I recently received an email from someone looking for some advice and a variety of topics. I thought our readers here would benefit from my response. This is the first post of a series of questions and answers touching on keywords, links, architecture and more.
We'll start off with the questions and thoughts regarding keywords and how they should be used on the page vs. how the search engines interpret them. For many outside the SEO industry keyword usage can still be somewhat of a mystery. Hopefully this information will provide some new insights or reconfirm old suspicions.
Keywords are not case sensitive for search.
This isn't entirely true. Search engines try to determine the searchers intent to deliver results best targeted for what the engine believes they are looking for. For the most part, capitalization won't matter, however if the engines can determine that capitalization of a word changes the meaning or intent of the search they may produce different results. Take for example a search for "MASH" and "mash." This is both an acronym and a word and the results are slightly different in Google.
Another example is "fat," "FAT," and "Fat." The differences on the first two searches are noticeably different. The third is only slightly different from the first but still different. Capitalization doesn't effect all results, for example a search for "Business Strategy" vs. "business strategy" produces the same results, at least on the first page of Google.
Keywords are weighted heavier if they are in the title tag or a header tag.
Keywords in your title tag are definitely weighted heavier than keywords in the body copy or anywhere else on your site. The Title Tag of each page is probably the single most valuable piece of real estate that you can use. Its also what the search engines show as the clickable link in the search results.
There is also evidence to suggest that hx tags are weighted a bit heavier than the standard formatted body copy. But this is only the case if it's done within reason. Weighting is all about differences. If all your body copy is an h2 then your keywords won't have any more value than the rest of the content. Use your Hx tags sparingly and they will be weighted accordingly.
Keywords are weighted slightly heavier if they are bolded, underlined, italicized.
I think the optimal word here is "slightly." Bolding, underlining or italicizing words can give the search engine an indication that those words are important to the reader because they are being called out differently than the rest of the text. But if you only bold the keywords you are trying to rank for then I think it's pretty easy for the search engines to discount that because you're using it as a tactic rather than as a way to serve your visitors.
But the issue of weighting also comes into play. If all your text is bolded then there is no additional weighting going on at all. That just becomes the baseline. For something to be weighted more than something else it has to be different from the rest.
What if someone searches for the plural or another form of a word but I only have the original word? For example if I have kayak on my page will come up in searches for kayaks or kayaking? If I have kayaking will that come up for kayak?
The search engines are getting pretty good at associating words together. Technically you don't need to have all the various forms of a word on the page in order for the search engines to rank you for it. An imperfect example of this is to run a search for "kayak" on Google. Scroll down a bit and you see this set of results:
In these three results, somewhere halfway down the page or so, do not have the singular version of the word "kayak" in the visible title or description in the search results, but in all cases the words "kayaking" and "kayaks" are bolded. Granted the word "kayak" does appear in the page text but you can see by the bolding that Google is smart enough to figure out the relationship in the word variations.
In some cased you don't even need the actual word on the page at all for it to appear in the search results. If the search engines determine that the content of your page supports a certain word, even if it doesn't appear, then it can still rank. Though I'd think that pages with the word would tend to outrank those without pretty easily.
Assume someone searches for red trucks. I know that if I have the words red and truck anywhere on my page that my page will come up, but will my page be ranked higher if the two words are next to each other and in the same order on my page as opposed to being separated on the page? For example if my page has "buy red trucks" on it will that be ranked higher than having ...red... in one paragraph and ...trucks... in another? I realize that if they search for "red trucks" in quotes like that then it is better to have the words on your page just as searched for but I am not referring to that situation.
If someone searches using quotes, such as "red trucks," then the engines interpret that to indicate searcher only wants to see results that use that phrase as it was searched. Typically pages that do not use those words together as they appear within the quotes won't appear in the search results at all, unless there is a distinct lack of results to display.
Aside from that, you have a better chance of your page appearing in the results if you use the words as they are searched. The problem is you never really know how anything will be searched. Keyword research will give you the most common searches, but just as many searchers will perform a search differently as those who perform the search as it is most common. Therefore it is impossible to get every combination of the searched phrases on the page.
This then gives you the option of using the common phrase on the page but also to be sure to use the words independently of each other, so much as it makes sense to do so. Don't worry about always saying "red trucks" when you can also say "our trucks come in a variety of colors, including red, which is our best seller."
At what point are keywords considered spamming. For example I have a bullet point type of list on my home page that says that I am the only "blank" in "blank" area that provides service x. The words for the service I provide and the area I am located in end up getting repeated a lot. Will I face a penalty? It reads naturally and makes sense.
I think anytime that you use a keyword or a phrase over an over again you'll suffer some. How do you determine if you are using a word too much? Look at it on the page and tell me if a visitor would find it overly redundant. If it's used properly without any hint of overkill then you shouldn't have any problems. However, if it looks like keyword stuffing to the human eye, the search engines will likely consider it keyword stuffing as well.
How the search engines look at keywords really isn't magic. It's simply comes down to giving the visitor what they want. They don't want keyword stuffing or a bunch of keywords bolded on the page. They want information that relates strongly to the search they entered. If you provide that then you're pretty much set.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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