How often have you had a question about something and turned to Google to find an answer?
If you’re like most people, you probably make three or four Google searches a day. Chances are you found the solution or product you needed in one of the top three results and stopped looking. That’s why having your website appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) is considered so important—and a big part of achieving this is through effective search engine optimization, or SEO for short.
SEO is by no means simple, and while it encompasses much, one of its most discussed subjects is keyword placement. Below, we dive into what the latest research says about placing keywords for better search engine visibility..
Why do keywords even matter?
Keywords are the specific words and phrases that people enter in Google or another search engine. Common SEO convention holds that content that focuses on a particular keyword performs better in SERPs, making it important to include keywords in your writing.
While you don’t need to include the exact phrases people search for, you should have terms that are similar and relevant.
When someone searches for “pie recipes,” for example, your website could appear in the search results even if you use “best recipes for cherry pie” instead. It’s more important to know where to use keywords effectively so search engines can spot them and index your site appropriately.
There are three reasons why keyword placement in articles is so important:
- Search engines consider the words in certain parts of a webpage to be more valuable. If your keyword doesn’t appear in these places, you won’t appear in search results for it.
- Readers are impatient and often skim articles. If your answer to their question isn’t easy to spot, they won’t continue reading.
- Using SEO keywords too often can hurt your search rankings. This is known as “keyword stuffing,” and it can lead to SERP penalties that last long after you’ve updated the page.
With that in mind, here are the five best places to use your keywords and how to use them most effectively.
The page title is the first and most prominent part of a search results listing. As a result, titles are heavily weighted when it comes to SEO. The words you include in your page title can make a big difference in your search ranking for a given keyword.
To take advantage of this, you should always include at least one of your targeted keywords in your title. This should feel natural since you’ve written about that keyword in the first place.
It’s important to note that two different things are often referred to as the “title” of a page. The page title is what appears at the top of the page browser itself, while the meta title is what appears in search results.
Some sites choose to keep these two titles identical, while others make them different to target more keywords—it’s up to you.
Regardless of which title you’re writing, don’t be afraid to adjust your keywords for more natural wording rather than sticking to the exact keyword phrase. For example, if you’re targeting the phrase “coffee types,” you can use “types of coffee” as well.
If the searcher typed “best coffee types,” an article with the title “The Best Types of Coffee for Every Profession” provides an interesting answer to search intent without awkward phrasing. Google prioritizes pages with clear writing and useful information, so this strategy helps your readers and rankings alike.
Headings are an essential part of organizing your content and making it easy to read. They also use specific HTML tags, like so:
Using different levels of headers throughout your text gives both Google and your readers an easy way to navigate the page and find the parts of the article that answer their search.
Including your primary keyword in one or two headings can be a great way to naturally add it to the article. However, if you have multiple headers, don’t add keywords to every single one. Repeating any word too often is boring, and it can come off as pushy. More importantly, shoving your target terms into every heading can hurt your SEO.
This practice is known as “keyword stuffing,” and it can quickly tank your search rankings. In recent years, Google has started applying penalties to sites that appear to be gaming the system. A page that includes too many instances of a keyword can cause search engines to flag your webpage and prevent it from showing up in search results. Use your other headings to target additional keywords instead, and your readers and search rankings will thank you.
URLs are an interesting case when it comes to SEO. While titles and headers can have variations of your keyword, URLs should be more specific. In fact, URLs are a perfect example of where to use keywords that may be difficult to work into your writing.
“Thecoffeesnobs.com/coffee-types-professional” could be an excellent URL for your “The Best Types of Coffee for Every Profession” article mentioned above.
This practice also has the benefit of keeping your URL short. Research suggests that websites with URLs between 50 and 60 characters long rank best in Google SERPs. Including small words like “the,” “a,” “in,” or “for” adds superfluous characters to your page’s web address without offering more information. These words are so unnecessary for web links that they’re known as “stop words.” Trim them from your URLs and you’ll make your SEO stronger.
Metadata isn’t as well-known, but it’s still important when it comes to SEO. There are two primary types of metadata: meta titles and meta descriptions. Both of these are indexed by Google and appear in search results.
As mentioned earlier, your meta title is separate from your page title—although you can by all means use the same text for both.
Meta descriptions are short snippets of text written for display in SERPs, and appear directly below the meta title and URL.
In the above example, you can see how the meta description explains what you’ll find on the page should you choose to click through. However, the text in that description isn’t found on the page itself—it’s been specifically written to show searchers what the page is about.
You can and should write a specific meta description for your web pages that includes your target keyword. Otherwise, Google will scrape your content to present as a meta description, which may not give your potential readers the full picture of what your content is about. It often winds up looking confusing or unprofessional, like the example below:
Without a meta description, Google uses the beginning of paragraphs to fill the space below a page’s title.
In this case, Google found and presented the keyword’s first appearance along with words similar to it. While it demonstrates that the keyword is present, it’s not appealing to the reader.
The first two or three paragraphs of an article are some of the most valuable for placing keywords. This is where you can use your target terms conversationally and work in some long-tail keywords—more specific search terms, usually three to four words long. The majority of readers will never make it past your introduction, so use that space to offer a concise answer that aligns with the search intent behind your target phrase.
Remember: Don’t try to stuff your keyword into places where it doesn’t fit. Write for the humans who are actually going to read the article. This means that you need to answer their question and use your keywords only when it would make sense in conversation.
It’s also worth noting that variations of your keyword are good. The most important rule for how to use keywords for SEO is to use moderation. Focus on writing the best answer to search intent first, and then go back and make sure that you include keywords in the right places.
Revitalize Your SEO
Keywords are crucial for getting your website to rank well in search results. However, it’s important to use them judiciously. Great places to use keywords include:
- The page title
- Meta description
- Introductory paragraph
As long as your keywords appear naturally, you can paraphrase and focus on making content that answers the questions people are asking.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Gabrielle Hass.