Words mean things.
This was the mantra of my journalism professor and mentor who spent a career in newsroom trenches before deciding to “retire” and teach journalism at the small, liberal arts college where I received my degree.
Almost 30 years later (man, I’m old), this simple three-word sentence still rings true.
The phrase is specifically germane to my current profession of search engine marketing.
Keywords Are Still King
In the past, I’ve written advice that steers search engine marketing professionals to embrace optimizing for topics over keywords.
I still believe that for many of us, this is sage advice.
The algorithms of modern search engines don’t merely look at the words on the page.
Today’s search engines look for the meaning of the page beyond the simple keywords and keyword phrases.
But the simple fact is that in most cases if you don’t have a specific word on a web page, you probably won’t rank for that word in the search engine’s results.
Don’t Get Stuffed
It’s a given that you need to use the keywords you want to show up for in the copy you write.
But if you use too many keywords, or use them in the wrong place, you run the risk of sounding strange and non-authoritative to your audience.
Worse, your copy could look like it’s stuffed with keywords to both your users and the search engines.
Search engines don’t like keyword-stuffed copy.
Users don’t buy from sites that stuff keywords into their copy.
So the question becomes, how do I include the keywords I need but still write copy that makes sense to users and works for search engines?
Don’t Target Too Much
There is no magic number of keywords that can be targeted on a single page.
The variables in keyword competition, as well as the variables of the content itself, doesn’t lend itself to a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to the number of keyword phrases that a single page should target.
But the fewer keywords a page targets, the easier it is to create a compelling copy on a page.
When I am writing copy, I will keep a post-it note with the keywords I want to target for a particular page and topic.
Every time I use a keyword, I make a mark by it on the post-it note.
But if I don’t get all the keywords in when I’ve written the copy, I don’t worry too much about it.
If possible, I create another page to target the keywords that are leftover.
Sometimes, when we are grouping keywords for pages, which is usually done before the copy is written, it’s hard to know exactly how well the grouped keywords will flow in the copy.
You should never force a keyword into a page where it doesn’t belong.
As a general rule, I like to target 2-5 keywords per page of written content.
Of course, that’s a general rule.
I will vary on the number of keyword phrases target based on a number of variables – including the content length, the competitiveness of the keywords, and most importantly the flow of the copy.
A Page’s Content Is Not Just the Copy
It’s easy for even the most veteran SEO to forget that not all keywords need to reside in a page’s actual copy.
In many cases, it’s possible to create keyword-rich navigation that not only increases the keyword density of a page but also helps solidify a solid, anchor-text-rich internal linking structure.
SEOs have abused footer copy for years, using it stuff keywords and provide links to useless pages with no other purpose than attempting to fool a search engine robot into ranking an irrelevant page.
However, if one puts effort into creating a useful, keyword-rich footer for a page, the dividends can be enormous.
Properly labeling images while also using keywords is another way to increase your use of keywords – one that many otherwise savvy SEOs either forget or ignore, thinking that results may not be worth the effort.
It’s true the labeling your images may not result in a huge increase in rankings, but it’s the right thing to do from a compliance standpoint, and it does help.
Graphical Breaks & Summaries
The best way I know of to include keywords in copy when I’m out of ideas is to create a bulleted list.
Keywords fit naturally into bulleted lists.
And bulleted lists aren’t just great places for keywords.
Bulleted lists allow you to create a graphical break in copy that makes it easier to read for most users.
Bulleted lists can even be recaps of what you just said in the last piece of copy you wrote.
These lists don’t have to add new information, they can recap what has already been said.
Of course, you can use them to add new information as well.
But lists aren’t the only recaps that are great for getting more keywords into your copy.
An executive summary or TLDR (Too long, didn’t read) pre-amble to a piece of copy is a great place to place your most important keywords toward the top of a page.
It’s debatable whether or not a word’s placement on the page has any weight at all on potential rankings.
In my experience, it doesn’t.
But it certainly doesn’t hurt to mention your most important items in the first couple sentences of your copy.
By creating a TLDR summary at the beginning of the copy, you don’t bury your lead
And you get your point across to those consumers who may not have the time or attention span to read the rest of your finely crafted copy.
On the flip-side, summing up your points at the end of the copy is another great way to get your keyword in and your point across.
Summarizing the key points at the end of an article is a solid move that reinforces your message, and also give you a chance to add in more instances of your most important keywords.
You can even put this summary into a bulleted list – thus killing two birds with one stone.
Getting keywords into your copy doesn’t have to be difficult.
Getting creative with your writing, as well as with your layout, can yield great results.
When in doubt, read your copy out loud or have someone else read it.
If it sounds like you have too many instances of keywords, you probably do.
Remember, the number of times you repeat a keyword isn’t an important factor.
The important factor is that the times you do include the keyword, it makes sense to both the user and the search engine.
- SEO Today: What Role Do Keywords Play?
- How to Choose the RIGHT Keywords to Optimize For
- The Complete Guide to On-Page SEO
Featured Image: Modified by author, September 2020