Keywords are frequently the first thing anyone new to the world of SEO is concerned with. But even though they are one of the most fundamental concepts and factors regarding why pages rank well, there are a lot of website administrators and SEO professionals that need a refresher course to make sure they are still on the right track towards pleasing the Google algorithm with their content. You see, we need to constantly readjust our strategy to reflect changes made to the Google algorithm, such as the introduction of the Hummingbird update.

To start off, check out this video from Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz.

Rand brings up a really interesting point. I’m sure at one time or another, all of us were left stumped and scratching our heads after we see a high ranking site that doesn’t seem to make any efforts for keyword targeting. And this brings up an important question. With little to no keywords in their content, how on Earth are these websites ranking so well? Is it just a happy accident? Is it just another example that lends credence to the expression that even a blind monkey finds a peanut every once in a while?

Well, back in the day when the Google algorithm was in its infancy and not nearly as sophisticated as it is today, keywords were every website’s bread and butter. The more keywords you crammed into your content, the higher you’d rank. Today, however, as Rand points out, we don’t want heavy repetition of keywords. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is a “magic number” of keywords that will help you rank higher than competition without incurring a penalty from the algorithm. Once or twice is enough to raise a flag to the Google algorithm that identifies the purpose of your content. Also, keyword density is a notably deprecated figure, and the metric mostly worthless these days.

Keywords in Your Title

There are basically two competing schools of though regarding putting keywords in your title. I tend to agree with Rand on the point that it’s better to have a title that compels people to click on it than it does to stuff it with exact match keywords that feel a little clunky and out of place. Keeping that in mind, understand that there will be times when you can have your cake and eat it to. Sometimes keywords will naturally be part of your title, and that’s fine…as long as you don’t make it a point to use keywords in every title.

As Rand goes on to mention, it is important to have keywords in your title, but perhaps not for the reasons you may be thinking. You want to make sure that your title fits the underlying reason why the user performed a Google query in the first place. And you’ll also want to make sure that the title matches, or there may be some confusion. There have been plenty of times when I clicked a link, only to discover that the link was a little misleading. This is a type of cloaking, and as a best practice, it should be avoided.

And to have the highest chance of ranking high, you want to make sure you cultivate an exceptional user experience. Google has long awarded higher rankings to websites that offer better user experiences, and this quality alone has driven many of the Google updates to fruition.

Keyword Cannibalization and Best Practices

Keyword cannibalization often doesn’t get enough consideration from inexperienced website administrators and SEOs, which is a shame. Essentially, the idea revolves around harming other pages’ rankings by separating related (yet fundamentally different) content. It’s tough to determine whether two or more topics or ideas should be aggregated onto one page or whether they should be chopped up into different posts. Bearing this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best practices to avoid keyword cannibalization.

Firstly, it is most optimal to target unique keywords on a single page. Sounds pretty straightforward and logical, right? Unfortunately, some people still try to game the system by creating multiple pages that target the same unique keywords. This is a bad practice, and it won’t do your site any favors. Nevertheless, we do need to make an important distinction. Be sure to follow Rands’s next point very closely, because the devil is always in the details.

Though it’s best to target unique keywords on a single page, you can separate content into different pages that contain part of the keywords, phrases, and the overall topic. This is especially true of location-based keywords, such as a law firm that wants to rank well in the Denver area for multiple areas of law (e.g. personal injury lawyers in Denver, or business formation attorney in Denver, etc.).

And of course, linking with the right anchor text is a given, but be sure not to overdo things. Some people abuse this practice and it has actually been correlated with lower SEO performance. Make sure you don’t commit the SEO sin of using a “click here” link. Last but not least, remember that it may be a good idea to pull the plug on old content. If, for example, you have content posted that no longer applies to a given industry (like a blog that shows how-to videos for end of life products or software), you may want to retire it in favor for newer how-to videos.

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