Every organization wants their website to appear on page one for a search. We get it. We also try to educate our clients – especially those in competitive industries – that search engine optimization (SEO) takes time. It’s a long-term endeavor and expectations need to be established at the outset. One of our clients recently said it was “like pushing Jell-O uphill.” Love it!

That said, there are SEO best practices that most agencies follow (or organizations if you’re going it alone) to give their client websites the best possible opportunity to rank and appear in the SERPs.

You’ll want to start with keywords. I’m not going to get into a lot of detail here as I outlined some good tips on building a keyword list at this blog recently. That said you’ll want to make sure you have a well thought out list of keywords that are not too competitive, generate some decent monthly searches, and are not all ‘head’ keywords. In other words, be sure to have long tail keywords as part of your list. More than ever, people are using three, four, and more keywords when conducting a Google search.

So, armed with your keyword list, here’s what you need to do to best utilize them.

8 SEO Best Practices for Using Keywords

1. Update your Meta title tags. If you hover over a browser tab what displays in the title tag for that web page. It’s also what search engine’s display when providing search results, as shown below.8 SEO Best Practices for Using Keywords - Puppies SERPIn this example above, the title (in purple) contains a keyword – “pug puppies for sale.” It can also contain a secondary keyword as well if there’s available space. After the vertical slash (|) the name of the company is displayed. Many companies like to lead with their brand name, but’s best to lead with the non-branded keyword. Be sure to make sure you do not have any duplicate Meta titles across your site, as that is frowned upon. The optimum length of the title should be between 65 and 68 characters. Any more than that and Google will truncate it.

2. Update your Meta descriptions. In the above example, the Meta description is below the rating. Be sure to use your main keyword, and possibly another variant for the page, in the description. You’ll see in the example that “pug puppies for sale” is in bold. Like with Meta titles, descriptions should be unique across the site, so avoid duplicates. As far as length is concerned, Google raised the character length to 320 in December, but it seems that they are back to truncating them at 160 – 170 characters once again.

One note here… Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor according to Google. However, they have a direct impact on your organic listing’s click-through-rate (CTR) and bounce rate. Therefore, it’s imperative to give them the attention they deserve.

3. Update your image tags. Alt tags and image titles should be updated to include the primary keyword for the page where that image resides. The Alt text you assign for an image let’s the search engine know what the image is – since it can’t see images themselves. If you ever visit a site and the image is not rendering the Alt tag is usually what you see inside the X-ed out spot the image would have appeared. The image title is a pop up that is displayed when you hover over an image with your mouse.

4. Update your website heading tags. The H1, H2, H3, etc. heading tags of your site should contain keywords. There can be multiple H2, H3 tags but only one H1 tag for each website page on your site. Use your main keyword in the H1 tag and variants for that page in the H2, H3, etc. tags. While it’s important to use keywords in the heading tags you will need to use caution, as some CSS can handle only certain length tags before they wrap or otherwise break the look and feel of the page. Be sure to work with your developer to implement these recommendations.

5. Update your website content/copy. It goes without saying that you need to get your main keyword and variants into your web copy for the page you’re focusing on. We recommend getting the main keyword into the copy early on the page and then use it when it makes sense in subsequent copy. The question we always get next is, “What is an appropriate amount of keyword mentions?” The answer here depends on the length of copy on the page. While Google and others suggest ignoring keyword density checks, tools like Yoast use it as a guide and we recommend it as well. I wouldn’t shoot for any particular percentage, but between 0.5% and 3% is a manageable range. Anything more and it will seem like your keyword stuffing – something Google frowns upon and penalizes for. Anything less and it’s likely your optimizing for the wrong keyword.

One thing we always recommend to our clients is READ the copy. Does it sound okay, or does it sound overly repetitive with keywords? It should be written for your prospects and customers and NOT for Google and a read or two will certainly make it clear how the copy is presented.

6. Look for site interlinking opportunities. You should look for smart and logical ways to link the pages of your site to one another, and when doing so use keywords as the anchor text. If I’m on the paid search marketing page of our website, as example, I might make reference to search engine optimization. In this example, I’d link “search engine optimization” to our search engine optimization web page (which is what I did here). I wouldn’t want to do this for every instance of that keyword but once per page is acceptable and not overkill.

7. If you can, use the keyword in the URL for that page. This is often hard to do after the site has been built, but it’s likely that if your webpage for “pug puppies for sale” has some keywords within the URL and in fact they do. https://www.pup. pyspot.com/puppies-for-sale/breed/pug This URL contains “puppies for sale” along with the word “pug” as a qualifier at the end of the URL. Google is very good at putting this all together and understanding user intent. In this case it works well!

8. Write great blog posts. Content creation using keywords intelligently is still perhaps the greatest SEO tactic you can engage in. If you don’t have a blog, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to educate your prospects and customers, establish thought-leadership, and use keywords outside of the main part of your website. Well-written blog posts that use keywords in much the same way we recommend in the first seven points will go a long way to boosting your rankings. Use keywords in:

    • Blog title (and subsequently the URL)
    • Meta data (title and description)
    • In the body of the blog where it makes sense
    • Image tags
    • Heading tags
    • Linking

Using keywords strategically in your blog posts will help boost keyword rankings and drive organic traffic. Just be sure to write good content!

Using keywords with SEO best practices in mind will help you optimize your site, boost keyword rankings, and improve your organic traffic. It’s important, however, to revisit your keyword list regularly. We review our client keywords every 6 months (at least) and more often if we a change in their product or service offering, the competitive landscape changes significantly, or we see success. If we start seeing some great keyword ranking success, we might put those keywords on a watch list, continue to recommend (or write) blog posts using them, but then add variants to our main list and update the above best practices for these new keywords.

A fresh keyword list and updated website is always a good thing! For help with keyword research or for a complementary SEO site audit, contact us!