Keywords - Can You Use Them in 2014?

It's been sometime since I wrote about the use of Keywords and Keyphrases for SEO purposes. The main reason for this is not just because Google deprecated the keywords meta tag in 2009, but also because there were so many blog posts around about finding the right keywords for your website including those here on SEO Andy, and of course I predicted the death of keywords for seo in 2014. However, in this post I want to explain how Keywords do still fit into todays SEO world. But first...

What Should a Keyword Be?

My first rule is that you should only ever have one single keyword or phrase per page on your website to target. Make sure that each and every page of the site is targeting a unique keyword or keyphrase, of course in a blog like this you will repeat one day but try not too. This means that for example if you sell Silver Earrings that can be a phrase on perhaps a category page, and for example "hand pierced silver earrings" (ext) for a product page.

In essence you are broadening your target field to encompass as many potential terms as possible. This does not mean you can't use a particular keyphrase from another page within your content, rather that your focus is on a single term and not multiple terms. For example using Manchester Wedding Photographer (ext) as a focus keyword on a homepage doesn't mean the term isn't used within many of the pages of Mick Cookson's website, however within those pages he is targeting other specific terms.

To find that perfect focus keyword you will need to do some keyword research, its not always the most exciting of tasks in the world - but the more you do the easier it will become for you (especially if you only look after one or two websites in the same industry). There are a huge range of tools from Google's Keyword Tool to one of my favorites WordStream's Keyword Analyser - also WordStream have this nice blog about how to effectively do keyword research.

Ways To Use Keywords Today

There are a number of ways to use keywords across your website and web presence, here we will focus on your website itself thouhg much of this can be re-purposed for other means, like social media. In this section we will look at; focus keywords within urls, titles, descriptions, heading tags and content.

Keywords in Urls

Using focus keywords within a URL is something that comes up many times in conversations I have. Do they have an effect on ranking and if not, why would you use keywords in urls?

The basis of my advice to include some descriptive terms within a url are simple. If they are used in any way for ranking, or even deciphering what a page is about and not included for ranking, then it's worth it. If done correctly it makes for easier indexing of your site and easier navigation for users too trying to land via a url directly. Here are some tips for using keywords within your website urls:

  1. Important Keyword First
  2. Keep It Highly Descriptive (of the content)
  3. Don't Repeat A Keyword
  4. Keep It Short and Memorable

Using Keywords Within Page Titles

Page Meta Titles are still considered an important part of SEO, not for ranking but rather their clickability within your rankings. So it's important to craft your perfect page title with care. Here are a few tips on creating an awesome page title for your webpage.

  1. Your page title should accurately describe the content of your page.
  2. You should include your primary keywords close to the beginning of the page titles as more weight is placed on earlier words.
  3. Avoid repeating keywords multiple times as this looks ‘spammy’ and unprofessional.
  4. Search engines only display a maximum of 65 characters including spaces so you should keep them shorter than this.
  5. Symbols such as ‘-‘, ‘|’ and ‘>’ can be used to separate your page titles into its various components.
  6. It’s also important that it reads naturally and gives the user the information they are looking for.
  7. Page titles are similar to advertising copy. They should differentiate you from your competitors and incentivise the user to click on them.

Focusing on Keywords in Meta Descriptions

I've wrote a few times about the perfect meta description and how to write it. The ideas key facilitators of the perfect description remain solid, see below, if you want to know more about each check out my blog on writing a great meta description.

  1. It should always be unique, both to your site and the web
  2. It should be include your focus keyword for that page
  3. It should be focused on your content and getting a click
  4. You should test each type of meta description you use

Also check out some great examples of meta descriptions over on eConsultancy.

Keywords Within Heading Tags - H1, H2...

Back in 2009 Matt Cutts (of Google fame) spoke in a webmaster tools video about Heading Tags and heading tag ordering for search (ext), and the principles remain - so do watch that video. But how about using keywords withing heading tags?

Now, there is no definitive proof that search rankings within Google or Bing can be improved by using keywords in your heading tags, but there is certainly a bit of proof that if every heading tag on a page has your keyword then you may hit a penalty or ranking issues. My advice is simply to naturally use your focus keyword or phrase within one or two heading tags, but obviously focus them within the higher heading tags (h1 and h2). They should make sense within the context of the page and shouldn't just be there to be able to include your focus keyword.

Natural Use of Keywords In Content

In my predictions for SEO in 2014, I talked about keywords basically being reborn in a new contextual fashion. It's something that is coming true, and for the most part you may be annoyed to read that actually keywords are probably ignored within your content for ranking purposes. However, there is a point in the exercises above and in using keywords within your content - Today contextual searching and semantic search ranking rules the roost, so by using the focus above and within your content (to some extent) you will naturally fit this criteria. The move to this type of search really began a while back with Google Now (for android) and more recently in search with the Google Hummingbird (ext) update last year, add to this more and more knowledge graph boxes appearing and contextual search is becoming king.

Contextual search and semantic search is about Google knowing the subject / topic / product you are writing about. For instance if you are selling silver earrings, Google may also relate terms like sterling silver, jewellery, womens accessories etc to that page because it knows they are part of the same (larger) subject matter. If you then reinforce that context by using those terms and use variants of your focus keyword or phrase, you will be on to a winner. Obviously, keep it natural.

You can further emphasise the context of your page by using Microformats / Rich Snippets within your web pages. Again this was another prediction for this year, and something I've spoken about several times including on the Content Matters Podcast.

Microformats are so wide and varied in types you can use that rather that explain everything you can use them for I want you to take a look at this infographic about microformats on the Moz blog. But here are just a few of the things you could use microformats for:

  • Marking up content of an article (eg title, description, main body, author, etc)
  • Personal Information (contact details)
  • Local Business Information (contact details, opening times etc)
  • Checkout for more info

These are added with some simple changes to the code around content, they don't effect how the content looks and you don't see it unless you look within the code of a site. For example here is the local business microformatting for Sarah Petrie who offers piano and singing lessons in manchester (ext).

<... itemscope itemtype=""> <... itemprop="name">Piano and Singing Lessons in Hyde</...> <... itemprop="description">Sarah Petrie, Piano Teacher and Singing Tutor in Hyde, Tameside</...> <... itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype=""> 50 Mill Lane
SK14 2DL
United Kingdon
</...></...> WHERE ... is a DIV
If you need help seeing what a marked up item looks like give Schema-Creator (ext) a try.

A final bit of added context is using Google Authorship (ext), in essence its a simple tag or link which tells Google who the author of an article or page is. This is then linked to their profile (where they must confirm they are a writer for that website) and authorship is attributed. In this way search results get a nice little face (sometimes), with a link to their profile and further articles by that author (also how many people are in their circles). Also the search engine then knows who the experts are within an arena and are more likely to give them ranking juice over someone who isn't that much of a regular writer - though this is yet to really be proven, though has the name author rank (ext) as explained here by Sam Applegate of Ninja Creative.

Bonus: A Final Thought

By putting in a little extra effort today we can reap the rewards tomorrow, but don't settle for "ok" or "alright" instead reach for the stars. As Tim Ferriss says in his book the 4-hour work week (ext):

It's lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for 'realistic' goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy-consuming.