Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Archive for the keywords Category

Don’t Use the Keywords Meta Tag

People still use the keywords meta tag.

I shouldn’t have to write this post. Everyone should know that the keywords meta tag has been useless for years, right? Then why do I still see websites using sometimes elaborate and excessive meta keywords tags?

The red X meand don't use the keywords meta tag.Stop it! Don’t use them.

Why? A little history might help.

This meta tag began to be used more than twenty years ago — even before there was such a thing as Google. We were using search engines like AltaVista and InfoSeek and Ask Jeeves and Lycos.  And we were advising our clients to use the keywords meta tag.

They weren’t very sophisticated.

The keywords meta tag was designed to help them know what searches to rank a page for. Sounds easy, right? Well, maybe a bit too easy.

Quick story:

Back in 1995 you could look to see what the most popular search terms were. You still can, actually.

Star for Britney Spears on the Hollywood Walk of FameAt the time, one of the most popular search terms was Britney Spears. For some website owners that was compelling. The theory went that if millions of people were searching for Britney Spears, let’s put her name in our keywords meta tag. Then search engines will send those millions of people to our website. Surely some of them will want to buy what we sell!

So they added “Britney Spears” to their keywords meta tag to fool all the search engines into sending Britney fans to their website. And back in those days excess was the rule. If having Britney Spears in the meta keywords tag once helped to rank for people searching for her, putting it in there a dozen times should bring even more of them! So that’s what they did. It might have looked like this:

<meta name=”keywords” content=”shoes, Britney Spears, women’s shoes, Britney Spears, pumps, flats, Britney Spears, high heels, Britney Spears, patent leather shoes, Britney Spears, red shoes, Britney Spears, brown shoes, Britney Spears>

It didn’t take long for the search engines to notice that the actual content on the web page  — the stuff that people could read — wasn’t about Britney Spears at all. They spotted the cheating tactic and began to treat it as search engine spam. The result was they stopped using the keywords meta tag at all in deciding what a given web page was about or what searches they should rank it for

It’s been worthless ever since.

But myths and legends die hard. And as recently as 2008 Google Engineer Matt Cutts had to produce a video explaining that Google definitely does not use the meta keywords tag in ranking websites. Yahoo and Bing have confirmed that as well.

But it gets worse.

A keywords meta tag in your code might be seen as a spam signal: a ham-fisted attempt to fool search engines into ranking you better than you deserve to be. Spam signals are bad. Really bad. They hurt your rankings instead of helping them.

You can still do it. But don’t.

For some reason enough people still think they help that one of the most popular plugins for WordPress sites, the Yoast SEO plugin, includes an option for it. But with this warning:

Yoast SEO plugin option for adding the keywords meta tag

[Update 2/15/2018] Beyond that, the good folks at Yoast have just now removed any reference to the meta keywords tag and they explain why here.

Bottom line: just don’t do it.

Your opinions matter — especially if you disagree. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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How to Focus Your Home Page Optimization

How to optimize your home page.We usually optimize home pages for the organization or company name and perhaps one specific keyword, and not much else.  That’s to guarantee that someone learning about you from another customer or client of yours will find you at the top of the results when they search for your name.

Clients ask us:

Why don’t you optimize my home page for all my important keywords?

There are reasons both practical and behavioral.

First, the practical SEO reasons:

The Title Tag is the most powerful place for your keywords to be. It shows up as the text in the tab of your browser, sometimes in the top border of your browser window, and almost always is the headline of your listing whenever the page shows up in search results. You need to get all the individual words from your optimized keywords into the title tag. Anything past about 70-80 characters is treated as less important than words near the beginning, so this limits how many keywords can be fully optimized. And only the first 55 characters or so will be visible in the Google search results.

Optimized keywords need to appear in a number of places on the page. Many of those places are in the code, and there’s a limited number of opportunities for that. But they also need to appear in the readable text copy on the page, in headings and sub-headings, in paragraph text, and in the clickable text of links. In order to cover all of your keywords on the home page and have them be used in a natural, readable way would require you to write a tome. And people just aren’t going to read your page if there’s that much text: it’s intimidating. When that happens, people click back to the search results and try something else  — probably your competitor.

