keyword optimization

Keyword Optimization: 5 Do’s and Don’ts to Follow to Score SERP Rankings

Keyword optimization isn’t as technical as you may think.

It’s not about counting keywords and doing math equations.

Instead, excellent keyword SEO involves:

  • Inserting keywords using natural language where it counts

… That’s it!

In fact, as long as you strategically place your focus keyword/secondary keyword in the right spots, you can forget about keywords altogether as you write.

Using this strategy has helped my own content nab top rankings in Google, including the #1 position.

Sound good? I thought so.

Let’s examine the nitty-gritty do’s and don’ts of keyword placement and SEO to help guide you to SERP success.

keyword optimization

5 Do’s and Don’ts to Improve Your Keyword Optimization

1. Don’t Focus on Keyword Density

Keyword density refers to how often your keyword(s) appear within your content piece. To figure out the keyword density of a piece of content, you count how many times the focus keyword shows up and divide that figure by the total number of words.

However, you don’t have to understand how this works, because keyword density is an outdated concept.

It doesn’t matter. You do NOT have to count keywords when writing for SEO.

keyword density

Google and other search engines are smarter now than 10 years ago (when KD was a big deal). They’re no longer looking for instances of a keyword in your content – instead, they’re looking for context and relevancy, and matching the user’s search intent.

The only time you need to worry about keyword density is if you’re using your keyword(s) too many times. That’s called keyword stuffing. That’s spam.

So, what should you do, instead?

2. DO Pay Attention to Keyword Placement for SEO Content Optimization

Instead of inserting your keyword(s) wherever you can, focus on strategic keyword placement.

Use your keywords in the right places, using natural language, and your content is more likely to get ranked.

Search engines look at how keywords are used on your page. The algorithms use these clues to figure out what your page is about.

If your keywords appear in key places, that sends a signal to search engines, i.e., “Hey! This page is about [insert your focus keyword here]!”

These are the key spots to insert your keywords so search engines take note:

  • The H1 (the headline/title of your content)
  • H2s (the main subheaders)
  • H3s (sub-subheaders)
  • Once in the intro/first paragraph
  • Once in the conclusion/last paragraph
  • Sprinkled throughout the text (used naturally)

These key placements apply to your focus keyword as well as any related or synonymous keywords.

For an example of correct keyword placement in a blog that’s ranking right now, look at EW’s own post, “How to Outsource Your Content Writing (Successfully).”

The keyword we wanted to rank for was “outsourcing content writing.”

outsourcing content writing

As you can see, we’re currently ranking #1 on Google for this keyword (after the paid search listings).

This is why:

A. The focus keyword appears in the H1, in various H2s throughout the blog, and within the introduction.

focus keyword

B. Related keywords are sprinkled throughout, and are used in some H2s.

headers in blog posts

C. The concluding paragraph has a keyword-optimized H2 and contains the focus keyword, plus a related term.

D. All of the keywords are inserted in the text naturally, effortlessly, and with variations as needed for correct grammar.

strategic keyword placement

All of these strategic keyword placements add up to blaring signals for Google and other search engines to latch onto – they can’t ignore these signals!

Once the keywords are in place, if the content quality is high, and if the piece is relevant to the user, Google will rank it highly. That’s exactly what happened here.

Another keyword we rank for using the same strategic keyword placements: “blogging statistics.”

This is the post on Google, currently in the #3 position:

blogging statistics post

To help you get a big-picture view of what optimized keyword placement looks like, check out this zoomed-out screenshot of the blog post in question, “Why Blog? 52 Incredible Blogging Statistics to Inspire You.”

keyword placement

In addition to using the focus keyword, “blogging statistics,” in the major spots, we also have instances of related keywords in key areas, like “results from blogging,” “blogging online marketing,” and “blogging commitment.”

We did NOT count how many times we used the keywords, but rather used them when it felt natural, with grammar variations to keep the text readable. 

THAT is a major part of why this blog ranks so well right now.

