I'm sometimes asked this question, usually by someone savvy in search marketing. After all, it's expensive to create and optimize pages for search, so you'd want to amortize that investment over as many keywords as possible right? Actually, no. The number of organic search keywords I recommend you target per page is one.

Surprised? A lot of people are, and I admit to perhaps being more extreme than some on this issue. Still, I will stick to this advice because I think it's the right way to approach the problem, even if you end up compromising later.

one is the loneliest number

Image by horizontal.integration via Flickr

Now, understand, it's not possible for you to optimize for one keyword without having other words on the page. I'm not advocating pages that contain one word, but I am advising you to have one primary focus on the page, one concept that the page is about.

Of course, sometimes you have two words that mean absolutely the same thing. If you are trying to optimize the same page for "certified public accountant" and "CPA" then I have no issue with that--essentially they are the same word. I might also be talked into sharing landing pages between "sofa" and "couch" if you really think there is no distinction in the searchers. Obviously doing so saves time.

But if you told me that you think that people who type in "CPA" are more sophisticated than those that type in "certified public accountant" and that you want to target different types of messages to those two groups, I wouldn't fight you over having two distinct pages for those audiences.

I know it would be fantastic if you could use the same page as the search landing page for "CPA" and "certified public accountant" and "tax accountant" and "tax services" and "Income tax filing" but it won't work. Even though those concepts are related to each other, you're not going to get the number one result in Google with that approach. You won't have the absolute best page if you are all over the map.

It's fine for you to use all those phrases on the same page. It's also fine for you make some of those phrases secondary targets, and there are situations, when keywords are not highly competitive, when the same page will be #1 for multiple terms. It happens.

But your best approach is to think of highly targeted pages with a single primary goal. You don't need to avoid talking about those other concepts on the page as long as they fit into your primary concept. But you shouldn't think of pages as a catch-all where you can optimize for several concepts at once--that usually results in confusing the search engine about the purpose of the page, lowering its ranking.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "This means I will have to create a LOT of landing pages." Bingo.

I know it's a lot of work. I know that you'd rather find a shortcut. I understand that you don't have time to do this much work. So, start with the ones that are the absolute best matches for your site and move on from there. Every week, do a couple more. You gradually cover more and more of your target markets, because that's what keywords are.

Not everyone agrees with me. Lots of smart people believe that you can target multiple keywords on each page easily. I think it's not so easy, and that you are better off targeting one keyword and finding yourself lucky that sometimes you get another one along for the ride, rather than trying to target several and finding you get none.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

May 21, 2009





Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.






Comments(38)

Agreed. I've always maintained that any page should target a single keyword - especially the more competitive terms. I think that many miss the point when I say a single keyword that I expect only that keyword to drive traffic. But by the nature of the web by optimising for a single keyword, the longtail will automatically come into play at some point.

On the flip side due to some pretty neat LSI by the larger search engines "certified public accountant" and CPA could very easily be recognised as being the same thing. I've seen this to be true in local search where city names have been abbreviated (why is abbreviated such a long word ;). That said, I wouldn't stake my business on the hope that the search engines get the LSI 100% correct so may even create separate landing pages for them anyhow.

Great content is focused content.

That's all well and good, but what about the homepage, if you want a double whammy in the SERP's. Considering it's usually the strongest page on the site, it's much easier if your HP is focussed on several keywords.

Hey, glad my question gave you some fodder for a post ;-)

Good answer and thanks for the further explanation beyond what we could discuss int he chat. We'll definitely take this approach moving forward.

Personally, I generally recommend trying to optimize for no more than 3 words on a page. This is not saying that your theory of 1 is wrong by any means, in fact it is probably optimal to only target one keyword per page.

However, when you target 1 keyword, you must also consider the variations that can be derived from that keyword. For instance, if you target "car dealer columbus," it is pretty much a safe bet that "columbus car dealer" is also target.

Agent SEO brings up a good point. Using that example... are you suggesting that we only optimize the page for "car dealer columbus" and then a separate page for "columbus car dealer" and then another for "car dealer in columbus", etc?

