10 Most Valuable Places for Your Keywords

This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

SEO is all about making your page as relevant as possible to a target keyword used in a search engine. Perhaps the most important, and famous, aspect of this is through the use of keywords. However, just throwing a keyword on a page a few times won’t do much to signal that your page is useful and relevant to a user’s search. You need to use your keywords in the right way, in the right places, to show search engines that your website can help a searcher achieve their goal. On the flip side, using keywords in just the right places will help you attract visitors who are looking for what your website is offering.

In this piece we’ll go over 10 most valuable places you should, and shouldn’t, include keywords on your page.

1. URL

The structure and words you use in your URLs are very important. Optimized URLs are vital for search engines and human usability, and play a big part in your SEO. Use keywords in your URL to tell readers how relevant the page is to a keyword and what sort of content they should expect to find on the page.

If you have an ecommerce site, use your category, sub-category and product keywords in the URL. A URL like www.example.com/shoes/mens/brown-leather-shoe tells search engines a lot more about the page and what it’s about than something like www.example.com/browse/product?cid=12345&cid=67890. Search engines crawling the URL can see immediately that the page will be relevant to searches about men’s brown leather shoes, while the second URL doesn’t provide any such clues.

If your keywords contain multiple words, use hyphens between words and avoid stop words (to, at, with, etc.). Search engines don’t recognize underscores, so they see example.com/brown_leather_shoes the same as example.com/brownleathershoes. This is a problem because humans obviously use spaces when searching, which means a URL containing underscores won’t appear as relevant to a search for “brown leather shoes.”

Optimizing your URLs with keywords is also helpful for linking purposes. Research has shown that URLs using keywords makes links using keywords as anchor text more likely, which makes for a more valuable link. In instances where people add links to your site without specifying anchor text, usually by just copying and pasting the URL into the text, the URL itself will become the anchor text. Using your keywords in the URL will ensure that in these cases, your anchor text will include keywords.

2. Title Tag

A page’s title is indicated in the page’s <head>. When implemented correctly, it looks like this:

<title>This is the Title</title>

Title tags serve a lot of purposes: They’re used by browsers for tabs and bookmark descriptions and by social media sites when you share a link. They’re also one of your most important parts of on page SEO. Search engines rely on title tags maybe more than any other element when figuring out the topic of a page, so it’s important to optimize page titles for your target keywords. Use your keywords at the beginning of the title for the best effect. If you want to include multiple keywords, or your location for local SEO, use the pipe character (|), to separate them.

Titles that are too long will be cut off, so keep them less than 60 characters (including spaces), with an ideal length between 50-60 characters. Search engines have developed a talent for determining when someone is trying to manipulate them. Adding too many keywords, or repeating the same keyword over and over again, will make your page look bad and hurt your SEO. This page, for example, stuffed its title tag with several keywords related to watches and appears on the 21st page of Google search results.

Stuffed title tag

3. Meta Description

Meta descriptions aren’t used as a ranking factor by search engines, but you can still use your keyword here to improve your SEO. Search engines combine meta descriptions with title tags and URLs to create a page’s search snippet. Meta descriptions are implemented in the document <head> and look like this:

<meta name="description” content=”A short page description, no more than 160 characters Keywords appear in bold.” />

Think of search snippets as an opportunity to advertise the content on your page. Keywords matching search terms will appear in bold, so use them in your meta description to entice users to click through to your site. Along with keywords, try to use words/phrases like “cheap,” “deals” or “free shipping,” to further encourage click through. Search engines use click-through rate (CTR) as a ranking signal, so having an optimized meta description will help your SEO.

Make sure your meta descriptions accurately describe what users will find on the page. A bad meta description won’t directly hurt your ranking, but it could result in a high bounce rate (the percentage of users who leave your site without interacting with any pages beyond the landing page). This is a clue that your page is irrelevant to the keyword.