Search engines need to understand that your page is 'al aboutSearch engines need to understand that your page is really “about” the keyword phrase that was searched. If your page covers dozens or hundreds of keywords, it can’t really be “about” all of those things. It ends up being about everything and nothing. Then search engines won’t be able to tell what searches your page is a good match for.

People don’t have to always come in through the front door. Our objective is always to have well-focused internal pages for our most important keyword groupings.

Let’s take a law firm, for example. There may be many attorneys, each focusing on a small set of legal practice areas: criminal defense, wills and trusts, business contracts, real estate closings, personal injury litigation, employment law, and so forth. Each of those practice areas needs its own page in order to be optimized for all the keywords related to that topic. If you land on a page that lists all the many and varied things the firm does, you may need to scan down the page, scrolling down “below the fold” to see if they do what you need. Most people won’t take the time.

But if you land on a page that’s all about real estate closings, that page will be immediately recognizable as what you want: both from it’s headline in the search results and from the headings and sub-headings on the page itself. That focus is essential for search engines to know what searches to show any web page for.

Now the behavioral reasons:

Firsat impressions are important, and they happen fast.First impressions happen fast. Depending on the research, you have between 50 milliseconds and three seconds to convince the new visitor that they’re in the right place. If people are searching for a child custody lawyer, it needs to be immediately obvious that they’ve landed on a page about family law, focusing on child custody issues.There’s no way your home page can convince them it’s a match that quickly. It may mention child custody but the searcher would have to take the time to scan through the home page to find it among all the other things your firm does  — and people just don’t do that anymore. They simply won’t take the time; they’ll click the back button on their browser and pick another listing from the search results hoping for a better match.

Avoid bounces.When someone clicks a search result and then comes quickly back to the search engine results to look for another choice, that’s called a bounce. Bounces are bad. They tell the search engine that your page was actually not a good match for the search term. Search engines learn from user behavior and will reduce your rankings as a result of a high bounce rate.

It’s as simple as that.

That’s why I won’t encourage you to spend a lot of time and energy working detailed keywords into your home page. It won’t necessarily hurt the home page’s rankings, but it won’t help it appreciably to rank for focused keywords. And it won’t help convert those visitors into paying customers. Your internal pages are where you need people to end up, and those are the pages that will include calls to action and encourage them to reach out to you to become a client or customer.

Need help focusing your home page and internal pagges for great rankings? Rank Magic can help!

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Why Do I Still See Keyword Stuffing?

Some things never go away.

Avoid keyword stuffingIt’s been more than 20 years since I began doing SEO under the company name of Treloar Associates.  One of the frowned-upon SEO techniques I advised against back then was keyword stuffing.  People would cram their web page full of many repeated iterations of their target keywords. It didn’t work particularly well, and when Google noticed it the offending web site suffered a Google slap-down.

I thought it was a thing of the past. Good riddance.

Well, no, not quite. I still run into websites with offensive keyword stuffing. They’re painful to read, which may be why most people don’t  — they get a couple of sentences in and leave in disgust. But they’re still out there.  Why??? Perhaps those sites simply haven’t been updated in 15 years? Maybe someone read just enough about SEO to be dangerous and doesn’t know any better?

Well, thinking about keyword stuffing and a sort-of birthday for my involvement in SEO reminded me of this great comic from the folks at Ranked Hard.

Happy Happy Birthday Birthday

[Updated June, 2020]

Think keyword stuffing, whether accidental or on purpose, may be hurting your online visibility? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’re unsure of how to fix things, Rank Magic can help.


4 TrustRank Factors That Sabotage Your Rankings

Does your site or blog have a decent TrustRank?

Jill Whalen of SEO firm High Rankings has written an excellent piece about four TrustRank issues that send negative signals to all the major search engines.