What about the plural of those terms - "car dealers columbus"? Seperate pages?

I know some people get very structured about this subject, durgesh, but I think you treat every page the same. The home page of your site is probably destined to be optimized for your company name. Your list of all products in a category is optimized for the category name. The product page is optimized for its name. The product detail page can be potimized for the product name plus the word "detail" or "specs." maybe I am too simple-minded about his, but I think that we should spend more time writing the content for the keywords that we don't have pages for then worrying about getting the structure perfect.

AgentSEO and Dave,

All of those are so close that they amount to exactly the same thing anyway. So, no, you wouldn't need a different page just to account for word order or plurals. Thanks for poining out something that I should have in the original article.

I'm totally on board with this concept. In fact, as I build "niche" affiliate sites, blogs, and e-commerce sites, I'll often build an entire SITE around one keyword.

Depending on the competition for that keyword, it can still be difficult to get your stuff ranked for that particular phrase without some significant off-page work. Sometimes even that doesn't seem to help (or help fast enough) and only time can cure your ranking woes.

Brian Kurtz - I'm a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who sells real estate, builds websites, and runs an online Airsoft Sniper Rifle shop in my spare time.

I think that it's possible to optimize for several keywords: if they are related. If your main keyword is "real estate" then you can have a few variations such as "affordable real estate" "real estate in Churchlands" etc.

Of course you can do that, Synergy Planet. The question is whether it will work. If you have keywords that are not very competitive, then it might work. But if many others are vying for that top spot, it's far less likely that such a strategy would work. In your example, the top spot for "real estate" would undoubtedly be a journalistic article that describes what real estate is, how you use it as a n investment, the differences between commercial and private real estate--none of this sounds like the same page as "affordable real estate" or "real estate in Churchlands."

On the other hand, if you wanted to optimize for "affordable real estate in Churchlands," that might work. And if very few companies are trying for "real estate in Churchlands," it would probably work for that keyword, too. But I'd be very surprised if it came up for "affordable real estate," which seems to be a broad keyword with many competitors that requires a different focus.

In my opinion, what matters is whether the approach you take has the chance of getting a top five or even top ten ranking for your keyword. If, over time, you don't get such a ranking, then the fact that "you optimized for it" isn't all that important. I know that what I am saying sounds rather extreme to some, but my point is that you are better off thinking about building the perfect page for each keyword (and then finding out you got lucky with a few related keywords) then you are thinking that you can optimize each page for several keywords.

Well I think there is merit in what Synergy Planet says. It could very well be a tactic to optimise a page around a base keyword that is competitive with the aim of ranking for the longer tail variations of this keyword - something that is likely to happen when aiming for most keywords.

On the flip side, what use is ranking for a very board search term? Usually these don't convert very well.

I agree, Robert. I'm expressing my opinion on the best way to approach this. Not everyone agrees and their opinions certainly have merit. I agree with you that looking for rankings on broad terms is not only difficult but often unsatisfying in terms of conversion--I just wanted to use the examples that Synergy Planet used to make my opinion clearer.

Again, you can certainly try to make one landing page do the work for several related terms. Sometimes it will even work. But you're more likely to be disappointed, in my experience.

Hi,

I am also testing this with several blogs I am trying to promote in search engines. I started this process recently and it will take time for me to come up with some results. I'm constantly changing things around to see what's happening to my blogs rankings. One thing I know for sure is, Meta keywords don't mean anything for Google.

I understand limiting the keyword down, but what about multiple service areas? This is typically more problematic for real estate agents, who's services are geographically defined, but at the same time serve a large number of communities? How can you promote them as a vendor of services for all their communities without diluting your promotion of a single keyword?

It's pretty easy, Foot. One page focuses on the service and others focus on the service in a particular community. If you try it, I think it will seem easier than it does now.

Thanks Mike Moran, I enjoy reading your article and all the comments and learning what works and new things to apply to my website. I appreciate all the information and will check back for more.

