SEOGuide to Google ranking factors – Part 2: keywords

Guide to Google ranking factors – Part 2: keywords

Where should keywords appear in your content, as well as how often and in what form?

Last week we published the first instalment of our complete guide to Google ranking factors.

It featured on-page factors such as title tags, H1 tags and meta descriptions.

This week we continue diving into on-page factors, with the use of keywords in your page content.


In our previous article we mentioned that any keywords you wish to rank for need to be placed in the title tag, with the closer it is to the start the better. Keywords should also appear in the H1 tag and meta description.

But where else should your keywords appear, how often and in what form?

Page content

1) Make sure your keyword or phrase appears in the first 100 words of your page, if not the first sentence. This is more important than keyword frequency.

2) As Jayson DeMers said in our article on keyword relevancy, the placement of your keywords matters far more than their frequency.

Posting “cheap wedding dresses” once in the title tag of your site and once in the header matters far more than stuffing it five times into the body copy.

3) Here’s how the keyword priority breaks down for Google

  1. Meta information and headers
  2. Body copy
  3. Side bars and footers

4) Your keyword or phrase should be the most frequently used term in the body text of any given webpage. This is called keyword density. However you shouldn’t overuse this signal – if you stuff the copy with keywords then your text won’t be readable and Google will likely penalise you for not writing for human readers.

5) Your keywords should be completely relevant to the subject you are writing about on the page. If you want to rank for ‘cheap wedding dresses’ and you stuff every webpage with these keywords even if they have nothing to do with keywords than you will be found it.

6) Your focus keyword should be found in your title tag, h1 tag, meta description, article text and relevant keywords should also be found throughout the content as well as h2 tags.

7) Try to ensure the key phrase is an exact match to what the searcher will type into a search engine. Natural language in search is becoming more prevalent, especially with the rise in voice search and Google’s understanding of natural language queries.

So if you want to rank for “how do I cook a steak medium-rare?” make sure that’s exactly how you write it in either the headline or h2 tag.

8) Be careful not to focus too much on one single key phrase otherwise your site could grow repetitive, and earn a penalty.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords

Since the advent of Panda and Hummingbird, LSI is becoming increasingly important in SEO as it’s used by Google to determine between ‘keyword stuffed’ articles and genuinely relevant content.

As our own contributor Nikolay Stoyanov states, LSI keywords are simply closely related words or phrases that are semantically related to each other.

But that doesn’t mean just synonyms. LSI words “go hand in hand without being direct synonyms.”

So to use Nikolay’s example, if you write about ‘cars’ you could potentially writing about the vehicle, the Pixar movie or the band. However Google scans your webpage for closely related terms to determine the actual theme of your content – these are LSI keywords.

9) Discover your LSI keywords and make sure you use these throughout your article. Particularly…

  • First paragraph of text
  • Body of content
  • Links anchor texts
  • Last paragraph of text

10) Use LSI keywords throughout the meta data of your page. Here is where Nikolay recommends sprinkling them…

  • Page title
  • H1 and H2 tags
  • URL address
  • Meta description
  • Image alt text

Keywords in URLs

Does having keywords in your domain URL benefit your search ranking? This topic has often been debated up and down the years, with Google’s Matt Cutts and John Mueller both weighing in at different times to answer the question.

The consensus is that they are a ranking factor, albeit a small one – but small can still make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

Search Engine Watch Deputy Editor Rebecca Sentance examined this topic in more detail when she analyzed the results of a study by on the use of keywords in URLs across different industries, and how it affects search ranking.

Read the full article to find out the results of the study, as well as best practices for structuring your URLs, and how to use Exact Match Domains (EMDs).

The future of keywords

I’ll leave you with some final thoughts on the state of keywords in SEO from Jayson DeMers…

“When Google scans your site for information, it no longer pulls out the keyword phrases it thinks are relevant and pairs them to user queries. Instead, there’s an intermediary step. Google interprets the data on your website, and begins to form its own conclusions about what your site and your business really deliver. If that seems a little spooky to you, you aren’t alone — Google is becoming exceptionally sophisticated.”

Other instalments in our Google ranking factor guide:

Part 7: Site-level signals
Part 6: trust signals, authority and expertise
Part 5: duplicate content and syndication
Part 4: content freshness
Part 3: quality content
Part 1: on-page signals such as title tags, H1 tags and meta descriptions


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