In short, place the keyword-optimized image close to keyword-optimized paragraph and header tags, and you’re on your way to turning up in an image search.

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  • Alec

    I wish that developers would not neglect to write the description, and nor should they ever use more than one H1 heading. The reason? Simple: I’m an AT user. I appreciate having a description and always use it to give me a quick sense of the page’s purpose before deciding whether to continue. Like most AT users, I navigate partly by the heading structure, so having more than one H1 or some other confusion in the heirarchy can create difficulty for me.

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      I agree, it’s confusing to shift away from the XTHML structure we’ve gotten used to over the years. I think an HTML5 page with organized sectioning content would be fairly easy to understand, but there’s a lot of confusion on the proper use of sectioning elements and header hierarchy. Once developers, browsers, etc. all get in line with it, I think it will make more sense.

    • Sammy

      This may be a silly question but what does AT stand for?

      • http://www.onsman.com Ricky Onsman

        AT stands for Assistive Technology: software and hardware that allows people with disabilities to experience the same web content everyone else takes for granted. A screen reader, used by people with impaired vision, may interpret H1 as the main heading for a document or webpage. Put in several H1s, even as section headers, and the screen reader delivers confused messages to the user.

  • http://www.altinkumpropertyforsale.com Altinkum Rob

    I use h1 tags, but for subsequent headings on the same page use h2, h3 and so on. Is it then preferable to change them all to h1?

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      There’s debate as to whether each HTML5 sectioning content heading (section, article, etc) on the page needs to be an h1 tag. If you want your page to be semantically readable by an HTML5 outliner, it really works best if each element has the proper heading structure beginning with h1. However, you also end up with several H1 tags, which means styling will have to be done with added classes rather than the headers themselves. From what I understand, there isn’t a solid answer on which is the best method, but both of them will work. The important point is that having multiple h1 tags (within reason) won’t hurt you in Google’s eyes, so don’t avoid semantic HTML5 just for that purpose.

      • http://rsmithing.com rsmithing

        I also use h2, h3, even h5 tags to break up the body copy in my posts. Visually I think they look great and are a solid place for keywords; in scanning the text, the eye naturally lands on these markers. Would you say these tags are appropriate for deliberate keyword placement?

  • http://www.adrianforbes.com Adrian Forbes

    Amen! I wrote a DIY SEO blog post on this two years ago, geared toward WordPress. At the time, the META description was a more important for Google search results. It is good to know 1) it is still useful for AT visitors and 2) some search engines may not regard it now. I still think it is good to put META keywords and descriptions in to be thorough (budget-permitting).

  • Annette

    Nice article. I have also found the Title tag to be effective in search engines when designing for my clients. I will always put the name of the website or business at the beginning of the title tag now, because it makes it easy to recognise when you have many things open in your taskbar at the bottom of your screen.

  • http://2index.net Said Bakr

    Very good article, but it miss little thing, some practical examples in demo pages that show these factors.

  • Conny

    And don’t forget that the alt-attribute of an image is not only “…required for better usability in case your image can’t be seen, and [to] tell search engines what the image is…”. Imagine a user reading a page with assistive technology (AT) and the images on this page don’t have a proper description of its contents.
    Always think of the original purpose of an element and not of SEO at first. Remember “content is king” and you’ll actually be doing “almost everything” correct. Think of the elements semantic meaning rather than confusing you with “repeated use of h1″ or so. ;)

  • http://www.theweddinginvitation.co.uk/ Heather’s Invitations

    A good article, but one slight omission: bold (strong) and emphasis (em) tags are also good places to put keywords for obvious reasons.

    As far as my research has shown, Google does slightly favour bold or emphatic text for relational purposes.

    Of course, context and quality should be top priority, so don’t just bold random word to tempt Google.

  • http://haunschild.de Marc Haunschild

    h1 is very often used for the name of a sites vendor, h2 is normally used as a headline for an article. So if there is an article about shoes on the site of John Miller, what do you think, the page is about? John Miller or shoes?
    Why Google should not know how important the h2 is? ;-)
    So place your keywords in h2 instead of h1 – it will help users (with or without ATs) and search engines!