3. Don’t Ignore Less Obvious Keyword Opportunities

SEO content optimization isn’t only about the textual content. It’s also about details the user can’t necessarily see on the page, but you can tweak on the back-end. 

Don’t miss these keyword opportunities.

A. Meta Titles and Descriptions

To boost your SEO, your metas should be optimized for all your content pieces. The meta title is an obvious one (A.K.A. your headline or H1), but don’t forget to add your focus keyword to the meta description, too.

To learn how to write and add optimized metas to your blog posts, check out our guide on blog optimization.

B. URLs

Yep, the URLs for all your content can be keyword-optimized. Blogs each have their own page/URL, so this is especially relevant for that type of content. 

To make them user and search engine-friendly, include only the most important words and separate with hyphens, i.e.:

“https://yourwebsite.com/focus-keyword-or-phrase-here”

For example, this is the URL for our post where the focus keyword is “blog optimization”:

URL keyword example

Imagine if the URL for this blog looked like this:

“https://expresswriters.com/blog/asdjklei/1282398/hse248ha-optimization-12”

That looks scary for a user coming fresh to your site. (Are they on the right page? What are you trying to load onto their computer??)

Search engines don’t like it, either. A short, clean, descriptive URL is best-practice in both cases.

C. Image Alt Text

One final place where you can use keywords: image alt text.

Alt text is an attribute within the code for displaying an image in your content. It tells the web browser what to display if the image can’t load. This can be an opportunity to use descriptive keywords.

alt text code

When the user hovers over an image with alt text on a web page, a tooltip with the alt text will appear.

alt text example

Plus, if your visitor uses a screen reader (which usually means they’re disabled or blind), they’ll be able to understand the page better because of your descriptive alt text. Thus, using keyword-rich alt text is a good practice for accessibility as well as SEO.

4. Never Attempt to Force a Keyword Where It Won’t Fit

A huge tip for writing content with keywords:

Forget about the keywords.

(Wait, what?)

Yes, seriously.

When you’re writing the body of your content, let all thoughts of keywords fly out of your head. Instead, focus on explaining your topic or subject as clearly as possible.

Usually, when you do this, you’ll find yourself naturally using the keywords you need, including variations and related terms.

That’s how human language and communication works. We use related concepts, ideas, examples, words, and metaphors to get across meaning.

If your intent is to truly create a useful piece of content on a particular topic, the keywords will follow.

On the other hand, if you try to force keywords into your content, it will be really obvious.

keyword stuffing

Image via Quora

Granted, there will be times when you need to use a really strange-sounding keyword that doesn’t make much grammatical sense. (E.g., “best dentist Oklahoma” or “gourmet cupcakes NY”)

If this is the case, I still recommend forgetting about keywords and just writing the content. Then, once your first draft is finished, go back over it and find a sentence you can edit to include the difficult keyword in question.

Smooth out that sentence as much as possible. Read it back to yourself out loud to make doubly sure it sounds natural. If you need to, change up the grammar of the keyword phrase, as such: “The most delicious gourmet cupcakes in NY are made with the freshest ingredients.”

If you can’t find a way to smoothly insert a difficult keyword, don’t force it. You shouldn’t sacrifice the readability of your content for one measly term.

5. DO Think About Helping Your User Understand the Content

As we move through the basics of keyword optimization, you may have noticed a trend:

Every aspect works together to help the user understand the content. 

Placing keywords in specific locations sends strong signals to Google that your content is topically relevant to the search term in question, but it also sends those same signals to your audience. These cues tell them your content covers what they want to know.

As long as you consider your human audience first and what helps them make sense of your content, you’ll probably make good choices for SEO, too.

Remember: Keyword Optimization That Wins with Users, Wins with Search Engines

Keyword optimization is not about beating the search engines. It’s not about gaming Google to sneak to the #1 position for a keyword.

Instead, it’s about making your content the best it can be for the optimum user experience.

Above all, the user should be able to understand your page, and understand whether it fits their search intent.

That’s the nuts-and-bolts of it. Keep your users top-of-mind, and good SEO practices should follow.

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