4. Page Content

Your page content is the backbone of your site, and theoretically the whole reason your page exists in the first place. In the old days, optimizing your content meant loading up the beginning of your page with keywords and synonyms. However, since Google’s Panda update, that sort of keyword-saturated content looks like useless spam and you’ll struggle to get much organic search traffic.

Instead, focus on creating content that covers the topic in-depth and at length. Google likes long content — the average top ten page has right around 2,000 words. Concentrating on covering the topic authoritatively will allow you to use keywords throughout the page. It will also naturally allow you to use latent semantic keywords. Latent semantic keywords are words that are topically associated with other words. It’s one of the ways search engines tell the difference between a page about swimming pools and a page about billiards. They help strengthen your page’s ties to a particular topic, which can improve your search ranking.

Your content also needs to be unique and high quality. Duplicating or spinning content won’t cause a penalty, but it will keep you from ranking in search results. Completely copying content could cause Google to leave you out of search results completely. You also need to proofread your content as spelling, grammar and vocabulary mistakes make your site look bad and cause a high bounce rate.

The good news is that if you are creating high-quality, in-depth content, you’re likely creating evergreen content. Evergreen content stays relevant and ranks for a long period of time (think months or years, instead of days or weeks). It also serves as linkbait to make your off page SEO efforts a little bit easier.

5. Headers and Sub-heads

Like title tags, search engines pay close attention to headers and sub-heads as clues regarding a page’s content, particularly the <h1> tag. The <h1> tag is the most important header on the page and serves as the title for the page’s content, so you absolutely need to include your keyword here. Note, however, that the <h1> header is NOT the same thing as the title tag. Use sub-heads, <h2> through to <h6>, to order and structure your content and use your keywords consistently throughout the page. Your h1 doesn’t need to be exactly the same as your title tag, but it should be pretty close.

As always, don’t overdo it with keywords in your h1 tags. Make sure each page has a unique h1 as well, to avoid duplicate content issues.

Header tags also help you to provide a positive user experience for your visitors. They give your content order and structure, which makes it easier and more enjoyable for those consuming it. Search engines do take user experience into account when ranking pages, so headers are an important component of SEO.

A quick note about HTML5 and <h1> tags: In the past, you could only use one h1 tag on your page. Using more than one made it look like you were trying to manipulate search engines so you could rank for more keywords. However, if your site uses HTML5, you can have one <h1> tag per section. So where a site using HTML4 should look like this:

<div>
<h1>How to Do SEO</h1>
<h2>On Page SEO</h2>
<h3>Title tags<h3>
<p>Body text<p>
<h2>Off Page SEO</h2>
<h3>Backlinks</h3>
<p>Body text<p>
</div>

A page using HTML5 can have multiple h1s like this:

<div>
<header><h1>How to Do SEO</h1>
</header>
<article>
<h1>On Page SEO</h1>
<h2>Title Tags</h2>
<p>Body text<p>
</article>
<article>
<h1>Off Page SEO</h1>
<h2>Backlinks</h2>
<p>Body text<p>
</article>
</div>

However, if your site doesn’t use HTML5, or you aren’t sure, play it safe and only use one <h1> tag per page.

6. Image Alt Text

Search engines can’t “see” images, but you can still use them to help your page rank for target keywords. Do this through the HTML alt parameter, which looks like this in an image tag:

<img src="example-image.jpg” alt=”Sample image alt text”/>

Alt text is a description of an image for anyone, or anything, that can’t see it. Crawlers rely heavily on alt text to determine what an image is and how it’s relevant to a search query, so it’s a great place to put your keyword, as long as it’s actually relevant to the image (if your keyword is irrelevant to your image, reconsider using that image). There’s no rule specifying character count for alt text like there is for title tags and meta descriptions, but be as concise as possible. If it’s a product image use the brand name, product name, size and color when applicable. Optimized alt text could look like this:

<img src="madison-park-bedspread.jpg” alt=”Madison Park Mansfield yellow queen bedspread”/>

Less specific keywords are not as effective, but are better than leaving the alt text attribute blank. The alt attribute is important for image search results as well as normal search.

