Whenever I think of this question I often flash back to a memory of a friend of mine mentioning a web agency that had told her, “We put a bunch of keywords into your site.”
Whatever that means.
My friend didn’t know enough to ask questions, and especially didn’t know what to ask to get more detail. In this post, I hope to clarify that for you — whether you’re hiring an agency to help with your SEO or are planning to do it yourself.
While there are places to put keywords that aren’t as visible to readers, such as metadata, the bulk of keyword placement is in the page content itself. That starts with the title and continues into body copy, subheadings, image alt text, quotations, tables, etc.
The more you understand how those things work the more you see how nebulous, “We put keywords into your site” really is. It makes it sound like there’s an input box on the back end that just says, “Enter keywords: _____” and it’s as simple as that.
But luckily, “not that simple” doesn’t have to mean difficult.
The rest of this article assumes you are already familiar with doing keyword research and are only looking for info on how to use them throughout your site. If you want to learn about doing the actual keyword research first, check out “4 FREE methods of keyword research without tools” and “Can Keywords Be Phrases?“
One last comment before we dive in: If you’re getting started you can think of a lot of what goes into SEO as accumulating “ranking points”. No one thing will single-handedly make you rank for searches, but SEO is a game of a whole bunch of cumulative wins. If done well, the additive effect will be that you rank progressively better.
Putting Keywords Into Your Page Titles
These days Google has put a much greater focus on query-driven content, meaning that titles that clearly address specific questions or needs are more appealing than generic titles.
Old school SEO wisdom was to put the major keywords as close to the beginning of the title as possible, whenever that makes sense without the wording being weird. That’s less important now; Google has gotten a lot better at understanding the meaning of titles (and language in general), so you’re not reliant on careful positioning of the keywords to make sure Google gets the point.
The important part is that you mention your topic (in some form of the keyword phrase) in the title. Be specific.
Your focus should be making it clear you’re solving a specific problem (or answering a specific question) while including the keywords.
Think of it like this. Suppose you’re a sporting goods store that sells tennis shoes, and in general you’d like to rank better for searches to do with tennis shoes. You definitely want to include a reference to tennis shoes in the title, but something generic like, “Tennis Shoes For Men” isn’t very clear or compelling.
After all, do you mean you’re talking about the reasons men should buy tennis shoes? Are you selling them? Are you giving a product review?
“How to improve your game with the right tennis shoes,” is better because it makes two things clear right away:
- This is a persuasive informational post about why someone should upgrade their shoes and not a review or simply a sales pitch.
- You are enticing them with specific benefits they will receive once they use the tennis shoes you recommend, and those benefits will improve their tennis game. (This is the WHY.)
In this case you’re targeting someone not looking for a fashion purchase, but interested in performance.
Never assume that Google or your readers automatically understand the context of your site, such that a vague title is still clear to them. I’ll give you an example.
A home remodeling company I consulted a ways back had a blog post called, “Ideas You Can Try For Fall.” The actual meat of the post made it clear to me what they meant was “Interior Design Ideas You Can Try This Fall.” But since they didn’t title it that way, the word ideas is vague and neither Google nor a reader know what the post is about.
Guess how much SEO value that article had?
(If Google is confused, it moves on and the content isn’t considered.)
Most of their posts were the same way, which was the answer to their question of, “Why have we been blogging for over a year and haven’t gotten any traction?” None of the posts were focused, written with a specific intent, or even titled properly.
Note that most site builders (and WordPress themes) will set whatever you enter for the page title as the page’s H1. If you’re using a builder tool like Divi or Elementor, however, you’ll need to manually place the page’s H1. This means what you call the page on the back end of WordPress is really only to help you keep it straight, but what is outwardly visible to readers and Google is whatever the H1 is set to.
A page should only have one H1, but can have as many subheadings (H2-H6) as makes sense. I generally never go deeper than H3 personally, and that’s because if you think of them hierarchically like an outline the content seems convoluted or overly complex to go that many layers deep. (Subtopics of subtopics of subtopics.)
If you’re writing a blog post in particular, my opinion would be that if you have so many layers you’re tempted to go that deep your material is probably too broad (and trying to tackle too many things). But that’s just a tip for what it’s worth.
More about titles:
Structuring Your Intro & Body Content
Try to reiterate the reader’s need in the first paragraph, and also work in your keyword as part of that solution in that same paragraph.
