SEO and search engines have come a long way since the days when repeating 500 miniscule keywords in your page copy would rocket you to the top of Google. Search engines have gotten a lot better at dumping the bad eggs and a lot more focused on what makes a good site – for them and for the actual human beings using it.
While that’s good news for searchers, it’s often cause for angst and hand-wringing if you’re the one trying to get your site into their search results. But as horribly complex and difficult as SEO can seem, there’s nothing dark and magical about it. It’s quite practical and it’s all about feeding search engines what they want. And there’s nothing a search engine loves to munch on more than keywords.
If you read my last article about how to choose keywords for SEO, you should have a stack of keywords just sitting around waiting to be used. In this article, I’m going to tell you how to use them. And you won’t even need a magic wand to do it.
Where To Put Keywords If You Want To Hook A Search Engine
Let’s start with a very basic fact: search engines will not list your site for a keyword unless the keyword is, in fact, on your site. No matter how much you may wish and hope and pray for a search listing, it’s simply not going to happen without that keyword.
Think of a search engine as a hungry fish and your website as a hook. What dumb fish is going to chomp on your hook without good bait? (Well, there are probably a few dumb fish out there and a few sites that get lucky…)
Your keywords are the bait. You need good bait first, and then you need to load the bait up properly. If you went fishing and threw some bait in a tree and hid a bit under some rocks, how successful do you think that fishing trip would be? You’ve got to get the bait on the hook and that, my friends, is what we’re going to learn to do today.
Keywords In Page Titles
A page title is a very specific thing. It’s in the <title> tag in your site code, it appears at the very top of your browser window and it’s the first thing someone will see about your site in search engines. If the title of your “About” page is “About My Company”, that may be accurate but it’s completely useless.
Take the keywords you found in your research and compose them into a sentence that accurately and effectively describes the content of the page. Use the keywords as close to the beginning as you can. When you read the title back, it should be interesting and helpful enough so that you can imagine clicking on it if you’d found it in search results.
Quick Tip: Currently, Google truncates titles after 60 characters. While you can certainly write titles that are longer, searchers won’t get the full effect and may miss out on important information. The key is to be descriptive, but brief.
Keywords In Descriptions
Descriptions don’t show up anywhere on your site but can show up in search results. These are what you’ve probably heard referred to as “meta tags”. A description is just one type of meta tag and you can use it to boost the power of your keywords.
Write a description that contains your keywords but is also an actual description of your page. This is not the place to list keywords or repeat them over and over. A description should be a sentence that, when read, informs and entices someone to click the link and visit your site.
Quick Tip: Google does not automatically show your description in search results. It may choose any snippet of text from your page containing your keywords. Much like titles, descriptions are truncated, after about 130-150 characters. Aim to be direct and brief.
Keywords In Headings
Good websites are written in sematic markup. That means the code gives structural meaning to the content on your page. Structure is just a way to make sense of the page. Headings, subheadings and paragraphs all give structure to your content. If it was all one big gob of text on the page, it would be pretty tough for a human being to read it and a search engine to understand it.
When you visit a web page, do you always start reading at the top and work your way, left to right, until you get to the bottom? Probably not. You probably scan the headings to get an idea of what the page is about and then stop on whatever heading catches your eye.
It’s not so different with search engines. Search engines look for headings, too, and if they find keywords there, they’ll give those words some weight.
There are multiple ways to make content look like a heading to the eye, but for the purposes of search engines, a heading is not the same as a big font. A heading is a specific semantic tag such as <h1>, <h2>, <h3> and so on down the chain. As you may guess, <h1> headings have the most weight on the page.
That doesn’t mean it has to be bigger, brighter or bolder. It means that in the context of your page, it gives structure to your content so that either a person or search engine scanning it can stop and know, without question, “Ah, that’s a heading!”
Quick Tip: Don’t get carried away and start packing keywords into every <h> tag on the page. And don’t create <h> tags just for the sake of inserting keywords. Consider the meaning and structure of your page first, then craft the content so it makes sense. If your page has headings, use them to your advantage.
Keywords In Links
This one is easy but a little tricky at first glance. The buzzword is “anchor text”, so if you’ve heard that thrown around and broken into a cold sweat, you can relax now. Anchor text simply refers to words in your content that you turn into a link to another page. At the very beginning of this article, I linked to my previous SEO article. The words “how to choose keywords for SEO” are the link, hence the anchor text.
Here’s the tricky part: those keywords count for the other article. So as you build your site and link from one page to another, consider the page that you want to boost, and use its keywords in the anchor text on another page.
Your phrases don’t have to be exact and they shouldn’t all be the same, so please don’t start adding “keyword keyword keyword” into links all over your site. Google is smarter than this and will suspect you’re up to something – namely trying to shove keyword bait down their little fish throats – and they will swim right off. Your text and links should make perfect sense to the naked human eye without appearing to be anything other than a helpful link. If you can do that, you’ve got a winner.
Quick Tip: Take a look at your site and see where you can replace generic “click here” links with keywords. For example, change click here to buy my beaded necklace to Buy my beaded necklace. Same intention but now you have the double bonus of a good call-to-action and a keyword in your anchor text.
Keywords In Images
You may also have heard of “alt tags” but by now you’ve seen how easy this has been, so no buzzwords should make you sweat. An alt tag is simply a tag that allows text to display in a browser if the image doesn’t. It also sometimes appears if you hover over an image with your mouse.
The alt tag should describe the image. This is especially great for products because you can simply call the product what it is, which is probably pretty close to your keyword anyway. There’s no rule about how long alt tags should be or whether they should be in full sentences. If you can accurately describe an image and throw in a keyword to do it, it’s just another opportunity.
Quick Tip: You should have an alt tag for every photo, graphic and image on your page. If there’s no reason to describe an image, for example, a background image, you can simply use an “empty” alt tag. An empty tag, rather than no tag at all, is the correct way to tag.
Keywords In Content
Your keywords, phrases and all variations of them should be distributed throughout the readable text on your page. You can put keywords everywhere else that you please but if they’re not in the page content you might as well pack up your tackle box and order pizza for dinner.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different advice for doing this. Some people like to write first, insert keywords later. Some people like to write around the keywords the first time.
Whatever your preference, include the keywords in a variety of ways, using varied phrasing and variations that include –ed, -s and –ing. There’s no need to repeat an exact word or phrase over and over. It reads poorly for people and it’s a red flag for search engines. And distribute the keywords throughout the content. Twelve keywords in the first paragraph and none in the last isn’t as good as scattering them throughout.
Quick Tip: If you do this right, nobody should know there are keywords in your content because it will simply read like a sentence and a paragraph and a page. Make sure it flows so that you’re not obviously stumbling over the same word or phrase every few sentence.
These are all things you should be able to do yourself, without any particular brand of magic. If you don’t have access to your website code or via a content management system and can’t make these changes yourself, you can always document them and pass them along to the gatekeeper. So take some time to put your keyword list to good use and give your SEO a jumpstart.
Just remember this most important tip: if your bait is obvious, the fish is going to be suspicious. Search engines will bite but you need to be careful to use keywords lightly and naturally. Repetition, overuse of exact phrasing and keywords in every conceivable open spot on your site is a no-no.
Now that this all sounds so do-able, get to work! You’ve got a good start and the next time you hear crazy-sounding acronyms or buzzwords that make you go, “huh?” you’ll know it’s probably something you can manage.