Last week in this space, I urged organic search marketers to focus on optimizing for one keyword per page, rather than taking a scatter shot approach where they are trying to shoehorn many keywords into the same landing page. I knew that it wasn't the normal advice that people hear, but I wasn't prepared for how many comments and questions I got, so I thought it was worth revisiting the topic this week. If you're still unpersuaded about the approach of targeting one keyword per page, I want to take another shot at it.

I got lots of questions about this stark advice, most along the lines of, "Yeah, but can't I target several keywords effectively with the same page?" The short answer is that you can, but I can't guarantee how successful you'll be.

Let's take an example. Suppose you own a shoe store in Sheboygan, where you feature expensive women's fashion shoes. You could decide that you want your home page to come up when your customers search for "women's fashion shoes in Sheboygan" and I bet you'd have a good chance of your site coming up high in the rankings. And maybe you'd also get high rankings for "shoe store In Sheboygan." And maybe "women's shoes in Sheboygan."

It could happen. And it's just fine. But most people that I talk to think that they can also get rankings on that page for "women's shoes"--you won't. Or even "women's fashion shoes"--fat chance. Or worse, they think that you can stuff in "women's sandals" and "high heels" and you think you'll be able to squeeze all those terms onto the page and just keep optimizing the hell out of the page and it will all come up roses.

I think it's the wrong approach. I am not saying that you won't have pages that will rank well for multiple keywords. You will. But you are better off shooting for one keyword for page and getting lucky than thinking you can target five different keywords on a page--you'll probably end up with a page about nothing.

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.

Lots of smart people disagree with me. Jill Whalen, a copywriting expert, offered a comment disagreeing vehemently. And it's fine with me that she can target 3-5 keywords per page and it works. I'm not giving her advice--she doesn't need it.

I'm giving advice to the average person out there. I run across far more people who try to target many keywords on a page and fail than people who target one keyword and fail. It's that simple. 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.

Feel free to try it the other way. I won't be upset. But when people ask me for advice, I find that they end up doing the right thing more often when they try for one keyword on a page rather than three or five. And they are pleasantly surprised when the page ranks for multiple keywords rather than upset when it ranks for none.

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May 28, 2009





Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, Web personalization, 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 the Biznology newsletter and blog, 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(27)

I completely agree and so does Google to get a high quality score. But it all comes down to testing. The proof is in the sales or opt-ins you get. If it's not working for you then try something else.

I recently did an adwords campaign for 'guitar lessons', 'learn guitar', etc but when I focused on a specific keyword 'canon rock' and made a page specifically for this I started getting sales. http://onlineguitarcoaching.com/learn-how-to-play-canon-rock/
It's also about what people want to buy (which keywords trigger sales).

The funny thing is you can optimize for a certain keyword and discover no one ends up buying or opting in or searching for that term. So first you need to find something that sells then use those keywords in all your content (blogs, articles, vids, etc).

What struck me most in this post is the distinction between the skills and abilities of the person to whom you're giving the advice to target a single keyword per page. As you made very clear, people experienced in SEO and search marketing in general - like Jill Whalen - can effectively and successfully target 3-5 terms with a single page. A small business owner struggling to create adequate content and properly optimize it on their own...very different story.

I often suggest that the small business owners I consult concentrate on a single target term or phrase per page, especially with the first several pages they optimize. It helps to eliminate confusion and the feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of content needed to target multiple terms with a single page. Once they've got the hang of optimizing a page for a single target term or phrase, they have a better understanding of the big picture...and can decide at that point whether they can effectively optimize pages for multiple terms.

Thanks for the feedback, everybody. I understand Jill's point of view (and she was far from the only person telling that to me--just the person I respected the most from that group).

I had one person privately tell me that they felt like I was "dumbing down" my advice for small business people, but that's not my intention. I generally find small business people to be every bit as smart as topic experts, often smarter--but they are often busier and don't have time to go as deep into understanding something. So, I don't think of my advice as "dumbing it down" but rather streamlining it so it can be done more effectively with less training and time spent.

I responded to your previous article, and I'll say it again, you can target one keyword and that's fine, but there can be multiple variations in the way that somebody types in that targeted phrase.

I do agree that it can be pretty much useless to try to go after too many keywords on a page. Most times when targeting too many keywords, it makes your site's content seem unnatural. I'm a huge fan of writing clean, natural content that focuses more on user-experience and less on search engines. If you stick to this (and have something worth saying) then you keyword density should come naturally anyways.

