How to “SEO” Optimize a Page For Keywords
Welcome back to Smash Digital’s weekly content series, where we give you actionable SEO strategies and tips that you can implement today and start seeing results.
In my previous guide, I went deep on why keyword research is critical and how to actually go about doing it for your own website.
The response was unanimous.
Karl, What the Hell Do I Do With All These Keywords?!
You’ve heard it a million times: make sure your page is optimized for the target keyword.
Well, today I’m going to cut the bullshit and show you how to actually optimize a page for keywords.
Time to learn: 10 minutes
Impact (1-10): 10
Tools required: None
Now, let’s get to it…
How to Optimize Pages for Keywords
Before any of what I’m going to teach you has any relevance, you need to figure out what the keywords are that you’d like to rank for on Google.
After all, if you don’t know where you’re trying to go, I can’t help you get there.
Check out our keyword research guide from last week and I’ll show you exactly how to do that.
When you’ve done that, you should end up with a massive list of keywords related to your business, and even more keywords related to those keywords.
Now you’re going to learn what to do with your pages to actually rank for these terms.
Terms and Concepts
Before we start talking about the different ways to utilize your keywords, there are a few general concepts we need to get out of the way.
Like I mentioned in our keyword research guide, a page never just ranks for one single keyword. It’ll likely rank for hundreds of them, whether you’re trying to do so or not.
But for each page we’re going to target, you’ll need to decide on a primary keyword. That is the most important keyword you’re going to try and rank for and most likely best reflects what the topic of the page is.
For example, coming back to our keyword research piece: “How to Do Keyword Research – the Ultimate Guide”, the primary keyword would be “how to do keyword research”.
Not only is it reflective of what we’re talking about, it has the highest search volume out of all the keywords we were able to find, other than “keyword research”.
Next up we have secondary keywords. These are keywords that reflect the same topic and are highly related to your primary keyword.
Continuing with the same example, our secondary keywords would be:
- Keyword analysis
- How to find keywords for seo
- How to research keywords
- What is keyword research
- Keyword research guide
- Keyword research checklist
- Seed keywords
The last thing you’re going to need to know is how to categorize keywords.
Let’s say I’m talking about the best keyword research tools – I could easily include a massive section on this in my keyword research guide…. Or I could create a separate post about it?
What about for keyword research vs keyword analysis?
Which way is correct? Should each target keyword have a separate page targeting it?
Fortunately, there is no right answer for this.
Why fortunately? Well, because that means 90% of your competitors are probably going to screw this up and you’re about to know “the secret”!
And it’s stupid simple.
Any time you’re faced with this type of question, simply Google your keyword, and look at the top results and it becomes clear.
You’re either going to see that all the top 10 posts are about the “parent topic” (e.g. keyword research guide) or that Google treats it as a separate topic.
You’re going to want to repeat this for every single keyword and based on the results, categorize your secondary keywords under primary keywords.
If you’ve got access to Ahrefs, this process becomes much easier because you can already see which keywords your competitors (optimized) posts rank for. Not only that, you’ve also got the “parent topic” feature to assist you in your research.
To learn more about the above, check out our keyword research guide.
How to Keyword Optimize Titles
The page title is one of the first places Google is going to look to try and understand what a page is about and thus, what it should rank for. It’s also the bit that is actually displayed in the search results and convinces your potential customers to come to your site.
Back in the day, we used to stuff as many keywords as possible into these and that was a massive chunk of our SEO efforts… and it worked.
Nowadays, I encourage you to include your primary keyword in the title but put the vast majority of your focus on creating the most clickable and compelling title for the user.
This is because evidence shows click-through rates (CTRs) are now a part of the algorithm and also determine rankings. So even if you make it to #1 with all of your other SEO efforts, if users are clicking less frequently on your result than the previous top position, it just may drop you down a few spots due to the “negative feedback”.
You’ll also see a lot of SEOs insist on the importance of having the primary keyword towards the beginning of the title tag. I’ve seen little to no benefit from this and prefer to focus on the CTR instead. But if it makes sense, you could try and take advantage of that.
The last thing I want you to think about is whether there’s additional keywords you can include in your title tag.
Sure, like I said before, the primary keyword should be your number one focus and everything else is a bonus… But if people search for your keyword + 2020, it only takes a second to add the year in and potentially benefit from that.
Optimizing Your Permalinks
A permalink is the address of a page on any website on the internet. Essentially it consists of two parts – your domain name (smashdigital.com) and the slug (anything that comes after – e.g. /blog/).
Permalink optimization is super simple on a page level. There are also site-wide considerations but we’ll leave those for another time.
When it comes to optimizing your URLs for a specific page, you’re going to want to follow three super simple rules.
First, you want to include your primary keyword in there. So if you’re trying to rank for “best SEO agency”, you’ll want to have “best-seo-agency” in the URL.
Secondly, you want to keep it as short as possible and cut out all the fluff. Often times I’ll even leave it as just the primary keyword and maybe a modifier (e.g. for sale, best, reviews, etc). This means that “the-best-seo-agency-in-the-world-2020” is not okay.
Lastly, you want to make sure URLs are evergreen (last forever). So if your post is about the 11 best keyword research tools, you’ll leave the URL as “best-keyword-research-tools” because the amount of tools might change in the future. The same applies for the current year and other similar variables.
SEO and the Meta Description
The meta description is the little box you see below the title tag in search results.
While this used to be a direct ranking factor, Google hasn’t been using it as such for a long time now.
In spite of that, the meta description is still one of the first things we optimize as SEOs.
