Search engine results and online traffic have become much less dependent on keywords since 2013.
The ability to rank a site based solely on a set of popular keywords has become almost impossible.
Google has also started using a form of artificial intelligence (AI) called RankBrain.
Google announced in October 2015 that AI now processes 15% of all online searches.
Therefore, the days of manipulating search engine results with keywords are numbered, if not already dead.
Of course, in order to have a strong online presence, a robust keyword strategy is still essential.
It should be seen more as a way to better organize web pages for users.
At the end of the day, using keywords is only one marketing strategy out there.
As everyone knows, these seem to change with the wind.
What is Keyword Optimization?
Keyword optimization is the process of optimizing a webpage for relevant and targeted keywords.
An organized process of keyword optimization can make a web page more relevant to specific search queries.
The keywords that you use to optimize the pages of your site are the words and phrases that the search engine crawlers will use to catalog and index the site.
Are keywords still important in 2021?
The major search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo) have been powered by semantic search since 2012.
Semantic search uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand the searcher’s intent and the meaning of the query rather than parsing through keywords used in the search query.
However, for many search queries, search engines still rely on keywords in their ranking algorithms to establish relevance to a search query.
In fact, Search Engine Journal reports that the majority of on-page ranking factors on webpages today are related to the use of keywords.
This is why the choice of keywords that you use is still an important aspect of your SEO campaign because a digital marketing campaign can never succeed without the right keywords.
Keyword optimization should be based on detailed keyword research, which should be the cornerstone of your SEO campaign.
In the absence of keyword research, It is possible that you will use the wrong keywords to optimize your site, resulting in little to no traffic.
Keywords with low search volume, which have a relatively few people searching for them, are an example of poorly chosen keywords.
It is unlikely that users will find content associated with such terms, because no one is searching for that content with those terms.
The keywords that you eventually use to optimize each webpage should be meaningful and representative of the content of that web page.
Essentially, the target keywords and phrases that you use should be words that most potential visitors would type into the search engines when they are looking for content that is relevant to your website.
The Role of Semantic Search
Prior to semantic search, if you wanted to target a particular keyword or phrase such as “health benefits of spinach”, you would add that exact phrase to the page title and meta tags, URL, image tags, heading tags, web copy and exact match anchor text of inbound links.
With semantic search, Google looks at the topic or theme of a webpage to establish relevance, rather than the number of keywords in the search query that appear on the page.
For example, if a user performs the search “who is the president of Nigeria” Google doesn’t search for keywords that are optimized for the keyword: “who is the president of Nigeria.”
Instead, it understands the question and delivers the answer right in the search results:
Furthermore, if you perform a Google search, you’ll notice that the title tags of many top ranking sites do not even contain the actual keywords used in a search query.
Repeating keywords or phrases multiple times in a webpage to establish relevance to a keyword is a fast track to the over-optimization penalty.
Semantic Keyword Research
Today, ranking for a particular keyword requires the publication of in-depth and comprehensive content about the keyword’s theme or topic.
This means you’ll need to identify the niche keywords that will be naturally expected to appear in an article about that topic.
These include LSI keywords, close variants and closely related terms, and other keywords that occur naturally in an article about the keyword’s theme or topic.
When you include all of these keywords, you help Google understand exactly what your webpage is about.
For example, if you’re writing an article about the health benefits of spinach, you will need to identify the most important core set of keywords that would be necessary to deliver a theme-focused article on the health benefits of spinach.
Once you have identified the niche vocabulary required to deliver an authoritative article, you can then write your content and optimize your webpage naturally around those themed keywords.
Keyword Optimization Techniques
Keyword stemming is a very powerful technique and one of the most effective ways to avoid over-optimizing your webpages.
It is actually a very simple technique of generating several new words from another related keyword using suffixes and prefixes.
The great thing about keyword stemming is that it is a very effective and legitimate technique that you can use to avoid keyword stuffing and repetitions that might get your website penalized by the Penguin algorithm.
If you try to include all the keyword stems, you can definitely secure quick rankings for specific keywords and gradually secure the rankings for even generic keywords.
Generating Multiple Keywords from a Single Keyword
Keyword stemming allows you to generate multiple words from a single keyword.
