Search engines have a lot of pages to read, interpret, and file away for reference. They’re doing it at lightning speed, and they can’t figure out what the page is about the way a human can. Instead, they use the words on the page to respond to search requests.
When a search engine looks at your Web page, it evaluates two things: First, what the Web says your page is about (the search engine tells this from the text in the links to your Web page); and second, what you say your page is about (the search engine gets this from the words that appear on the page).
The first item will be addressed in a future post. For this one, we’ll talk about the words that you put on your Web page.
All a search engine sees on your Web page are individual words. If it cannot tell what the page is about, it’s usually due to one of the following reasons:
- There aren’t enough words on the page.
- The subject of the page is inferred, rather than mentioned directly.
- The subject is mentioned, but not enough to make it completely obvious what your page is about.
- The text is implemented in a way that search engines cannot read.
When writing Web copy, you must tell the search engine exactly what the page is about by mentioning your subject throughout. For example, look at the two images below. Which one do you think will produce the most searches -- the one on the left with only two references to words typed into a search engine, or the one on the right with six references?
Most likely the one on the right is going to be more specific to what someone requested.
With this insight, you need to start incorporating keyword references into your Web copy so that the subject of the page is completely obvious. To do this, use keywords throughout the entire page body copy and also in the following areas that are given more weight in search engines' ranking formula:
- Page Title tag. This is by far the most important text you will write, because it becomes the link in the search engines. Search engines give it a lot of weight, so you want to write something that will entice users to click -- and that contains your keywords.
- Header tags. These are words that tell search engines what can be found in the content beneath. Header tags are a great place to incorporate keyword repetitions without degrading the content with many repetitions. The H1 tag (initial header) is the most valuable, which means you want to ensure that you include as many of the keywords as possible in it.
- Bold and italicized fonts. Use of emphasized type on your Web page will help your keywords stand out.
- Bulleted and numbered lists. Again, these will add emphasis to keywords.
- Meta description. This is part of your Web page coding -- the part that describes to the rest of the Web what your page is all about. While this won’t help boost your rankings, having a nice marketing-driven meta description with keywords and a call-to-action will help you garner click-thru rates, because the meta description becomes the description of your page in search results.
While these are the more valuable places to incorporate keywords, you need to also add them to the page’s body copy, the “meat” of the page. At this point everyone asks, “How many repetitions do you need?” The answer is, “It depends” -- on how your competition is using keywords, and how competitive your keywords are in comparison. A good rule of thumb is to include two or three repetitions for every 200 words on the page.
The final piece of advice is where most pages go wrong. You want to incorporate your keywords throughout the entire page, not just at the top, bottom, or middle. This, in combination with everything else in this article, will make it obvious that your entire page is relevant to a user’s search.
— Jessica Bowman is a search engine optimization (SEO) strategist and consultant who has created SEO programs for Yahoo, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and Business.com.