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:

Kayak Google 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.

April 8, 2009

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.


Thank you for this quality article. I have one question about the repeated words, though. If you have, say, a bulleted list on the page, and the first two or three words are the same for each bullet point, but the rest of each item is unique, will you be faced with a penalty? Note that the repeated words would NOT be the keywords.

Thank you in advance for your reply.

Roey Pimentel.


@ Roey - That would not be a problem. Even if the repeated words were keywords, if written in properly, it shouldn't matter. It's just a matter of using the keywords in a way that it makes for bad reading or obvious stuffing.

Not only should keywords be bolded/emphasized but they should also be used as image alt tags. Also, try putting your main keyword in your title and page name.


I didn't know the search engines recognized "web design" and "website design" as the same. I'll also make sure I start bolding my keywords as well. Good article. Can you do an article on keyword research?

I thought the point made about highlighting keywords (bold, italics etc.) was that it wasn't such a great practice overall as if every keyword is emboldened then the SEs can pick up on this as a tactic rather than useful highlighting for a reader?

Good article.

This is a really good and informative article, specially for people who are just starting SEO.
When I optimise a website, I put keywords in all the possible places including the title tags, headings, body, alt tags and even rename the images so that they are keyword rich. I put the keywords in the body but I make sure that it reads properly and isn't stuffed with keywords so that google will accept the site and not black list it for being too spammy.

Good, simple points. I always embolden my keyword in the first paragraph and again in the last. I have found great results with this.
When using the keyword bold in the first paragraph of the content, it helps me rank because they keyword is in the title and also in the "description" that Google pulls up.

@ Randy - I think the search engines may consider those similar but not the same. Do a search on Google for those and you'll see different results. In cases where competition isn't as stiff it would be possible to rank for one simply by using the other on the page. I would also avoid bolding keywords unless it makes sense to do so and you bold key concepts not just key words. For keyword research, I have a 12-part series here: http://www.searchengineguide.com/stoney-degeyter/comprehensive-guide-to-keyword-research.php

So let me get this straight: it now might be a bad idea to put your keywords in bold and italics them because search engines see this as a spammy tactic?

I've got into a habit of *always* putting my keywords in bold and italics...Do I need to stop?

Good to know there is a website like this one. It is a big help to those starting out to be an SEO. Very well said, I like the part about considering keywords as spamming. I learned a lot from this. Thanks

Thanks for the nice tips on keywords.
If I might add that the best keywords that a website shall target in the mean time are long tail keywords, as they have much lower competition and have a trend in increasing now

You need ONLY Content !

2nd .. count your Content ( words )
3rd .. add 1 Key for every 100 words
4th .. USE SEOQUAKE Density to check the 4-7% Density
5th.. wait...
6th.. goto google and key in your "keys" check it with SHOP SUPPORT
1st place, thats me from Ergebnisse 1 - 10 von ungefähr 160.000.000 Seiten auf Deutsch und Englisch für shop support

google works verry simple... use google translation

you dont need anny meta tag, google works without ! if u USE meta keys its better for indexing your content to a place YOU want, otherwise google give you a place and the ranking for your content

regards from germany !

Nice post. I didn't think that capitalization was a real issue until tested and true. We have a particular keyword phrase that when capitalize we aren't on page one and when lowercase...there we are. Glad I figured that out sooner than later!

Keep up the great posts!

Very good points here...One of the great ideas in search engine optimization is the correct and efficient use of keywords. With the proper usage of keywords, it will surely increase the web traffic to your site.

Business Growth Consultant

Awesome article! You are correct that bolding those keywords int the keyword tages does halep quite a bit there. Also, the Title tags are ust as important as the URL itself, I agree. When someone goes back and just maeks these minor changes to their websites, their rankings are usually indexed a lot better within only one week.


Great post,

I have a Question:

I understand the basics of SEO Content, Design and Architecture, however one question I've yet to see answered is, say if you optimise your site taking the above into consideration and you rank 10th, what factors are needed to then push you into the top 5 for example. Further use of keywords? Or does In/Outbound Links start coming into it when you've reached a certain saturation point with Keywords? Or is the CTR of your page taking into consideration?

@ Alex - If everytime your keyword is mentioned its bolded then yes, I would stop that. Bold key concepts on your page not your keywords. Hopefully, your keywords will also be a part of your key concepts. But in no case would I bold them every time they are used.

@ SEO-Freak - I disagree. 1) it's not just about content, though that plays a significant role and 2) don't measure keyword density. That's just not anything the search engines really look at.

@ Naz - There are any number of things that can factor in. Sometimes you can add more usages of the keyword, sometimes you can add more supporting words. Other times you may need to get some links to that page or you may just need to adjust your internal linking strategies to provide more emphasis on that page or those keywords. There really isn't one simple solution in your case. Try something, monitor the results and see what happens.

@ Live - SEO is not an exact science. It could be the changes you made or other factors. I suggest you undo all the recent changes you made to see if this causes your rankings to return. If so, then implement them one at a time to see the result, and see which one may be causing the negative effect. If not, then it's something else entirely.


thank you for your tips.
I have still one question: I have a simple HTML-Site with 3/6 sites being a flash-image-gallery, one site having all information about my profession as a list, 1 "contact" and finally 1 "links" site.
I put on 'meta name="keywords"' all keywords from my listing in the header. And this header is copied to all other sub-sites, I mentioned above.

Is this a good idea or will this get penalty by SEs?

Thank you for your help!
sincerly yous

how about using bold text for your whole page? Does google penalize you for this ?
I have found that when i don't bold my text it isn't easily read ?

@ Russe - why would you want to bold all your text? Bolding is done so a few words or phrases are emphasized. Bolding the whole text creates no emphasis whatsoever. Search engines won't penalize for this but thye also won't account for the bolding in any way.


would someone be so kind and have a look at my comment 3 above?
Thank you very much!

Poi, you need to simplify your question. I have no idea what you are asking.

You say "undo all the recent changes you made to see if this causes your rankings to return. If so, then implement them one at a time to see the result, and see which one may be causing the negative effect."

Being a real neophyte, I am confused. Given the frequency of Google and Yahoo's crawling any given site, wouldn't it take 6 months or a year to complete this test?

It depends on how many changes you made at once, but really, it won't take more than the first recrawl to find out if your rankings return once undoing what you first did. If they do, then who cares if it takes a year to figure out the problem. The worse thing you can do is to keep the problem and never know what causes it.

I know. For Example for the german Google Kinderkleidung & Kinderbekleidung are the same !

I think the density and the quantity of content put your site up. More Content is better than less. And than a good density for your keyword.

really good article but could someone explain to me why it can make a really big different singular and plural. we are listet with a word in plural on page 1 at google but in singular only page 3-4.

In many cases the singular and plural versions can have very different searcher intent. "how do I charge a motorcycle battery?" vs. "where do I buy motorcycle batteries?". Boiling the search to "motorcycle battery" vs. "motorcycle battery" can mean different things.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Q&A: A Few Things You Need to Know About Keyword Usage