At first I will only optimize my page for one phrase. After a few weeks I check the webmastertools and analytics to look for other phrases visitors have used to find the page. Sometimes one of those phrases is better than the one I targetted before.


I agree whole-heartedly, Mike. Great post! We optimize travel & tourism websites that are located in specific areas of the US. We ONLY use one keyword phrase per page and we have good results with this tactic.

There are other terms that our pages rank for thorugh Latent Semantic Indexing, but we dont consciously optimize ONE page for a list of terms such as "orlando vacation rentals, rentals in orlando, vacation home in orlando, condo rentals in orlando."

When you're looking at ranking for competitive terms, you need to realize that the more you put on the page, the more you're diluting the "good" you're doing with links and supportive content. If a page has to rank well for all of those terms, feasibly you probably need to quadruple your linkbuilding and supportive content efforts. Instead use one per page, drive targeted and valuable text links to those pages, and watch them rise through the competition.

Great post!

~Carrie

Noooooo! I strongly take issue with this article, and would in fact suggest the exact opposite.

Why shoot for one keyword phrase, when you can get 3 or even 5?

Not to mention that it's much easier to write natural copy when you are focusing on multiple phrases per page.

Sorry, Mike, just really hate to see this sort of advice given. That said, I know we all have our different methods and there are more than one way to skin the SEO cat, but I wanted to be sure that others here didn't take this article as the absolute way of optimizing.

I completely agree Jill!

I think using single keyword is good for some time but not all the because because if you type CPA rather than certified public accountant than it's going to be a problem for the reader. So if you think the topic on the page is easy, simple to understand than you can use single keywords. However, if the topic is complex like politics than you should use different keywords to make others understand.

Thanks for this. Agree with you that the keywords on each page to more accurately reflect the page rather that going for the machine gun approach.

Nice post, Mike. I think part of the problem here is that people aren't defining what a unique keyword is. I think "real estate agent in Indianapolis" and "Real Estate agents in Indianapolis" are close enough that one page can be optimized serve to convert both kinds of site visitors effectively. However, "Real estate agents in Indianapolis" and "real estate agents in Indiana" are very different and will do better with each having its own optimized page.

For me, I play it safe and target one keyword phrase and place in title and a couple of times in the body of the article.

Sprinkle in some lsi keywords also.

Yes nice post. I do my keyword research on the particular subject I want to write on then once I have found a relatively high traffic keyword phrase thats not overly competitive I try to target that phrase using it as the title of my post and a few times in the blog post. I never try and optimize for too many keywords.

I agree with this. I think you could target more than one keyword per page if you really want, but I have been targeting one keyword per page and it has been working pretty well for me.

Hi all,

Good article, yes its good thing to use one keywords, but many times what happen people search one thing by different different wording. So it is better to give two or three keywords and should be user friendly means what common person thinks for the particular word.

Pune India

I too kind of lean towards just targetting one keyword per page, at least for awhile anyways. I beleive that if you target to many keywords for a single page, that google may end up putting you in the sand box (penalty for building to many links to fast basically). However, I think that over time (IE: a few months), it is ok to start targetting a few other keywords for 1 page. Just my 2 cents.

Great Article, I know what you mean and personally I feel the same, normally I adhere to the fewer the better as a rule, BUT this is not aways the case, I have a customer (I run an seo company) who has a site focussed on the pc repair niche, all of his keywords are longtail locality based keywords, and he wanted the homepage to rank for all 16 of his keywords! I did the onsite optimisation, the site was fortunately designed, by someone who to be honest, for a web designer didnt do a half bad job at all on the on site optimisation, (though there was plenty room for improvement). And with just a few adjustments I managed to get optimal density and prominance for all 16 keywords whilst retaining the natural look and readabiliy of the page. It now ranks first page for ALL of these keywords on google, most at position 1. I think the number of keywords is to a great extent controlled by the nature of the site itself and how closely related the keywords are, this has a big impact on how natural and "unstuffed" the finished optimised page will be, My prime concern when optimising a site is always to keep the text looking natural.