For the reader, this immediate reassurance will keep them reading, and for Google the reiteration of the keyword idea right after the title reinforces that this is indeed what the article is about.
(That’s an important distinction since there’s so much fluff content out there that inadequately delivers on what the title promises, and Google is looking for what really helps readers.)
Check out this post for more ideas on tightening up your intro paragraph.
From there, you’ll often want to organize your content into major points people should know and use subheadings (like H2s). Keywords worked into subheadings are good topical reinforcement. Bolded text that contains keywords is also a mild reinforcement, but only where it makes sense. Don’t overdo it.
Don’t go overboard putting the keyword variations into the paragraph content over and over so it reads like a heavy-handed attempt to reinforce the idea. But referencing it once every couple paragraphs is usually sufficient — especially if your post is over 600 words long and therefore will have a lot of paragraphs.
While it’s understandable not to want to present readers with an essay-length page for major services, you should generally aim to have over 500 words per page to thoroughly explain yourself and answer questions. Strategically use images, calls to action, testimonials, and subheadings to break up that material so it isn’t overwhelming.
Pages that are too short do not create authority and will weaken your site.
Also, think of ways you can cover multiple aspects of your core topic on the page. For instance, if it’s a page about personal injury law services, don’t simply optimize for “personal injury lawyer”. In this example you’d also want to include information about things like:
- Insurance considerations for car accidents
- How to file if you are injured and require hospitalization after an accident
- What to know about generating the police report for the incident
Things like those are questions someone who has been in an accident and is looking for a personal injury attorney needs to know and may be wondering. Your site covering those topics not only improves the breadth of searches the page could rank for, but also demonstrates better topical authority on things directly related to personal injury law, which improves clout for that.
More on optimizing body content:
Optimizing Images – Alt Tags, EXIF, & Captions
While Google can’t “read” images directly it does acknowledge when you use them. Generally Google likes media-rich content because it’s more user friendly, and often content that is legitimately useful and had time put into it features a few images.
Images are also a way to reinforce your keyword variations in some specific ways. A good summary of this is a video I created for pre-publishing tips:
The nutshell of it are these points:
- Include alt tags that describe what the picture is about and strategically also use your keywords. The alt text can be about a sentence long. Longer isn’t useful, but also only using the keywords by themselves can seem spammy to Google.
- Image captions are useful because Google pays attention to text immediately around images to better understand what the images represent. This text is useful for the same reason as alt tags, but in this case is also useful to readers.
- EXIF data is stored within the picture and can be accessed by right clicking and selecting properties (in Windows 10) then going to the ‘Details’ tab. (Instructions for Mac in the above video.) Descriptive keywords placed here do seem to be read by Google.
Link Anchor Text and Keywords
A link’s anchor text is made of the words that outwardly show as the link. So in this sentence about how where you put a link affects its impact, the part you can click on is the anchor text.
Google pays attention to the anchor text as a way to understand where the link is sending people. It gives context about the content on that page or site. Being descriptive with the anchor text helps Google build an association with meaning and context with the page you’re linking to.
If you’re linking internally (to another page on your own site) the anchor text being specific can help reinforce the linked page’s relevance with the description. You can also use this while creating link silos.
Too many links to one page that are anchored in almost the same way can seem spammy, though, so you’ll want to vary how you link to certain pages.
Use a mix of:
- Specific keywords, such as anchor text for “recommended tennis shoes” for a page about tennis shoe reviews
- General intent sentence fragments (a descriptive part of a sentence that relates to the topic of what you’re linking to)
- Branded anchor text, such as anchor text like, “…this great article written by Seth Godin”. In this case you don’t mention the article by name or even what it’s about, but reference the author/brand.
- The straight URL printed out of what you’re linking to
The same is true for when you’re linking to other websites, and the recipients of those links will appreciate your being creative with the anchor text linking to them for the same reasons. (And not accidentally creating spammy-looking links pointed at them.)
Check out Matt Diggity’s guide to anchor text optimization for a lot more great information about how to structure (and vary) your anchor text.
A good way to build a solid network of internal links within your site is to think of it like a hierarchy. You’ll have your main page that sets the stage for all other major pages and links to them as needed. Then you’ll have major service or product pages that showcase what you offer, and then supporting content like blog posts that cover each of them from different angles. The core pages can link out to top blog content, and posts can link back to core services associated with them.
Here’s a simple drawing to illustrate:
This reinforces those topics and helps Google understand how all your content relates to each other and how to consider all of it.
