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Step 6: How to Use Keywords in Content

How do search engines know what your keywords are, anyway? The search engines crawl around a website looking for naturally repeated words, phrases and related words. These "key words" clue the search engines in to what topics the site is about, and the search engines' advanced topic-modeling algorithms confirm it. If you don't establish clear subject relevance through keywords, your site can't be indexed properly and won't rank in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Where you use keywords in your content matters. Too few mentions of your keywords can leave the search engines wondering what you're about; too many repetitions tell the search engines you're a spammer. To be safe, remember the key considerations for writing content discussed in the previous step of the SEO tutorial. Primarily aim to create something uniquely valuable for users, and then apply these SEO copywriting guidelines for how to use keywords in content.

SEO Copywriting Guidelines: Where to Use Keywords in Content

Basic Web Page Head and Body

Use keywords in both the Head and Body sections of a page.

Once you decide what the primary keyword(s) should be on a page, you'll want to create content that includes the phrase naturally and evenly throughout the page. (You'll get to test your keyword distribution using our Single Page Analyzer in the next tutorial step.) Your main keyword should appear in both parts of a web page, the Head section and the Body section.

SEO Copywriting Tips for the Head Section

The Head section, hidden in a web page's HTML code, is read by search engines and critical for SEO. What you write in the Head section not only tells search engines what your page is about, it's also the text they usually display in your SERP listings. Also, keywords the user searched for appear in bold in the title and description of search results (as shown below). People click through to your site more often if they see what they're looking for, bolded within your listing. So use your best marketing know-how and write these tags to attract clicks.

Bolded keywords in search results

The searched-for keywords and synonyms appear bolded in results.

On the SEO side, follow our best-practice guidelines below. (Note: These copywriting guidelines are not "rules"; you should mimic what the top-ranked websites do and make your page the "least imperfect" for each item.)

  • Title Tag: The Title is the most important tag and almost always shows up as the big blue link in SERPs. As a guideline, the length should be 6 to 12 words, not including stop words such as "a," "of," "and," "for," etc. Google cuts off titles at the column edge (512 pixels wide), so place your primary keyword near the beginning so that searchers can see it.
  • Meta Description: Search engines usually display the page's Meta Description as the black description text, if it's applicable to the search query. Write sentences that accurately describe the page content AND motivate searchers to click. To be safely before Google's cutoff, place keywords within the first 160 characters including spaces. Don't use any keyword more than twice.
  • Meta Keywords: Though Google has said it does not use the Keywords tag for Web search ranking, we recommend including it as a best practice. The search engines do cache it with the page, and our research shows that they will refer to it in some cases. List keyword phrases in order from longest to shortest separated by commas, and capitalize the first letter of each word. Length can be 24 to 48 words, with no single word used more than 4 times.


Listen to Matt Cutts explain why Google will sometimes replace a page's Title tag with some other text to display as the big blue title that can be clicked in search results.

This is proof of why it's important to always use relevant keywords in your Title tags.




SEO Copywriting Guidelines for the Body Section

What the Head section promises, the Body section must deliver. The Body section is what users see when they visit your web page, and it must give them what they expected to find. Interspersed through your high-quality content you'll need your keywords and natural language about those keywords. These SEO tips tell you where to put the keywords:

  • Headings: Write a headline for your page in an H1 heading tag, an important signal as to what the page is about. It should include your main keyword and correspond to your page Title tag. Optionally, you can create H2 and H3 headings sequentially if you want to break up a lot of text content on the page.
  • First words: The first 200 words of body copy count most heavily for search engines and for users, since most users never scroll down to see what's "below the fold." Be sure to use keywords there. Consider putting your main keyword in bold once in the first 200 words, to make it stand out to users who may have searched for that very phrase.
  • Body text: Include keywords occasionally and evenly throughout your body copy. If you stay on topic when you're writing, this should happen naturally. Don't force keywords where they won't sound natural.
  • Clarifying words: Be sure to place clarifying words near the keywords in the first 200 words and throughout your content. Clarifying words include word-stemming variations (e.g., write, writing, writes, writer), synonyms, and closely associated words that help clarify the keyword's context and meaning (e.g., web, content, copy, etc. rather than fiction with the keyword "writing").
  • Images: Images and other types of rich media raise user engagement and the "stickiness" of your web page, in addition to giving search engines another reason to offer users your page. An image's file name, surrounding text and ALT attribute contribute to relevance for ranking; if the image is linked, search engines treat the ALT attribute as anchor text. Always write an ALT attribute (brief and containing a keyword) that identifies what the image shows.
  • Links: Link to relevant pages in your own site using keyword-rich anchor text when appropriate for users. However, don't overuse keywords in your site's internal linking. You can also link out to high-quality external sites if they're relevant to your page's subject, but place these links after the first 200 words.

With these SEO copywriting guidelines, you now know how to use keywords in content. Next in the SEO tutorial you'll move beyond copywriting guidelines and learn how to optimize your new content pages.

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Need more SEO tips?
Read more about Keyword Stuffing

Related blog posts and articles:

Back to Basics: The Ins and Outs of Meta Data
The SEO Copywriting Checklist
Why Page Titles Matter
Back to Basics: Creating Quality Content for the Web