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.

one is the loneliest number

Image by horizontal.integration via Flickr

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.

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June 2, 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 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.



Comments(30)

Mike, thanks for taking the time to publish this informative article. I totally agree that you can rank for multiple keywords on a page. But if you really want your site to get ranking fast it's better in my experience to target one keyword per page then interlink those pages. This works no doubt.

Also, linking those pages to other relevant sites will boost ranking and if you continue to build relevant keyword rich pages and link them not only within each other but to other sites then Google will reward you with good ranking.

SEO is a time consuming ongoing process that takes a lot of work and thought but once mastered it becomes easy to reach top ranking. The best part is that it costs you nothing just some time and effort.

Every internet marketing strategy includes SEO. Whether you put multiple keywords or single keyword on your page, the "what" will greatly determine your rankings.

Researching for competitive keywords is usually the very first task that you will have to do in your marketing plan. Spreading your keywords through your pages is also effective.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Well put. This should put those who do the "one page for multiple keywords" in their place. Glad you came back guns blazing, Mike. At least now you've got closure, I hope.

Jim Davis

One more thing, I'm glad you explained the matter well enough to support your previous article. Thanks again for sharing.

Jim Davis

I agree with every argument in this article.

Thank you for the interesting article.

My company, Fly Software, develops form design software. Our home page (http://www.flysoftware.com) therefore concentrates heavily on the term Form Design Software. Could someone please explain the following?

If you search for the phrase Form Design Software in Google my home page is ranked number one in the organic results. If you type Form Design my website doesn't appear in the results at all (I gave up looking when I reached Google page 15)!

I realise the term Form Design is far broader than the term Form Design Software, but I would have at least expected my website to appear in the Google results somewhere - especially considering the term is only absent of a single word.

I think spreading your keywords through your pages is very effective.

Mark, that's a good question that feeds directly into the point that I was trying to make. If you think about it, people looking for "form design software" what different answers than those looking for "form design." Searchers for "form design" are probably looking for a how-to article, rather than a piece of software.

Instead of trying to optimize the page already doing well for "form design software" for the keyword "for design," also, why not create a new page devoted to "form design"? You've probably forgotten more about form design than most people will ever know. Perhaps you could create a whole tutorial section of your site about form design where you subtly sell your software, too. That kind of helpful content will get links from other places, and might break into the "form design" rankings, while your software page probably never will.

This is an excellent example of what I am trying to say in the article. It's often better to create another page for another keyword rather than trying to optimize the same page for both.

Certainly when starting out with any page, I think it's worth targetting a single 'longer' search term.

Not only because there is less competition when using longer terms, but also because someone using longer search terms almost by definition knows better what they're looking for. In other words, a shorter buying cycle type prospect is someone who knows the specifics.

I'm with you on this one :-)

Matt

Very informative article. I agree totally with your message Mike.

Karl

One strong keyword per page will also encourage you to add more new pages to your site, which in turn will also help your SEO.

Way to stick with your conviction Mike, and do it with tact!

Dear Mike,

Thanks for your explanation(s)!
I read it with much interest, because this topic is a discussion within our organisation for optimizing our new website www.bloemen.net. You advise one keyword per page. What do you advise for combination keywords? I mean with that 'bloemen bestellen' or 'bloemen bezorgen' (in English 'order flowers' or 'deliver flowers') & even more specific we intent to make pages for each place in The Netherlands. Do do you advise 1 page for the main keyword 'bloemen' with several combination keywords like in English 'ordering, buy, deliver, sent etc.?
Hope you can make some time to answer my question!

Kind regards,
Anita

Hi Anita,

The more that I've thought about this discussion, the more I think that I was wrong to just throw my opinion out there. Yeah, I have a healthy ego, and I am a smart person with lots of experience, but so are the rest of the people who disagree with me. I still think I'm right, but that's not the point. The way to answer your question is not by only listening to experts, but to try things yourself and see what works better. That's what I wrote about his week: http://www.searchengineguide.com/mike-moran/data-beats-opinions-in-any-decision.php

Hi Mike,
I am not glad that you debate this subject, and happy that many people don't do, don't know and disagree with it.
It makes my life more simple, ah, ah, ah.
That said, it is corelated by results, that you NEED to make each page around ONE keyword.
No chance on competitive keyword if you don't do it.
Then to answer the Anita question (order flowers, deliver flowers), I first put up a PPC campaign, and I analyze the datas.
If order flowers and deliver flowers have a great number of trafic, and good conversion each one, I will undoubtely made one page for each one.
If one keyword has more strength than the other, and the second not much traffic, I will make a page for the stronger and will give some links to the page for the second (with good chance of success).
On not so competitive keywords, you can effectively optimize for two to three keywords. Never more.
In reality, it's not a debate of 'have I to optimize my pages for ONE or multiple keywords?'.
You have to do the two.
On competitive keywords, or importants one for you, you HAVE to optimize for ONE keywords.
For not so competitive keywords, you CAN optimize for several, and it is even better for the sake of optimizing your resources :-)
But, in this case, keep in mind that if a competitor come out with pages optimized for each one (and knows his stuff), it will beat you every time, period.
It's what I do, anyway.
Thanks Mike for the good article
Alain

That simply the point multiple keywords help the website optimize but there is a posibility of the website will be tag as spam if we exceed the keyword density required by a search engine.