More about links:
Keywords and Metadata (Titles & Descriptions)
The meta title is what shows up in Google search results if that page is included for searches. It’s important because it’s what readers will see to decide if they’re going to click your site, but it also has a direct impact on SEO.
Much of the same points covered above about page titles is true for meta titles. And in a lot of cases you may even straight up use the same thing both places. There are a few caveats for meta titles, though.
- Try to stay under 60 characters in length for meta titles. Google will often cut off the title with “…” if it goes over length, and may also be slightly less likely to rank a really long meta title than one that is shorter and punchier.
- Make sure your meta title always includes words related to your keyword topic. It’s a big missed opportunity not to leverage your meta title for ranking points.
- Use keyword modifiers to leverage the fact that this page might rank for a whole bunch of related searches and not a single keyword (more on that in the second link below “Write the Perfect…”).
- If you have the space left for it within the length requires, you may want to include your brand name for recognition in the search results. That way if someone knows about you they may be more likely to click your page instead of someone else’s because they want to see what you say about it. (Such as “2020 Toyota Camry For Sale | Bob’s Car Lot”.)
It’s important to note that SEO pros debate how important it is to write custom metadata. Reason being?
WordPress be default uses whatever your page’s title is as the meta title if there isn’t a different one declared, and takes the first 1-ish sentence of your content as the meta description. (More on this in a minute.)
The meta descriptions haven’t been a direct ranking factor in awhile, meaning that loading keywords into the meta description doesn’t itself affect ability to rank. However, the meta description is still important because it’s part of what users will see scanning search results and can affect how likely they are to click your link.
It needs to be short and punchy, but also descriptive and specific so they’re certain your page/article will answer their question or solve their problem without a bunch of fluff.
Google also does still read the meta description, and it can take cues from the verbal context for how well your page addresses specific variations of topical questions. In other words, there a bunch of different ways someone could ask a question about a certain topic, especially if they’re looking for specific bits of info that not all articles about that topic cover. Your meta description helps create that context and may indirectly affect ranking potential in that way.
Not Worrying About Manual Meta Titles and Descriptions
If you aren’t in a position where you need a different meta title than your page’s main title, arguably you don’t need to worry about going further than that.
The guys at Income School have aptly implied they don’t bother manually filling in meta descriptions in SEO plugins since by default Google will use your first sentence or so of the page as the meta description. They point out that if you write a zingy and compelling enough first sentence you can kill two birds with one stone. It’s a good point and a matter of preference, and doing it this way makes sense.
This is also why it’s ironic that lesser-informed developers assume that SEO is merely filling out metadata and done, since you can arguably get by without manually writing metadata at all at this point.
More about meta titles:
- Should I Include My Brand In My Meta Title?
- Write The Perfect Title Tag To Improve Clickthrough Rate (Ahrefs)
Blog Post Categories
While this isn’t as big or significant as the actual on-page stuff, it’s still a good idea to approach your blog’s categories with these things in mind:
- What are the major topics your blog will cover? Make sure that each of them is meaningfully different than the next.
- How well do those major topics adhere to your target keywords?
It’s a good idea to plan this out before you start writing, if it’s a new blog. But even if it’s a blog that’s been around awhile you can still rename and restructure the post categories. This will organize your content and make it clearer to develop content plans, but will also give you the opportunity to write strong metadata and on-page category descriptions for each of them. It’s not often that Google ranks a category page above actual content pages, but it can have some topical reinforcement and is also handy to link people to.
For instance, I might link someone to my “Keyword Research” category to easily show them all of my posts related to that.
To continue using myself as an example, I remade my blog with the following major post categories:
- Keyword Research
- Local Listings/Directories
- On-Site SEO
- SEO Tools
- Web Design Craft
- Writing Craft
Given what this site is about, it was clear to me that anything I’d realistically write about would inevitably fall into one of those categories. Each of them is distinct from the others without a ton of overlap, and most of them relate in some way to keywords I’d like to rank for.
Categories also serve to inform and reinforce to Google, since the category name is relevant in that it links to a bunch of other contextually-related content. This clarifies to Google the types of things your site talks about.
After all, post category descriptions aren’t like meta descriptions; they do show outwardly on the site as “real” content, and therefore being descriptive is useful contextually and because it’s an opportunity to include related keywords.
Hopefully this helps you get started and think about your site content in a new way. If you’d like to get more hands-on with your learning through a DIY course, click the link to learn more.