Every entrepreneur who owns a business website and every marketer tasked with advertising online should know that search engine optimization (SEO) is all about keywords. However, what should they do with those keywords within their website copy? How can they positively impact on-page SEO through keyword formatting?
The Importance of Keyword Formatting
Most freelance web designers will tell you, when search engine spiders or bots "crawl" website content, they don't understand what's actually said there, therefore, they need to find a way to figure out what the website content's topic is. One way to do just that only by looking at the content is to count how many times certain words are repeated within an article. After all, the subject of any conversation or discussion is naturally mentioned several times during the length of discourse. In written articles, formatting such as bold or italicized text is also used to emphasize certain words. Another clue that may point to the subject matter of the article is anchor text — the text that serves as an anchor to outbound links. Since the websites linked to were deemed sufficiently noteworthy and relevant to the article to be actually be linked to, then there is a high probability that the words used as anchor text may also hint on what the topic of the article is about.
Put all these together, and the search engine spider now has a way to decipher what the content MAY be talking about. This is why properly formatting keywords within website content increases the efficacy of on-page SEO. Setting instances of the keywords in bold format and using some of them as anchor text, as well as mentioning a targeted keyword several times, all help towards making it clearer to search engine spiders what the web content is about. I expand on this on the blog if you would like to learn more.
Of course, search engine algorithms today are smart enough to know when to stop counting instances of repeated words and formatted text. This keeps the search engine safe from keyword stuffing and "over-optimization" of on-page website content. This means that formatting EVERY instance of keywords in bold doesn't actually help after a certain point, and may even lead to some penalties.
Formatting for Readability
So, as many SEO experts would tell you, format your website content for readability first. As mentioned earlier, search spiders do not understand what your web content is saying, so they try to emulate a natural way of understanding. Overusing artificial means such as keyword stuffing will only backfire. Formatting for readability is only natural, and this is what search engine bots and spiders will be after.
To maximize readability, it is highly recommended to separate paragraphs into shorter blocks of text instead of one very intimidating wall of words. To better lead readers from one transition to another, subheadings are also recommended, especially if you use the HTML codes too. This is yet another fusion of formatting for readability and keyword SEO that you can utilize to full effect. Just as search engine spiders give more weight to text that are bold (which means in the HTML code these texts are surrounded by the … or … tags), they also give more weight to text that are specified as subheadings (surrounded by … up to ). Naturally, it's best to include targeted keywords in subheadings to give search engine bots more context.
Since we're on the topic of readability and keyword optimization, take note of one mistake that many websites are committing: targeting the wrong keywords based on the context of the web content. This practice was rampant in the early days of SEO, where business website owners hire content writers to write anything about a certain topic and include targeted keywords, even if the keywords aren't the main topic. This tactic defeats the purpose of context that search engines are after. Worse still is that it may drive organic traffic that uses that targeted keywords, but they will also make conversion rates perilously low.
Formatting for SEO
So, here's a rehash:
• Bold instances of targeted keywords if they serve for readability (it also doesn't hurt to always bold the first instance of targeted keywords)
• Use targeted keywords as anchor text whenever possible without hurting readability and cohesion
• Use targeted keywords in subheadings and make sure to indicate them via HTML header tags
• Always target keywords related to the subject and context of the web content
Let's delve into the technical side of things:
• Format bold text using either the HTML tags … or …
• Use targeted keywords in anchor text surrounded by …
• Use header tags … to where the numbers indicate the importance of the headers
For even better SEO, use your targeted keywords in other areas of your web content and webpage, such as:
• The web content title — Very few articles online DO NOT use the targeted keyword in titles, and only when the stylistics call for it and the web content itself is heavily (but not overly) optimized
• The URL — usually in the slug, or the area after the main URL (e.g. "dog-food-best-practices" in the URL "www.websitefordogs.com/date/category/dog-food-best-practices")
• The Meta Description — the meta description does not do anything for search rankings in Google (though Yahoo and Bing still use it in some fashion), but it does offer potential traffic more info and a space for a call to action
These are the standard and established best practices when it comes to keyword targeting in SEO.
Finally, the real and only standard for great SEO is high quality content that is free of fluff and informative, engaging, and complete. This rule withstood the era of early SEO and is the motivating force behind Google's devastating Panda and Penguin updates that endeavored to ensure only the highest quality web content pieces were rewarded.
In a sense, Google took a good step forward for their users, and sent a good reminder for business website owners that they need to deliver quality — from their products to their marketing and of course their SEO. So the next time you research keywords and don't know how to make them more attractive to search engines, here's your cheat sheet.