I totally agree with you Jacob. And I think if people start out targeting one keyword, it will become painfully obvious in what situations they'll get more. They'll see, as you say, that word that are exact synonyms or word variants will work, too. And that's just fine.

Maybe all of us are saying the same thing but just explaining it in different ways.

There's more to this article than meets the eye. Sure it's best to target pages very specifically, but a major brand's homepage ranks 1st for 6 of our targeted keywords. It's quite possible to rank highly and target many unique keywords - link anchor text is where it's at.

However, one point that needs to be discerned is - Are the pages and keywords you're matching going to be the best result for that user? If not, you're wasting your time. Your bouncerate will be huge and the traffic won't convert. SEO requires that you think with the user in mind, first and foremost. If the targeting a page with 3-5 keywords is useful to the user, then do it. But if it's not, then it's worthless.

Totally agree, Rob. What's needed is to get sales from search, not just rankings. And having pages that are written naturally and persuasively is just as important as search optimization, which I think folks on both sides of the number of keywords argument would agree on.

And that's exactly my problem with this advice. I can't imagine how anyone could write naturally when only targeting one phrase per page. The opposite seems to me to be true that it's so much more natural ( and a heck of a lot easier ) to target a few related phrases.

Targeting one phrase on one page (unless you're just talking like 50 words) can't be written naturally with just one phrase in mind IMO.

In my experience, you need to operate with several keywords, pare them down, and constantly upgrade, check, and redo them to be successful. For example "go to", and "to go", will lead to entirely different results

Well i am currently searching and analysis the logo design sites as we all know its a services industry with hell lot of competitions i was confused and after the days research i end up making the plan to to target 1 keyword per page but what i feel there is a big risk involve. I mean suppose you are targeting 3-5 keywords per page and you fail in 3 or 2 still you have the margin some where, but if you are targeting a single keyword per page and fails then you end up having nothing in hands.....

Its true that targeting only one keyword not sounds natural, i.e. targeting green coffee in a single page, how much time you may be able to write this keyword in a natural sentence or paragraph. Similarly if you are targeting tattoo designs, its hard to maintain balance between keyword density and natural look/feel of a page. So targeting a mix of two or three phrases makes the hings easier and more natural.

Thanks for the heads up! The most important factor in getting quality web traffic is to optimize your web pages for the correct keyword phrase. Getting the most sales is often a balance between search volume for key words and level of competition. Use the Overture keyword tool and Google Adwords tool to research and identify your best keyword phrases. Look for keyword phrases that have high search volume, but low competition. It also pays to see what key words your successful competitors are optimising for.


Cobb County

I don't know if they made it, but I really like this 'link juice' illustration by evisibility:

http://www.evisibility.com/blog/no-follow-tag/

I typically think of all seo like this. If you focus on one keyword for a page and don't support it with keywords right down the directory line, it's going to be tough to beat sites that have actual, deep content.

Personally I think it makes sense to create one page for each keyword that you would like to target. You don't have to know someone famous in order to get to the top of the search engines, but you do have to be focused.

I'm disappointed to see such advice and flawed examples being given on a site like SearchEngineGuide.com

Let's take an example. Suppose you own a shoe store in Sheboygan, where you feature expensive women's fashion shoes. You could decide that you want your home page to come up when your customers search for "women's fashion shoes in Sheboygan" and I bet you'd have a good chance of your site coming up high in the rankings. And maybe you'd also get high rankings for "shoe store In Sheboygan." And maybe "women's shoes in Sheboygan."

It could happen. And it's just fine. But most people that I talk to think that they can also get rankings on that page for "women's shoes"--you won't. Or even "women's fashion shoes"--fat chance.


The way you craft your page titles and how your incoming link anchor text looks makes all the difference how your chances are to rank for these keywords: "women's shoes" or "women's fashion shoes

A fat chance to be able to rank for the above keywords because you happened to have some other keywords in your page title and on your page as well is just utter nonsense, sorry Mike I can't put it a less subtle way, because it just have to be said and made clear: this article is just plain wrong.

Using a page title like for example: "Women's Shoes: Sheboygan Women's Fashion Shoes Offers The Best Deals!" in combination with a lot of quality/authoritative link equity directed to that page will increase your chances a LOT if not obtaining the actual #1 spot for these keywords.

The most important thing you forget to mention in this article, that rankings is for the bigger part achieved by having a strong backlink profile.

Even if you only target one keyword/phrase per page...it's how competitive the keyword in combination with your backlink profile and on page optimization is that determines your rankings.

