What Does Organic SEO Care About Keywords?

Organic search engine optimisation (SEO) is all about tweaks, adjustments, and optimising several different facets of webpages around keywords — but what exactly do search engines do with them? How do they come into play when search engines crawl website content, try to calculate link authority, and ultimately rank a webpage for relevance in a search query?

The Query

Search engine queries are all about matching textual keywords used by search users to the content of millions of websites in the Internet, in an effort to list the most relevant results that the searcher may find useful. Naturally, it pays to be able to optimise webpages around certain keywords which they are indeed relevant to; the problem is how search engines would be able to tell.

In this definitive list, we’ll delve into which areas of websites and website content keywords should be made prominent in — the same areas that online businessmen should worry about to maximise their SEO.

The Prime Positions

Search engines try to emulate how a human reader would evaluate the relevance of documents compared to one another, based on a given topic. The topic, in this case, is the keyword used for queries, and the documents are webpages. Relevance, however, is not truly enough if search engines want to return a list of the most useful results to their users. Aside from relevance, authority also needs to be prioritised. Taking clues from real world documentation, the most important and authoritative documents always tend to be mentioned and referred to in other documents in the same field. In webpages, these “mentions” or referrals are links.

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That’s the gist of it, and here are the specifics:

Keyword Placement in HTML

  • URL — The webpage URL is best optimised to carry at least one main keyword that the page is meant to be about. If a website uses a URL with a main keyword in it, each and every page URL within that website would then be optimised around that certain keyword as well, since the first part of a webpage’s URL is always its domain name. The last part — the slug — should likewise be optimised for additional keywords. What typically happens is the title of the page (or the article in the page) is directly turned into the URL slug. Try to modify it to something with the keyword if the title the slug is derived from does not have keywords.
  • META Description — A small range of string-based input where a description of the webpage can be written. It does not have any impact on SEO, but the META description is a main candidate to be used as webpage blurbs describing a webpage title and URL in a search engine results page .
  • Heading Tags — HTML heading tags range through H1 to H6, with the former being the most important. They basically signify text importance, so titles and article subheadings that have keywords are best wrapped around these heading tags so search engines can easily tell that those parts of the text should stand out as important.
  • Alt Descriptions — These descriptions are alternate text that shows in place of an element within a webpage in case said element cannot be displayed. It is most typically used for images, and is really the only way within HTML code that images can be optimised around a keyword.
  • File Names — As mentioned earlier, images (and other non-string content) can be optimised around a keyword from the HTML code through alt descriptions. But making sure their filenames also contain keywords also helps in optimisation. Remember to save your files with important keywords within the file names.

Keyword Placement in Content

  • Title — The content title, despite given to a degree of stylistics and marketing, should always have a targeted keyword within it for SEO purposes. It was mentioned earlier that titles often become the basis of URL slugs, but aside from that, titles are also easily understood by search engines to be a very important part of content (especially when wrapped around heading tags, usually H1). Naturally, adding keywords to the title will help SEO.
  • Sub-Headings — This is where the rest of the HTML heading tags can be used (H2 — H6), or if the heading preformats might clash with webpage design and aesthetics, you can simply make them stand out through using formatted (bold or italicised) text. Sub-headings within content not only help with SEO, but also help make articles more “readable” and “scanable” — both important factors, considering your website visitors are prone to just scanning your content instead of actually reading it in depth.
  • Links — Anchor links that point to other websites are best worded to include keywords. Search engines keep an eye out for links, because, as mentioned earlier, they are analogous to real-world “mentions” or references. Not only do they help measure the relevance and authority of the website linked to, but they help establish the topic of the content where the links originate from — and they can only do that effectively if keywords are used.
  • Formatted text — Formatted text such as bold or italicised texts are used to make blocks of text more readable by highlighting important words within them. Again, search engines take from real world practices and take note of the texts that are highlighted through these formatting methods, considering them more important than the rest of the regular text. They are not as significant as links or headings, but they contribute to the greater goal of more efficient SEO, and they also help content readability.

On a final note, now that this brief list of places where keywords matter is made clear, there should be another issue we should clarify: over-optimisation. Over optimising your webpages doesn’t work. Stuffing your content with keywords and sprinkling formatted text and links around like pixie dust will only get you penalised. Search engines understand the risk of putting too much significance on one aspect of content, so they set certain limits to how many instances of a formatted or linked text they would consider to be natural and logical, and disregard the rest.

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