I promise to let go of this one after this week, but there have been so many upset people that I feel the need to revisit this subject once again. There have been many comments about my original post advising you to primarily target one keyword per page for organic search. I followed that up with some explanation of why I believe in targeting just one keyword per page. But one commenter called the advice "utter nonsense" (which is even worse than that regular nonsense I usually spew), so I'd like to give the explanation one more try, in hopes that perhaps we can at least live with each other without being so sure of ourselves. I'm willing to admit that other approaches work too, and I hope that this post will explain why this one can, too.
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Ed, the commenter who referred to my advice as "utter nonsense," gave a few reasons based on the example I used of trying to optimize the home page of a Sheboygan shoe store for a competitive query such as "women's shoes" while also optimizing for "women's shoes in Sheboygan." Ed made the point that you can optimize for several keywords at once and pointed out that it's really the links to that page that will determine its success for each keyword.
And he's right that you can optimize for multiple keywords. And he's right that the links to the page will determine success. What I am trying (perhaps badly) to explain is that you can't possibly take the home page of a shoe store in Sheboygan and expect to get a #1 result (or even a top ten result) for the keyword "women's shoes." To get that kind of success, you need a different page.
Here's why. Think about what someone searching for "women's shoes" might be looking for. Or, better yet, take a look at what comes up when you search for "women's shoes" in Google. Yes, they are all shoe stores, but they aren't shoe stores in any particular local area, and these sites are not optimizing for any local queries. It's rather difficult to be the right answer for the generic "women's shoes" keyword and the local "women's shoes in Sheboygan" keyword with the exact same page. I mean, are you local or not?
It's clear to me that these two keywords should bring up very different results, because that is what the searchers want. One searcher might want to buy online while the other wants to get in the car for a drive to the shoe store. And, what's more, it is clear to the people who will link to your pages, too, that these pages are about different things. The linkers will be linking with different keywords to different kinds of pages.
But let's take another example. Look at the keyword "home network" in Google. As I write this, there is exactly one vendor on the first page of the organic search results--Linksys. And, yes, their home page is there, because lots of people have linked to it with words "home network" and because they use the keyword on their home page a lot and provide helpful information about choosing your home network. And that Linksys home page obviously comes up for many other keywords, too, such as "router." So, it can work to target multiple keywords on a page--Linksys proves it.
But, how come the rest of those vendors aren't there? Surely, one of them must have had this idea, too. Certainly, at least one of them optimized their page and tried to get links and did all sorts of stuff to make that page come up, and yet it didn't. Why?
You might want to look at the rest of what's on that search results page. Besides Linksys, the other results are all helpful "how-to" guides that help people understand how home networks work, and how to choose the right equipment, and how to make it secure, etc. Those pages are good answers for the keyword "home network," and they undoubtedly have attracted lots of links for the same reason--they help someone interested in that subject. My advice is that the other vendors should put together that kind of helpful content, and they'll get links for "home network"--but those pages won't be their home pages. They'll be interior pages specially crafted to be the perfect answer for the "home network" keyword.
And if you're asking whether those helpful pages might be good for "building a home network" or "understanding a home network," they might be. So if that's what you mean by multiple keywords, that's fine. But what I am saying is that you need to start out trying for one keyword and you must focus your efforts there.
Now Linksys is the market leader, so it has a chance to be aggressive about targeting more keywords, but what if you're not? What if you are one of the zillion other companies out there that want that top ranking? They are not ranking poorly because they are targeting multiple keywords per page--those extra keywords don't hurt anything. They ranking poorly because (and this is hard to hear) they don't have the best answer for that keyword.
See, that's the rub. If you have a top brand and everyone knows you, then it's plausible to be able to get high rankings for multiple keywords for your pages. But what if you are a small business and you aren't well-known? What if you don't have all those great links? How do you get them?
You get them by actually creating pages that are the best answer for those keywords. And attracting links to those pages. If, someday, you end up becoming well-known and getting your pages to rank well for multiple keywords that are as unrelated as "router," and "home network," throw a party. But a small company would probably need to have separate pages for each of those words to break into the top ten. And those top-ten pages are much more likely to be helpful explanations of those concepts, rather than the catalog pages, because those helpful pages will attract links, while only the best-known brands of catalog pages attract them.
You see, the more competitive the keyword, the more you need to be focused on a very narrow target. Now, if you have keywords that are extremely similar to each other, so that the exact same page could be a plausible answer for either one ("notebook" and "laptop"), that's fine. Target both. But "home network" and "router" demand different pages, unless you are Linksys. So do "women's shoes" and "women's shoes in Sheboygan," no matter who you are.
And, it will only get worse for you multi-tasking multi-keyword types, because as personalized search continues its inexorable path, merely having the best page for a keyword won't be enough. To be #1 in a search, you'll need to appeal to the precise sense of meaning of the word based on the search history, demographics, and other behavioral characteristics for each searcher. To be consistently #1 across all kinds of searchers for a certain keyword, you might need multiple pages for even that one keyword, rather than multiple keywords for the same page. We're not there yet, but that is where things are trending, so you might as well give this idea at least a passing thought before assuming that because multiple keywords for a page has worked in the past that it always will.
Whew! At least I feel as though I explained myself--I promise to talk about something else in next week's column. And if there are still folks out there that think this is utter nonsense, they are entitled to their opinion. What's more, they might be so skilled that they can do the "one page for multiple keywords" trick consistently well. More power to them. For everyone else, if you're struggling to get the rankings you need, don't put your faith in optimizing pages. Instead design content that is really the best answer to each searcher's keyword and you'll have a better chance.
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 Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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