For example, if you’ve chosen “book a meal” as the main keyword for your restaurant site, then the stemmed keywords for that phrase might be as follows:
- Adding modifiers – Booking meals, booking a meal, book a new meal, book a different meal, booked meals
- Making it plural – Book meals, booked meals. Adding Prefix and Suffix – pre-book meals, re-book meals, re-booked meals, re-booking meals, pre-booking meals, pre-booked meals.
- Adding new words to either side of the keywords – I would like to book a flight as soon as possible, I have booked a meal already, we booked our meals yesterday, the process of booking a meal, etc.
Suddenly, one keyword becomes many, which means you have many more opportunities to use that base keyword.
Thus, keyword stemming is a very effective technique for boosting the number of times you can use a keyword on any given page.
However, even if you are using keyword stemming, it is still important to be cautious of overusing any specific keyword or key phrase.
For example, if you use the terms ‘‘pre-book meals,’’ ‘‘book meals,’’ and ‘‘re-book meals’’ in the same web page, the search crawler might recognize all forms of ‘‘book’’ as the same word.
In other words, it’s possible the crawler could view your combined use of these terms as more than is considered ethical by the standards of keyword density.
The idea of stemming becomes very useful when you find you’re having trouble using your desired keyword or phrase often enough on a web page without sounding too repetitive or making the tone of the page unreadable.
If you’re using several forms of a word, however, you can do that to meet your goals for keyword use and still create content that flows naturally.
In order to employ keyword stemming, the best thing to do is to make a list of synonyms, plurals and variations of your important keywords and key phrases.
Form readable sentences with your keywords and key phrases, adding words to either side of the keywords.
Keyword styling simply refers to the old school art of placing of a certain type of emphasis on specific keywords by changing its appearance to either bold, underlined, or italicized.
There may or may not be some slight SEO benefit to keyword styling, especially with the smaller search engines like Bing.
In any case however, bold and italicized terms can have the effect of increasing user engagement with a webpage.
Since this is not an illegal SEO tactic, and may in fact lead to a modest increase in conversion rates, it is well worth the effort, but don’t go overboard to avoid alienating your users.
The guidelines on styling specific keywords include having it appear in bold face font at least once (wrapped in < strong > </ strong > tags), in italicized font at least once (wrapped in < i > </ i > or < em ></ em > tags), and in underlined font at least once (wrapped in < u > </ u > tags) for every 500 words of content.
For example, if your content is 5 paragraphs long, you could place the bold keyword in the first paragraph, the italicized keyword in the third paragraph and the underlined keyword in the fifth paragraph.
Using Keywords in Filenames
The way in which you name your files matters because a search engine views the filename as an indication of what’s in it, so this is another good place to strategically optimize for relevant keywords.
However, you cannot over-optimize or you’ll attract a penalty.
This tactic simply involves being descriptive when naming your image.
For example, rather than naming the image 00367301.jpg, use a descriptive filename such as navy-mercedes-2012.jpg
The filename should accurately and succinctly describe the content of the image, and sound natural to users and search crawlers alike and make perfect sense for users and for the search engines.
This type of naming convention will make it easier for you to identify the file when constructing your pages.
Furthermore, the image will show up for relevant searches on Google and Bing image search .
Keywords in the URL
Strategically placing keywords in the directories and subdirectories can effectively get your important keywords into the URL.
This can be a very useful tactic because it will demonstrate the page content’s focus and provide context to the search engines as to what the page is about to search crawlers and users.
This could help increase CTR from the search results, because keywords that are contained in the search query and appear in the URL would be bolded in the search results.
You will need to be very subtle when employing this strategy however, as overdoing it could attract the over optimization penalty.
Consider the following Example:
Assume you have a webpage that is dedicated to selling black suede shoes.
An example of a URL that uses keywords prominently is: www.shoes.com/black-suede-shoes.
The URL is short, descriptive and matches the keywords that are being targeted on the page.
Using hyphens make it easier for the search engines to separate the words.
Avoid using the underscore because the search engines interpret hyphens as a space and don’t recognize the underscore.
The value of optimizing the URL for targeted keywords became apparent in a research on how Google, Yahoo, and Bing, rank websites.
This research compared hundreds of highly competitive keywords within the top ten results.
The results show that Google has 40-50% of those with the keyword either in the URL or the domain, while Bing has an amazing 85%!
This effectively demonstrates the value of strategically including relevant keywords in the domain and URL.