Guess how that works…
If you said something along the lines of “put your primary keyword in there” – you were right.
But unlike every other time, we’re not placing the keyword there because Google is going to better understand what the page is about (they claim they don’t use it for that but I really don’t believe them 100%).
Like I mentioned earlier, a ranking factor that has been growing in importance is the clickthrough rate from Google to your site.
That’s why we always try to get the keyword in there – if people search for that term, it’ll get bolded in the meta description and help us stand out just a little bit more.
But other than that, I try and optimize our meta descriptions for the highest clickthrough rate (while still including the keyword).
In general, it ends up something along the lines of:
“Looking to solve the problem of primary keyword? We offer X, Y, and Z things and that is our unique selling proposition. Click here for a special offer/to read more.”
The maximum length of a meta description is 156 characters so these only take a minute or two.
This is the most important part of optimizing a page.
“Yeah, yeah, I know – put your primary keywords in the content”.
But there’s more to it than that.
You’ve got the first part right – you’ll want to include your primary keyword (probably more than once) as well as your secondary keywords.
You should already have a list of both of these. If that’s not the case yet, the best way to do this is look at the competing pages and see what keywords they rank for using Ahrefs – you can see a full guide here.
What keyword density to use?
Fine… Use keywords, but how many times? This is probably one of the most common questions I get.
As SEOs love to say… It depends.
Back in the day, it was a lot simpler – a looong looooong time ago, the more you used a keyword, the better you ranked for that term. As Google advanced, 1-2% keyword density became the new standard.
Nowadays there’s no magic number and it seems to change from keyword to keyword, which means you have to adapt accordingly.
Naturally, you take your most important keywords, look at the top five results for them, and look at how often they use the keywords in relation to their body word count.
While it’s totally fine to do this by hand as well, the tool we’re going to talk about for the next optimization factor will also take care of this for you.
Which brings me to… related words and phrases.
The reason we don’t have fixed keyword densities anymore is because Google has gotten smarter. The algorithm is now capable of understanding the meaning behind content and how different words, phrases, and entities are connected.
In other words, they know that if I’m writing an article about “how cars work”, I probably can’t get by without using the words: engine, tires, petrol, etc.
This also happens beyond the meaning of the words.
While this is a massive exaggeration, it gets the point across quite well. If everyone on the first page of Google for “best restaurant in New York” mentions Lombardi’s, but your article doesn’t – it might give Google a hint that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.
When you start creating an outline for your article, always read through the top ranking pages and figure out which topics they cover as well as which questions remain unanswered. This’ll help you create the best possible content for both Google and your users.
To see our exact process for this, also check out our guide to creating content that ranks.
Beyond the topics, you also need to figure out what secondary keywords to include and with what frequency – that’s where Surfer SEO comes into play.
Surfer is a correlational analysis tool that was created to make on-page and content optimization easier. Instead of guessing, they crunch the numbers and give you actual data to work with.
And it’s super easy to use – you type in a keyword, it analyzes the top 50 results for that in your desired location, and then clearly displays what is working for pages that rank and what doesn’t seem to matter…
While there’s insane amounts of on-page optimization data there, the most powerful feature is called “True Density” and helps us optimize the two things I’ve just covered – keyword densities and related words and phrases you need to be using.
I entered “link building service” as an example keyword and hit the “Audit” button to see what Surfer suggests.
Immediately I know that my page should be between 3,220 and 6,734 words long and that it should include these 52 phrases in these quantities. Not only does it show phrases, we also have 219 words that should be included as well as their “relevance” and frequency.
No guessing, no math – just data.
Is this 100% accurate? Of course not, but it’s a hell of a lot better than creating pages based on your intuition and gut feeling.
I generally try to follow their recommendations for any words and phrases that have a relevance of up to 70%, anything beyond that is a bonus.
The next bit of content you’re going to want to optimize is the images on your page.
Google doesn’t see images the way that we do, they just see what is in the website’s code and usually, that’s something along the lines of:
That tells us absolutely nothing about what’s on the image and the same goes for Google…
However, if we change the file name from “photo-3523” to “link building service pricing”, it’s a bit clearer to Google what that image might be about. Not only that, that gives the page overall a bit more context as well.
Beyond the file name, we can also add an “alt tag” to further describe the images on a page.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every single image on your page should be named and alt-tagged based on your primary and secondary keywords.
Generally I make sure to use the primary keyword on both of them at least once but then in the rest of the cases, try to make them descriptive and relevant to the actual content, while using related words and phrases in a natural way.
Make sure to check out our full guide to image optimization for some additional tips on this.
Internal Links to Page
Last but not least, the last critical thing you’ll want to do to optimize a page for specific keywords is to build internal links to them.
Google crawls the internet by clicking on every single link it can find and then making connections between those pages.
The same is happening within your own website. Through the structure of the website, Google will understand which pages are more important, which ones are related to each other, and so on.
Just by having any internal links going to a page, you’re already going to help it rank way better.
But links also come with anchor text and that’s a great way to put more emphasis on what the page is about and use your primary and secondary keywords.
When it comes to internal links, currently, there has been zero evidence of over optimization happening due to anchor text so feel free to just use the primary keyword all the time. If you want to err on the more natural and safer side, mix it up with variations and secondary keywords (I do).
That’s all there really is to optimizing a page for the keywords you’re trying to rank for – the rest is up to the condition of your site as a whole and your link building efforts.
Let me know if you have any questions about this and I’ll be back with you next week with another actionable SEO tip.
Let’s Smash it!