Hey Mike,

I have been following your posts on targeting single keyword per page and also found the comments section pretty fired up and huffy!!
And then today I read your latest post where you said that you would keep your opinions to yourself. Well why? and went on saying to experiment different things to find the right strategy for oneself.
Well you have said nothing wrong, you just said what you feel is right. As far as my opinion goes(yes opinion again), I feel that targeting a single term is the best way to go for while targeting highly competitive keywords. And also there is no harm in using multiple keywords in a page. It all depends on how one feels the website works for himself and his customers. Experimenting is the key as you have said.

I really don't think I could ever keep my opinions to myself, but i just want to remember to advise people to use data not only opinions. Thanks for the feedback.

Mike, I'm a little confused about the CPA vs. Certified Public Accountant analogy in your first article and the notebook vs. laptop analogy in this article. You say that in those instances, optimizing a page for both terms would be okay because they mean the same thing. I have a business that provides only one service- invoice factoring. Does that mean I should optimize each page of my site with not only invoice factoring, but also alternate phrases such as Accounts Receivable Financing, Factoring, Accounts Receivable Funding, AR Funding, etc.? Or should I dedicate each page of my website to a different phrase that essentially means invoice factoring (like the ones listed above)? Thank you.

Hi Scott. Each page of your site should optimize for one idea. So your main page can do invoice factoring, but other pages should handle alternate phrases such as Accounts
Receivable Financing, Factoring, Accounts Receivable Funding, and AR
Funding. Make sense?

Thanks, Mike. Let's say I optimize my "Contact Us" page for AR Funding. Should Invoice Factoring also appear somewhere in the copy to create a cohesive website theme?

Also, does it make sense for my main page (home page) to include all the alternate phrases or should I only mention invoice factoring in the copy?

Thanks again.

Hi Scott. Your "Contact Us" page should be optimized for the name of your company. That is what the page is about.

If you want to target those other keywords, focus on separate pages that are really about those subjects. Optimizing is not just about littering pages with keywords--it's more about having the information searchers are looking for. Searchers looking for AR funding don't want your contact page. They want information about AR funding, so make that page for them.

Great exlpanation, Mike. I see the logic in creating a page 'for' the keyword. The problem is that all my keywords mean the same thing. If I built a seperate page on the subject of invoice factoring, it would sound exactly like my page on accounts receivable financing. The terms are interchangeable. The sub pages I have now are "Home", "What is Factoring"?, "Why Keystone", "FAQ", "Success Stories", "Contact Us", and "Get Started". I know that my "Get Started" page that mentions the phrase "invoice funding" a few times won't be able to compete with a page written specifically on the topic of invoice funding. But until I have the time to design dedicated pages for each keyword, how should I make the best use of my existing sub pages? Thanks again. By the way, how do I subscribe to your articles? I really enjoy your writing.

Hi Scott,

f the two concepts are identical (laptop and notebook), it's fine to put hem on the same page but use them interchangeably (if that sounds OK) or use the least popular term once and the other term the rest of the time. If there is any good way for you to have two pages, however, that is better.

Glad you enjoy my writing, Scott. You can subscribe to all of my writing at my Biznology blog: http://www.mikemoran.com/biznology/index.htm

Thanks, Mike. I signed up for your biznology blog.
I'm optimizing my home page for one keyword phrase- invoices finacing. Of the 307 words on the page, it appears 5 times. I'm noticing though, that other phrases naturally work their way into the copy more than 2 times (which makes them keyword phrases in the eyes of the search engines,right?) One example of this, is the phrase: accounts receivable. Should I come up with different phrases for these repeat offenders so that invoices financing is the only phrase that appears more than 2 times on the page? Or should I allow other keywords to appear on the page if they stem from invoices financing, like the word: invoices?

Thanks!

You made some comments in your other article that speak to my last post:

"Now understand, I am not telling you that you have to avoid using other keywords on the page. You don't. Write naturally. Write to persuade people. Make sure that you use the keyword you are looking to optimize but don't avoid other words that naturally crop up. But, I advise, make one keyword the primary focus of the page."

But my question is, should I change the words that crop up more than twice? Otherwise, these words would dilute my main keyword, right?

And you also touch on my second question about using multiple keywords if they are related, like invoices finanancing and invoices:

"Professionals like Jill understand which kinds of keywords are related to each other and can be combined on the same page. Most people don't and get themselves into more trouble by doing so."


I wouldn't jury-rig the other words to de-emphasize them, Scott. If you are writing naturally, it's normal to have related words on the page. What's more, the search engines look for those thematic words, not just repetition of the keywords you are targeting.

That makes sense. If Google adwords can spit out 100 different ways to say invoice factoring, than I'm sure any of the keyword suggestions appearing on my page would be considered thematic.

Great information right here. You explained in right in the first post. I agree that if your to spread out its tough in high competition markets to succeed.

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