Conclusion: Craft your page titles right, do your onpage optimization right, get your page to obtain a strong backlink profile and you will rank regardless if your page has other keywords as well.

Trying to jump through hoops just to focus on keyword per page will probably have the result you'll be creating a non-user friendly site as well.

Sorry to upset you so much, Ed, and I'm glad you find the rest of the advice here so good. I can't say that you've persuaded me, however, so I am beating this dead horse in my column again this week. You are right that you can target multiple keywords successfully. I just think that most people can't do it very easily and that they are better off not trying. If you disagree, I won't try to talk you out of it, but I think there are multiple ways to approach search optimization and that this approach is perfectly valid and easier for most people than trying to optimize existing pages for multiple keywords. Anyway, you might hate this week's article, too, but here goes: http://www.searchengineguide.com/mike-moran/one-keyword-per-page-once-more-with-feel.php

In my experience, if you:

  • write clean, concise text
  • make sure that text flows naturally and is informative
  • use the appropriate h1, h2, etc tags
  • link your pages with text links, and
  • make sure the SE's know you are there via sitemaps, webmaster tools, inbound links, etc.

...you'll do good. I have had a lot of success with this in mind. With a few exceptions, I don't target individual pages for more than one or two phrases. The few pages that I do target more than this don't tend to do as well. Of course I am not a full time-SEO, more of a developer, so I am exactly what Mike was talking about. Also my sites are more informative rather than sales oriented, so high organic results are important, but not vital.

Mike,

I was very surprised that you would write such an article. I have been a regular reader of your material for two years and even purchased one of your books. I was really taken back by this approach.

I just don't see that it is any more difficult to target multiple keyword than targeting one. I will admit that it will take more effort when it comes to link building.

My Home page title reads as follows "Local SEO Tucson Search Engine Optimization Services Solutions." The site currently ranks on the first page of Google for these keywords.

Local SEO
Local SEO Services
Local SEO Solutions
Tucson SEO
Tucson Search Engine Optimization
And a few other combination.

There are no secrets that are being used here that the general website owner could not apply. I simply applied basic SEO.

I have to agree with Jill. In all my years as a copywriter, I've found that targeting a single phrase makes for a robotic-sounding page. People don't communicate using the same word or phrase all the time. It's un-natural. You end up with pages that sound something like:

Our Mexico cruise vacation site sells Mexico cruise vacations to some of the hottest Mexico cruise vacation destinations available. Contact one of our Mexico cruise vacation specialists today for details on your next Mexico cruise vacation. YUCK!

Google doesn't rank based strictly on keywords. It certainly no longer ranks based on keyword density. Synonyms are important too. Using only one phrase takes that advantage away. While I personally wouldn't stretch to 5 keyphrases, I regularly go for 3 one a page and get my clients' pages ranked very well for all 3. Of course, it also depends on the length of the copy as to how many phrases I'd choose to include.

If small biz owners aren't taught well, they certainly won't get good rankings. But let's not teach them a less-challenging way to write just because it's easier. Let's teach them the correct way to do it. If you're a small business owner, don't do things the elementary way. Buy a book, take a class… learn how to write SEO copy the way it should be written.

I am the webmaster for 3 websites and have been targeting only 1 keyword phrase per page for years. (Except the home pages which are optimized for a number of keyword phrases.)

Targeting for 1 keyword phrase certainly does not mean repeating the phrase over and over until it sounds unnatural. It does not mean the page is flat and boring. It does not even mean that there might not be 2 or 3 more secondary search word phrases that have also been optimized. It means that I am very focused on the 1 search word and it gets every advantage (example: the first words in the page Title). The secondary search word phrases, if important, will have their own page where they get every advantage.

I am the webmaster for 3 websites and have been targeting only 1 keyword phrase per page for years. (Except the home pages which are optimized for a number of keyword phrases.)

Targeting for 1 keyword phrase certainly does not mean repeating the phrase over and over until it sounds unnatural. It does not mean the page is flat and boring. It does not even mean that there might not be 2 or 3 more secondary search word phrases that have also been optimized. It means that I am very focused on the 1 search word and it gets every advantage (example: the first words in the page Title). The secondary search word phrases, if important, will have their own page where they get every advantage.

I appreciate all the feedback.

Karon, I certainly am not suggesting that you write anything like the dreadful copy you proposed. I think Sally answered you quite well. You're not targeting one keyword to the exclusion of every other word in the English language. You're saying that one keyword is the primary focus. Of course you'll write naturally and include lots of other information but the page should be primarily about one concept. If you tell people to target three keywords, it doesn't force them to write good copy if they robotically exclude the rest of the English language, also. No rules make good copy or bad copy. Copy writers do.

