On-page SEO is, of course, about more than keywords. Nonetheless, keywords are what tells search engines what your pages are all about and helps site visitors figure out what’s of interest to them.
Optimization is in all cases a question of trial and testing as different configurations might turn out to be working perfectly in different settings. However, a good keyword optimization is always based on well known principles that you cannot avoid implementing.
Where and How to Use Keywords
When optimizing your pages or posts for certain keywords, there’re a lot of elements to think about. The rule is that the different elements can’t bring you SEO results in isolation. You have to work on whole-page basis, meaning that you must optimize one page literally from top to bottom if you want it to rank for the chosen keywords.
For all page elements applies that you should include your keywords – preferably one main and 1-2 secondary (such as synonyms or other words further defining the meaning of the main keyword) – and they should appear as close to the beginning of the line or the paragraph as possible.
They should, however, only be used in a way that makes sense and doesn’t disrupt the meaning or the style of the text. Avoid empty stuffing with keywords. Not only because search engines have become better than just counting them but also because you’ll risk low ranking and high bounce rate.
Here are the elements you must not forget to optimize:
Customizing URLs has become pretty common in the last decade or so with CMS as WordPress offering it as a basic feature. This has made URL optimization even more important as you’re competing against more and more optimized sites.
Best practice is to include your main keyword as close to the beginning of the line as possible (without overdoing it!) and eventually use some of your supporting keywords if it make sense. Try to match a search phrase which you’d like to rank for.
An example here could be a URL like this: yourdomain.com/higher-ranking-with-onpage-seo/, if you optimize for “higher ranking”. If you try to rank for on-page SEO, you should rephrase like this: yourdomain.com/onpage-seo-for-higher-ranking/.
URLs should though not be too long – preferably under 80 characters – and this is both for SEO and user experience reasons. You can find more on how to structure your URLs from this post by MOZ.
Page Title & Description
Page title and description are the single most important elements you must optimize. That’s because they are used both by search engines and internet users to determine whether your page is relevant to what they are looking for.
Use therefore keywords – primary and secondary – in both page title and page description. They should preferably be placed as close to the beginning of the line as possible as this helps search engines determine the importance of a keyword.
Do it, however, always with internet users in mind as even first position in Google won’t help you much if no one finds it worth it to click on your link due to badly structured title or poor description.
It’s also an absolute must to be as precise and targeted when writing titles and descriptions as at all possible. If failing to do so, you’ll firstly observe high bounce rate due to misleading people and then lower ranking following the high bounce rate.
By default you get the page title as a title shown in search and an abstract of your text, sometimes search term-related, as a description. You can’t usually manipulate page (or post) title and description directly in WordPress as long as your theme doesn’t provide such options. In most cases you’ll therefore need a SEO plugin. Learn more about working with SEO plugins and the leading options out there.
Now, let’s explain the difference between a page title and a heading. The page title is the name of the page or the post that you’re writing and you type it in the special field above the body-text field in edit mode. This is not always the same as a heading.
A heading in WordPress is understood as what you tag with h1 to h6 and this makes its use more versatile.
Before in time it was crucial to stuff your your text with headings as they were perceived by search engines as prominent page elements. Later on many SEOs stopped doing that as it became less important to use headings in text.
Best practice today is to use headings if it makes sense for the form of your content. Remember that search engines place more and more importance on user experience, which is also evident when taking a look at Google’s Page Speed Insights for mobile, where user experience has already won a special spot.
You should, however, always have a h1 on your pages and always use your keywords in it. If you’re in doubt whether your page title is rendered as h1, you can check for free via a service as SEO Site Checkup. It’s indeed not always the case, sometimes due to faulty coding of your WordPress theme.
If it makes sense to have h2 and h3 in your text, it’s a good idea to include your keywords and such related words and expressions that will make it easy to navigate through and understand your content – both for search engines and internet users.
Best practice for constructing your texts from a SEO perspective is to achieve around 2,5-4 % keyword concentration. Others formulate it like this: if you have a body text of around 500-600 words, you should use no more than 15 keywords, including the keywords in the URL, meta title and description, and ALT.
Of those 15 around 10 should be repetitions of your main keyword and 5 should be repetitions of your supportive keyword(s). Of course, these are just guidelines and if you have to use more due to the specifics of your text, that will be fine in most cases.
Besides making sure that you reach a desired concentration of keywords, you should always use your main one already in the first paragraph, as close to the beginning of the first line as possible. This isn’t only for SEO purposes but also a way to avoid high bounce rates. Most people take indeed a quick look at your introduction, maybe scroll down if unsure, and bounce if you don’t catch their attention by confirming that your post is on their topic of interest.
Back in time it was also very important to highlight your keywords by using bold or italic. This is no longer as important but can have positive impact on SEO if used with measure and user experience in mind.
Pictures, videos, and music can – and should – also be optimized for keywords. This is done by working on their titles, ALT tags, and descriptions. Use your keywords in each of these elements but make sure that you first and foremost provide an informative description of your media.
Besides helping you achieve better ranking for your pages, optimizing media helps drive traffic. In fact, according to my observations of analytics data over time, the volume of image search returning a specific image is much larger than the volume of regular search returning the page where the image is placed.
It is therefore a must to optimize all media for the relevant keywords.
Links can be incoming and outgoing. The incoming include the so-called backlinks and the internal links on your site. The outgoing links are links from your pages to external or internal pages.
For incoming links it’s important to have anchor texts supporting your keywords and topic. For example, if your post is about a vegetarian dish, you’ll benefit mostly from incoming links with anchor text such as “vegetarian food”, “vegetarian”, “cooking”, etc.
It might turn out to be difficult to control anchors of incoming links but a way to do that is to write very homogene and focused texts where the topic is clear to all and can’t be interpreted as something else or divided into too many unrelated subtopics.
You can, though, control the anchors of your internal links. Be careful to use the right keywords supporting the page’s optimization.
Outgoing links have been discussed for a long time now and it’s still disputable whether using your own keyword in an outbound link gives you more value or steals some of the page’s value and transfers it to the page you’ve linked to.
It’s however widely accepted to use anchor texts that are relevant to the content you’re linking to – which will usually be related to your own topic one way or another. More important than the anchor text is the domain authority of the domain you’re linking to.
The use of meta keywords is not as important as it was like 20 years ago. Google announced already in 2009 that they don’t use meta keywords as a ranking factor. However, Google isn’t the only search engine and Google didn’t exclude the possibility to use meta keywords in ranking algorithms in the future.
You should therefore use the option provided by SEO plugins to choose meta keywords. Don’t abuse them, be precise and use them consciously. It’s not worth it to miss out on benefits from any current or future changes in search algorithms just to avoid typing a few words.