Keyword usage is one of the core pillars of SEO. When you boil it down, Google’s entire algorithm is about mapping out links between websites and valuing them based on the relevance of their content. That relevance is judged based on keywords.
Sure, there’s a lot of complex math and analysis that goes into it. Google took a TF-IDF algorithm and used it as a starting point to give you an idea.
When it comes to keywords, you need to use them appropriately throughout your site, but you can’t use them too often. If you do, you run into what Google calls “keyword stuffing” or “keyword over-optimization.” In both cases, you’re spending more time using keywords to appease the robots than writing content to please your users.
Google’s mission statement is to be a seamless facilitator of information and education between users and providers. If you’re taking action that hurts the user experience in favor of the robots, the robots will find out and penalize you for it.
Here are fifteen different locations and a couple of pro tips.
First up is a straightforward tip. You may have seen that HTML has several meta fields up at the top of every website: the title, description, and keywords. The keywords field is a trap.
Decades ago, the keywords field was used as a place to add keywords where search engines could find them. For self-explanatory reasons, marketers immediately and ruthlessly exploited this until search engines rendered the field meaninglessness. Google quickly stopped paying attention to it at all.
So, at best, putting keywords in the meta keywords field will be ignored entirely. At worst, it can be a sign that you’re operating on old or spammy information and may have other things worth scrutinizing and penalizing.
One of the fifteen locations for keywords we’ll talk about is anchor text. However, anchor text is very easy to overdo. Google has a specific penalty for “over-optimized anchor text” that you need to be aware of and avoid.
It’s generally applied to links pointing to your website from other locations. If every link pointing at your website uses the same keyword, it’s a sign that you’re paying for or otherwise creating them in a spammy manner; it just doesn’t look natural. You can read more about it here.
Exact match domains are website domain names like “BuyRedShoes.com.” They’re often used by spammy site owners looking to get a quick boost for a keyword and leverage it into SEO value for a different site. They’re usually low value, so Google has issued several algorithm updates over the years penalizing them.
You can use exact match domains effectively if you do it right, but sometimes it’s better to have a memorable brand name rather than an exact match keyword domain.
Now, on with the locations for keywords!
Your meta title tag is the title of your site that displays in the window or tab name for a browser and is the prominent blue link in Google’s search results.
You also only have around 100 characters to use for your page title and any other information, and like the brand name you want in that title field. You can technically add more, but Google’s search results will truncate it, making it harder for the truncated information to have value.
Your H1 title is the title of a blog post or page, at the top of the page, in the content. Web pages should only ever have one H1 title because it’s the most important line of text on the page, and it informs users what the rest of the page is about.
Many websites make the Meta Title and the H1 Title the same, which is perfectly reasonable. However, you can also use it to try out different combinations of keywords and phrasing.
While each page has only a single H1, it can have multiple H2s for each subheading. Each numbered entry on this page is an H2, for example. Many pages should work in keywords to their H2s, if possible. H2s are given a bit more prominence and value according to both users and search engines.
For that reason, search engines will assign keywords in H2s more weight than keywords in the text itself. Of course, it’s not always possible to do naturally. Imagine if every entry on this list said: “Places to Add Keywords Without Over-Optimizing: H2 Subheadings”! You can imagine how clunky and user-unfriendly it would get.
One significant, often-overlooked aspect of SEO is your page URL. You have your domain name, but then you have the exact URL of the post.
That URL is a way to work a keyword into your site’s structure. For example, in one of our previous posts, How to Redesign a Website for SEO, you can see the URL is:
The “redesign website SEO” URL slug is close enough to the primary keyword of the content that working it into the URL is valuable.
Your meta description is another part of the meta-information at the top of every HTML page. It’s longer than the title, and it’s given less prominence in the search results, but it’s still visible.
It’s an excellent way to briefly summarize your topic, including the primary keyword you’re targeting with it.
This phenomenon happens on content that you specify, but it’s not always the content you defined as your meta description. Still, it’s worth fixing and adding a description just in case they choose to use it.
Your keyword guides the overall topic you write about. In your body, you should use your keyword multiple times, though exactly how many times depends on the specificity of the keyword, how hard it is to work into casual language, and what other variations you can use.
It would help if you remembered that Google uses a lot of natural language processing, latent semantic indexing, and other techniques to identify the meaning of words and phrases even when the specific purpose isn’t stated. In other words, they use synonyms and related keywords to serve results even if the particular word isn’t on a page.
Sometimes, throughout a post, you might include:
Google cares about your user experience, and a little bit of formatting to break up a giant wall of text goes a long way. You draw attention to your content with formattings like bold, italics, underlines, colors, indentations, or custom styling.
Google’s algorithm doesn’t necessarily give this extra weight, but they’re an excellent way to work your keyword into a specific, prominent piece of text.
Like pull quotes, you may design parts of your post (particularly conclusions) to have quick, 1-2-sentence takeaways. These excerpts are often highlighted as passages a user can tweet to share the content, making keywords in those quotes a doubly robust bonus.
Not only do they give you an additional place to include a keyword, they naturally use that keyword in social media promotion. You don’t have to use a click-to-tweet plugin specifically, but keeping the concept in mind can make for some fast and effective writing.
Images are another critical component of the website content, and they’re an excellent opportunity to use your keywords a few extra times.
Your caption is a visible way to describe or add value to an image, including a keyword, and make it relevant to your post. One option is to use your keyword in the caption beneath a picture. Not all sites use captions, which is a mistake for those who decide to throw away that source of value.
Alt text, or alternative text, is an accessibility option for images. In cases where graphics don’t load or when a visually-impaired user uses a screen reader to navigate a website, the alt text becomes a textual description of the image.
This needs to be accurate, but as long as the actual subject of your image is relevant to your keyword, you can use a keyword in your alt text. Just bear in mind that you shouldn’t use this just for keywords. It’s an accessibility option first.
Another meta source of information is the file name of the image you upload and add to your website. Most users aren’t ever going to see this, but it’s a piece of data Google can use to further add context to an image without needing image recognition on the picture itself.
File names can be a good place for a keyword, and they help the image show up in Google image search. Twice the value!
Another option for a keyword is your author bio. If you don’t want to customize an author bio for every post, you can work a few of your most prominent keywords into your author bio infobox and call it good enough.
This one can be tricky, though, because most of the time, you’re going to be using one static bio for every post you publish.
Every page should have several internal links to other pages on your site. Internal links can have more “sculpted” anchor text, though it can still be beneficial to mix things up.
This one isn’t relevant for every post on your site. Still, it can be suitable for your pillar content – any article that is prominent enough to warrant a direct link from your navigation can have a keyword worked into that link.
Often, the link will be a variation on the post title, and the post title will have a keyword in it already, so this isn’t difficult. The only trick is figuring out how to structure your navigation such that you can link to content like this.
Here’s a tricky one.
Most HTML tags can have additional meta-information added to them. DIVs, Links, Paragraphs, and List Items; can all have a title added.
These attributes are meta-information that shows up as hover-over pop-up text and serves to add a bit more context to the content of the HTML element.
This one is pretty clever; not many people use it, and it can be an excellent way to use keywords and sub-keywords to flag specific paragraphs, links, headings, items, and other elements of the page with their meaning.
The only tricky part is that this is the kind of strategy that, if it gets over-used, can be penalized by the search engines. Keep an eye out to see if that happens, and be prepared to strip out those keywords if they become detrimental.
So, there you have it; 15 different places on your website where you can put keywords without over-optimizing your page. Which one is your favorite? As long as your content still reads well despite it all, you’re good to go using all of these.