Keywords in the Page Title
The page title is one of the page’s Meta tags that is used to provide information about a webpage for the search engines and website users.
It is very important to use your most relevant, target keywords prominently in the title tag.
The tag appears at the top of your browser on every webpage of your website.
In addition, the search engines will show your page titles on the SERPs in the clickable part of the link, so it is important to always make them concise and relevant so that potential visitors will be drawn to them.
Bear in mind that over-optimizing the title tag by using too many keywords could make your site susceptible to the over-optimization penalty.
The content of your title tag needs to be readable and formatted for the search engines.
The tag should be a readable sentence with no more than 7 words, and should include your most important keywords within a descriptive phrase.
Consider the following title tag:
.<Title>Flowers London; Flower delivery London; Flowers delivered to order; Send Flowers Now – loveflowers.com.uk</Title>
In this title tag, the word “flowers” which is the main keyword (or money word), has been repeated in the title four times.
This does not read well to a normal human being, and it sounds spammy and manipulative.
The page would be penalized by Google and will never rank in its current form.
Contrast with this title tag:
.<Title>Florists, London; Flowers delivered to order – loveflowers.com.uk</Title>
In this example, the most important keywords are included towards the beginning of the tag.
More importantly, the main keywords are not repeated, and it reads very well.
Bear in mind that search engines ignore hyphens and most punctuations including commas, periods and exclamation marks in title tags, so you can use this to your advantage.
Keywords in the Meta Description Tag
Although the Meta description tag is not a factor in directly influencing search ranking, it may have a big influence on the searcher who is lucky enough to view it.
This is why it is important to create a unique, interesting and compelling description that includes some of the niche vocabulary of the topic you’re optimizing for.
The Meta description tag, a part of every web page’s coding, appears in search engines as the line or two of text underneath the blue heading of each search result.
Click through rate from the search results page can really affect a webpage’s ranking in the search results, so it is important to always create an attractive and compelling description tag.
This tag should complement the title tag and include the most important keywords at the beginning of the tag.
Keywords in the Meta Keyword Tag
Google does not look at the keyword tag due to incessant abuse of the tag during the early days of SEO.
Any optimization of this tag should involve mainly technical terms and common misspellings of your optimized keywords and phrases.
The aim is to rank for typos, misspellings and things of that nature.
Although none of the search engines include the keyword tag in their ranking algorithms anymore, this tag could come in handy where the search query contains technical terms that most of your competitors are not optimized for.
The keyword tag can also be used to contain different variations of your keyword/phrase, or even closely related keywords and key phrases that you’re not able to get into the actual web copy.
You will need to be very subtle if you will be optimizing the keyword tag.
Any type of keyword stuffing here is a fast track to a search engine penalty, even though none of the search engines factor the tag in their ranking algorithms.
Keywords in the Image Tag
It is important to optimize the alt tag by using descriptive text that reads naturally, and visitors find useful and meaningful.
This is especially important if images are part of your navigation.
In this case, you’ll add the same text as you would if using anchor text.
Alt tags are used by the search engines and by visually impaired users to understand the content of the image.
Just like the title and description tags, this tag needs to be unique across your site.
You cannot have two different images with the same alt text, even where the images are similar.
Alt tags are looked at by all of the search engines.
Care should be taken so that they are not over-optimized.
This includes stuffing the tag with keywords.
You should also avoid adding keywords that are not relevant to the image as that would be viewed as manipulative, and doing so could lead to the over-optimization penalty.
Keywords in the Heading Tags
HTML heading tags are used to define headings for your page copy.
The H1 tag is the most important tag on the page.
It defines the page’s main topic, while the other H# tags create subtopics.
The search engines look at the content of your heading tags because they expect them to provide important clues about the contents of the paragraphs directly below the headings.
This is why it is important to include important keywords inside the heading tags.
The H1 tag should provide a clear indication of what the content of the webpage is about in much the same way that a major newspaper headline does.
The tag should be clear, descriptive and unambiguous.
It should also be directly relevant to the overall topic of the page.
Best practice dictates that there should be no more than one H1 tag.
It is significant to note that HTML5 allows for the inclusion of multiple H1 tags.
However, adding more than one H1 tag doesn’t make any sense.
Newspaper articles generally don’t have more than one headline, and the concept is the same.