You need to be very confident with your contents and your website while targetting a single keyword. it requires a long term plan and clear strategy to get optimised for a single keyword. The real problem starts when there are other websites which has better structure, contents and are there in online longer than yours then this process of targetting the single keywords takes lot of time and effort.

happy days

This was very helpful. I been trying to understand this better for some time. I really need to sit down and figure out my plan for my site when it come to keywords.

Lots of good comments here also very helpful thanks again.

Some times client does not agree on one page one keyword although i requested to one of my client for try one keyword based page i got descent result.
Thanks for clearing the concept of using one keyword.

I have read through most of everyones comments here and everybody makes a fair point. But lets remember one thing, search engines revolve around words and on the one hand are storing lots of different keyword search terms in one database. Then take a SE like Google and look at Google's other job - indexing pages. Think of Google as a hotel with a room for each page. If a page is focused on a primary and secondary keyword and the page is properly optimised and achieving votes from both internal site links and getting inbound links from other websites, then there is more chance that page in the long term will do well for an organic listing. Whereas a page that is 'to busy' with lots of words that are not prioritised, then the page surely is a) not going to perform as well, and b) can't really be answering the query of the person searching for something specific as the visitor would have to 'wade' through text that then might not be relevant! Lets get people carrying out ecommerce excellence best practice - every day people responsible for page performance should take an SEO driving test and understand the tools they are meant to be working with.

One keyword strategy per page is most preferable in my humble opinion but having a secondary keyword might be equally good to be satisfied with the increasingly unique quality of the page leaving more fierce competition at the top for others at the same time relying for traffic on search engine people that are more targeted in the definition of the searches.

So the Arguments are not yet resolved.
(1). How many keywords can you optimize in your home page?
As I gather from the article & comments, it could be 1 keyword (very competitive) 2 or 3 keywords (competitive) and many keywords (not competitive). Is that correct?

(2) Can you optimize the 100+ inner pages too
(a) for keywords in Home page and
(b) for keywords specific to each inner page
Of course the body text of inner pages will have the Home page keywords (1 or 2 or 3 or many).So already in the mood for for optimization.

Now my question is can we really optimize inner pages for home page keyword (1 at least) by incorporating home page keywords (ok 1 keyword only, to be on the safe side) and inner page keyword (already 1, 2,) in Title, Meta tags, Meta Description?

@bunpeiris, as you can see, this is controversial. I believe that you should start out targeting one keyword for a page, and once you do that, you might find that by using your natural writing style you might get rankings for some other keywords for that same page. As you point out, that will often depend on how competitive the keyword is. My belief is that it is easier to go wrong by trying to target multiple keywords than a single one, at first, but others disagree, sometimes vehemently. In the end, what's important is what works for you, so you can test your results using any of these approaches and see what works best in your situation. That's probably the best advice of all.

Hi Mike

Thanks
If we go by the common sense, we can argue search engine robots wouldn't see the inner pages favorably, if 50 out of 100 inner pages are optimized (title, meta etc) for a keyword, which is already optimized for home page.

My reasoning is that the robots could see the situation as 50 out 100 pages narrate the same subject. Then the robots would conclude the website is not really content rich; website seems to have sunken to just one or couple of keywords in 50 pages.

Now, that is to say we assume we know hoe robots behave. But then I have no idea, just a thought. Is behavior of robots already calculated for SEO purposes?

I would guess it would be fine to optimize about 5 inner pages for the home page keyword together with a keyword or 2 specific for each page.

Please let me know of your views, since you are well placed to put this matter in the perspective of your knowledge experience and see in many angles.

@bunpeiris I don't think you should be concerned about this too much. Optimize the home page for the company name and mention the products--if yu pick up any search rankings on the products, great. Optimize the inner pages for what they are about (individual products, for example) and then let the chips fall where they may. For small businesses, I think keeping it simple is the best long-term strategy.

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.


Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > How many search keywords can I target per page?