Boris, I don't doubt what you say. But honestly, there are only two keywords you listed that have much value, in my opinion: "Tucson SEO," and "Tucson Search Engine Optimization"--and they are practically identical keywords. Only someone in Tucson searching for "Local SEO" is really looking for you, so I don't see how it would have a lot of value. Maybe I am missing your point.

My point is that people will write more naturally if they make their page about one thing. And sure, they can use as many words as they want, but they should make their primary goal to be about one thing. If you have two keywords that mean exactly the same thing (a phrase and its acronym), that's fine. And its OK with me that people are successful optimizing for more than one keyword. I just think it is easier for most people to be successful focusing on one thing. I understand that many people disagree with me, and I am fine with our readers making up their own minds.

@ Mike: Again, I tend to agree with you. I think most that disagree tend to hang on to your exact word. I think instead of "one keyword" it should be "each page should have a single focus". Lets face it, if you're optimising a page for "green tea" you have to repeat that over and over, and in the end you may indeed end up ranking for "natural tea" or even "organic tea" but your focus remains "green tea". Simply by writing naturally you will manage to work in more keywords, but I'd keep focus at a single point.

That's good advice, Robert. Maybe that is how I am explaining it badly. One concept per page. Sometimes that's one keyword, but sometimes it's not. I worry that people will try for multiple keywords that aren't as closely related as they think and for competitive phrases, that just won't cut it most of the time.

Hi Mike,

I live and do business in Tucson. So it is very important that I rank # 1 for both Tucson SEO and Tucson Search Engine Optimization. Yes, they may be similar and that's the point. No matter how someone expresses SEO and searches in Tucson they will find us.It isn't an either or situation.

The other point that I am making is our home page targets 5 different but similar keyword phrases and they all rank very well. So if I followed your theory and targeted only one keyword phrase I would be walking away from these other searches, traffic, and business. Why is that difficult to understand?

I would rather rank for 5 keywords on one page than one!

If all keywords were equal, Boris, your point would be easy to understand. The purpose of search marketing, however, is not to get high rankings. It's to sell stuff. If you get loads of clients from your Tucson keywords (which I suspect) and almost none from the others (which I also suspect), then the rankings for those local keywords don't matter all that much. Whatever effort you make to get those rankings might be better served by working on something else. That's all I was trying to say, but only you know whether that's true or not. If "local SEO" gets you lots of clients, that's surprising to me, but wonderful for you, and makes the work of targeting those keywords worthwhile.

Hi Mike,

I specialize in "Local SEO" and for organic SEO results so it is very important that I rank highly for my targeted keyword phrases. You are right it is ultimately sales that matter. Ranking highly for our multiple targeted keywords is very important for us to generate traffic that turns into sales. The fact that we successfully target 5 keyword phrases provides many more opportunities to sell than if we only targeted one phrase. The math works in our favor.

While "Local SEO" may not produce large volumes of traffic it is what we do so it is required that we rank well for that search. It is equally important that we also rank well for "Local SEO Services" and "Local SEO Solutions." Again "Tucson SEO" and "Tucson Search Engine Optimization" produce only small amounts of traffic. Yet, the lions share of my business is done locally in Tucson. Our clients have expressed amazement that we rank so well across so many keyword phrases.

After all Mike if your going to hire an SEO provider they should be able to rank for their service which we do locally and nationally on the same page.

When I first read your article I thought "great I hope everyone follows this advice... all the better if my clients are competing against these sites. Mike, I have a lot of respect for your wisdom and experience but I think this one isn't your best efforts.

The first site that I ever handled was for a cleaning service located in Tucson. The title used was Tucson House Cleaning Janitorial Service Office Business. As you can see there is a lot of combination that can be used here. That site ranked high on the first page of Google for 11 different keyword phrase combinations.

Now, none of these searches gets much traffic.However, we manged to find highly targeted traffic in our market that was wanting, needing, and desiring these services. Sure you would like to have large volumes of traffic but only so many people will ever be looking for these services locally. So you must be ranking well across multiple phrases to succeed locally and in niche markets.

If this site or any site followed the one keyword phrase method they would be missing many opportunities. Now, I understand that in extremely competitive markets this approach will mot be as effective. In this case, I would suggest two or maybe three keyword phrases.

Just another opinion from someone who does this for a living.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Targeting one keyword per page--controversial?