Anything that gets typed into a search engine is a keyword. Keywords that are used often in search are called “seed keywords”. Seed keywords can be so general that they might not be useful for optimizing online content. A search for the seed keyword “car” will get results such as autotrader.com, cars.com and a Wikipedia entry. If you have a business that deals with cars, you’ll have to dig deeper for meaningful keywords.

Long-tail search keywords

Keywords that add relevant details to the search are called long-tail keywords or niche keywords. “Kent car dealers” is a long-tail search keyword. It’s not bad, but it isn’t quite long-tail enough because the word “Kent” can be related to a number of cities named Kent or even to some person named Kent. Someone searching for a car in Kent, Washington might get a result for a car dealer in Kent, England. A better long-tail keyword would be: “car dealers in Kent, WA”. That’s very specific, and assuming that the web masters for every car dealership website serving Kent, Washington actually used that keyword phrase, a searcher would get results for all the relevant sites they want.

Finding appropriate keywords

If you’re writing to optimize search engine results, you need to begin by deciding what seed keywords and what niche keywords you want to optimize for in your content. You should limit the seed keywords to just one or two and try to identify as many niche keywords as possible; you probably won’t use every niche keyword you identify, but the more you uncover the more choices you have to make your writing read naturally. Begin by making a few assumptions about what words you think people would likely use to find your business or the topic of your online article. In the case of our example car dealership, words such as cars, automobiles, car dealerships and car dealers all make sense. The Google Keyword search tool is the best free keyword tool and a good place to get started. Enter in the keyword list and note which words get the most traffic—those are good candidates for your seed keywords. If you find cars gets a lot more search traffic than automobiles (which it does) use “cars” as your seed keyword. You’ll also see a list of 100 “Keyword ideas” that Google returns. Use this list to look for other opportunities for niche keywords, such as “car dealerships” and “cars for sale”.

Go local, go long-tail

Most businesses have a location and other highly specific aspects that can help determine what niche keywords to use. In our example, the location in Kent, Washington makes for an ideal keyword because people searching for a product or service often tack on the name of the city where they intend to shop. They may also add other specifics, such as a brand or model or terms such as “new” or “used” or “free”. If our fictional car dealer in Kent, WA sells new Fords, an excellent long-tail keyword would be “Ford new car dealership in Kent, WA”.

Using niche keywords in content

With our list in hand, we can begin to create the optimized content. Our goal is to give the search engine as much help indexing the page content as we can while also providing a good user experience for the human visitor. There are several things that we need to do with our keywords to optimize the page:

  1. Use a keyword in the title
  2. Use a keyword in the page URL
  3. Use the seed keyword and niche keywords within the content
  4. Use the seed keyword or niche keywords in the ALT text of an image
  5. Use keywords in hyperlinks or the anchor text leading to a related article on your website

Use a seed keyword in the title

There are two kinds of titles when it comes to your web page. There is the title that people see at the beginning of the article. This title should be wrapped in an HTML tag called a heading tag, and because the title is the main topic of the page, it should have the top level heading tag, which is the H1 tag. If you look at the source of your page, you would see the title sandwiched between H1 tags like this: <h1>The Title</h1>. (Note: If you don’t have control of your titles through a content management system, you need to get that control.) The second title element is the Title Metatag. This is the title element that is visible only to search engines. The best practice is to place your keyword at the front of the title metatag and to make the title as readable as possible within the 60 characters you have to work with. Some companies with well-known brands can lead with the brand name, but for most small businesses it’s best to lead with the keyword. In our example page, the title metatag might read: “New Car dealership in Kent, WA. Ford makes and models.” As for the page’s visible title, it might look like this: “Get to Know Your Ford New Car Dealership in Kent, Washington”.

Include the seed keyword in the page URL

The page address or URL should also contain the keyword “car dealership Kent WA”. It doesn’t have to be quite as readable as the title, and the keyword itself may be sufficient. Once again, if your website’s content management system doesn’t allow you to edit your URLs, you need to get that control or get a new website that gives you that control.

Use niche keywords in the content

As for the main content, you should use the main keyword “car dealerships in Kent, WA” at least once, and maybe two or three times depending on the amount of content on the page. It’s likely that you’ll be able to include that keyword several times while using niche keywords, such as “new car dealerships” or “Ford dealerships in Kent, WA”. The thing to remember is that your copy should read naturally. Don’t include a keyword if it makes the sentence read awkwardly, like this one: “Kent, WA car dealership visitors will receive a free pie.” Instead, use the keyword in a more natural sentence: “Every visitor to our Kent, Washington car dealership, featuring new Ford cars and trucks, will receive a free pie.” Use keywords where they make sense. Using subheads with keywords to introduce paragraphs is also a good idea. Since a subhead is not the main topic, you should use the H2 or H3 tags instead of the H1 tag; that will help the search engine understand the structure of your content. Also, don’t overuse the keyword. A good rule of thumb is to limit the use of any keyword to 3% of the total number of words used. In a page with 100 words, you would use a keyword just 3 times. By using a variety of niche keywords, you’ll be able to make your content more varied and natural.

Adding a keyword to the alt tag

The alt tag is text that describes an image for search engines. Images add interest to a page, but search engines can’t see them, which is why we have to describe what’s in the image. If you want to learn more about how to add an ALT tag to a WordPress site, be sure to check out our tutorial about adding alt tags to images.

Using a keyword as hyperlink anchor text

Including links to related content is a smart strategy because search engine spiders follow links. By using keywords in the text that you link to another article, you’ll help the search engine understand how pages are related, and that adds more juice to your search engine optimization efforts. You can also use this strategy when creating links outside your website that lead back to the page. If you create a directory listing in one of the many online directories, use the keyword in the link (if possible). For any type of backlink, whether the link is in a guest blog post, a comment, a social media post, a review or whatever, try to include the keyword to add relevance.

SEO Keyword summation

If you use these practices, you’ll be well on your way to increasing your Search Engine Results Page (SERP) position, which is where your page shows up on Google. The goal is to be on top of the list, and optimizing the content is only one part of the job. You also need to drive traffic to the page and have as many outside websites linking to the page as possible; preferably those outside links or backlinks come from websites that Google considers to have high authority. Your results will seldom be visible overnight, but if the competition isn’t very strong for the keywords you’ve optimized for in your content, you can be surprised. I’ve seen valuable results in local search appear near the top of the list in a few days when the content was properly optimized. It’s worth the extra effort, particularly if you consider the cost of hiring an SEO company to do the work for you.