TrustRank is a ranking factor at all the major search engines, although at Google it’s more a cluster of different specific ranking factors than a single measure. You can think of it as a measure of your web site’s web-spammy-ness, or rather the lack thereof. Google’s Panda algorithm update a couple of years ago was focused heavily on TrustRank issues.

Here’s a quick list of the four dangerous TrustRank signals Jill explains:

  • Expertness  — Does your website demonstrate your knowledge of what each page is about? Or is your content rather shallow? Does it provide any real, useful information, or just ask people to hire you or buy your product?
  • Comprehensiveness  — Are your web pages and blog posts too short or insubstantial to be of real value to a visitor? Can people tell who wrote your blog posts?
  • Keyword Redundancy  — Do you have multiple pages talking about essentially the same thing but in different ways to focus on different keywords? That may no longer be necessary, at least for Google.
  • Proofreading  — This goes to the user experience on a website: typos, poor grammar, formatting errors like hard line breaks in the middle of a sentence, even nonsensical copy resulting from an attempt to work in awkward keyword phrases.

Jill explains these factors in more depth than I do here, and offers some advice on how to uncover them and fix them. I recommend her article if you have even the slightest concern that your website may be sending bad TrustRank signals.

If you need professional assistance with this, Rank Magic can help.

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How to Fix Your Keyword Stuffed Copy

Is your web page uncomfortable to read?

Often less experienced SEO practitioners guide you to create copy that employs keyword stuffing. In the early days of SEO 10-12 years ago, repeating a verbatim keyword phrase several times on a web page was de riguer. Not anymore — now it can hurt.

Keyword stuffing is bad on many levels, and you’ll know it when you read it. That’s why it’s always a good idea to read your web pages aloud to yourself. Do they sound stupid? Are they repetitive? Is your keyword use obviously “over-redundant”?

The folks at had some fun with the subject:

Keyword Stuffing illustrated

That kind of copy hurts.

  • It hurts your image and reputation.
  • It makes for a bad “user experience” on your site (and that’s a ranking factor at Google).
  • It increases your bounce rate (visitors who leave without reading anything else on your site.)
  • It sabotages your conversion rate (the % of visitors who become customers/clients)
  • After the Penguin algorithm updates at Google, it may sabotage your rankings.

You need to fix it. But what if the page ranks well?

This can be a real concern. If the page ranks well, will changing the copy hurt your rankings? Sure, it might. But it might also help if you do it right. Take it slow, make minor changes at first and see how your rankings respond.

How to fix it

The first thing to know is that repeating verbatim keyword phrases is not necessary. Here’s how to fix them:

  • Employ formatting ploys. Search engines don’t register punctuation and line breaks. If you can break up a keyword phrase by having the first word or words at the end of a sentence or paragraph and the rest of the phrase at the beginning of the next sentence or paragraph, your visitor won’t experience the sense of a repeated phrase. But it’s still there and can register with the search engines.
  • Use “stop words” and near synonyms. These are words that don’t add value to a query and are mostly ignored by the search engines. The usually consist of pronouns, prepositions and articles. For example, these phrases are all essentially equivalent:
    • replace air conditioner
    • replace your air conditioner
    • replace an air conditioner
    • air conditioner replacement
  • Keyword phrases may not even need to be on the page. If you have a page about replacing customers’ air conditioners, it will be quite natural to use the phrase air conditioner throughout the page. It also makes sense for the words “replace”, “replacement”, “repair” and “trade in” to occur on the page. Even if you never say “replace air conditioner” anywhere, it will be understandable to the search engines that your page is about that. Search engines have gotten much smarter over the years,

Understand that a page that ranks well but drives away potential customers is doing you no good.

Fix it. Make the copy read comfortably. Make it effective marketing copy that drives customers to buy from you. Include calls to action to help drive the buying decision. If your page is the best it can be about it’s subject, search engines will want to rank it highly.

If you’re still skittish about it, make incremental changes and watch your rankings. You may well be surprised to see your rankings improve rather than drop.

Need help? Give us a call.

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