Check your images to find any missing alt text with WooRank’s SEO audit.

WooRank alt text criterion

7. Filenames

Like alt text, filenames of files embedded on your site should include keywords even though no human is likely to ever see them. Don’t use default names like DSC00064.jpg or video_01.mov. Optimize filenames much like you would a URL:

  • Use keywords at the beginning of the filename.
  • Separate words using hyphens, not underscores. Don’t make the filename all one word, such as embeddedobject.pdf.
  • Be descriptive but concise. There’s no word or character count, but the longer a filename, the less impact your keyword has. However, still include enough detail so that someone would be able to get a reasonably close idea of what the file contains.
  • Stuffing too many keywords into your filename will hurt your SEO.

If you’re embedding a file such as a video or PowerPoint presentation, you should also post a transcript or outline of the file in HTML. This will give search engine bots content to crawl so they can find the keywords in your files.

8. Internal Linking

Internal links are sometimes overlooked when it comes to SEO. However they’re a great resource for spreading link juice around your site. In fact, if your site has been around for a while there’s a good chance you’ve got some pages that have built up a lot of link equity over time that’s just sitting there. Drain some of that link juice by linking to other pages on your site using keywords as anchor text.

Find pages on your site that rank highly for a particular keyword using the site: and intext: search operators. You can also use a tool like Majestic to find pages with high authority and trust that can be passed on to other pages.

Don’t only use exact match keywords, though, because that looks spammy. Use synonyms or semantically related words instead.

Note that using “nofollow” to control how much link juice you pass per link, known as “PageRank sculpting,” is no longer possible. Every link passes the same equity; nofollow links simply pass their value into the great abyss of the internet.

9. Meta Keywords

Your page’s meta keywords tag is actually someplace you want to avoid using your target keywords. Meta keywords used to be important for search engines, but they haven’t looked at them for a long, long time and they play no role in search ranking. So don’t waste your time adding keywords to your meta tags. In fact, when it comes to meta keywords wasting your time is the best case scenario.

Since meta keywords have such a checkered past, the only impact on SEO that you can have for your site is to make it look like webspam if you add too many keywords to your meta tag. Using meta keywords is also a competitive disadvantage. Anyone can see them: All you need to do is right click and then hit “view source.” Now all of your competitors can see what keywords you target and use them for themselves. Of course, you could try to trick them, but then you’re back to the spam issue.

Don’t use meta keywords.

10. Domain Name

Like meta keywords, using keywords in domains is another old spam trick that you now want to avoid. It used to be that exact match domains were a really easy way to rank for keywords. If you wanted to rank for “cheap bedspreads,” you just had to buy cheapbedspreads.com. No need for valuable content or a quality user experience. To combat this, Google dropped the exact match domain update and crushed exact match domain websites. So now using your target keywords as your domain name will make you look like spam and will prevent you from ever ranking highly for your keywords.

So what should you do? Use your brand or company name as your domain. Only include specific keywords if you need to resolve ambiguity around your brand name, like if you’re a Greek restaurant named Ouzo.

Conclusion

All of the elements mentioned above won’t individually make or break your SEO efforts — search engines look at more than 200 factors when ranking websites in search results. However, including your keywords in the right places will give them a strong hint that your page is relevant to a particular topic and will provide value to a searcher. What’s more, when you avoid using keywords in risky places such as domains and meta tags, you’ll reinforce that your site is legitimate and not trying to game the system. Both of these things combined will help your site improve its search rankings and organic traffic.

Are you using your keywords consistently across your page? Are you using them correctly, or in a way that’s hurting your SEO? Find what you’re doing right and where you can improve with a free WooRank site analysis by entering your URL in the field to the right.