You know, there are times during my working day when I truly, madly, deeply hate keywords. Not because I don’t think they hold any value or are part of great SEO, but because of the way I’ve seen them used.

In your travels across the internet you must have come across at least one website or piece of content that gushes the same keyword like it’s going out of fashion. Chances are that same text also made you roll your eyes, shake your head and leave the page and, perhaps, you’re even utilising that very same technique yourself. This is the odd, dated and shady world of keyword stuffing.

“But it’s working for me!” you say, “I’m on page one of Google!” you continue.

That’s all well and good, but how’s your conversion rate coming along? What about your visit to customer ratio? Has this perfect page one position actually increased your revenue at all?

The crux of the matter is that, whether on or off page, your content needs to convince potential leads that you’re the brand to deliver their desired product or service, and deliver it more effectively than anyone else on the market. You aren’t going to do that by repeating the same spammy keyword over and over, no matter how highly you manage to rank for it.

Once a potential lead gets to your site, they aren’t going to stay there if it’s built purely for search engines. Your content should allow them to further their information gathering and give them a reason to purchase/enquire by utilising easily navigable design or informative content, both of which still come secondary, incidentally, to some digital marketers.

The way I see it there are more than just two types of SEO ‘experts.’ Yes, there are the White Hats and the Black Hats, but there are also those who aren’t educated enough to realise how much they’re harming their own marketing strategy. Let’s call them the Pork Pie Hats, they’re comfortable in their old fashioned ways and are convinced that their vintage, keyword heavy strategies are still relevant.

It’s the Black Hats that really grind my gears though. Promoting a ‘quick-fix’ solution to clients who don’t know any better, they don’t only repeat keywords in every other sentence so their content reads awfully, but hide reams of keyword heavy text in drop downs labelled ‘Read more’, stuff their title tags, meta tags and page titles full of the same keywords, create deceptive anchor text that just links back to the same spammy page and even stuff their footers, like the example below…

The worst part, however, is that many of them manage to get away with it.

Google’s algorithms aren’t perfect. In-fact, many perfectly reputable businesses have been penalised for a Black Hat mistake they might have made one fateful day a year ago. However, they’re constantly evolving and are slowly but surely weeding out the websites that clog up search engines instead of adding something of substance to them.

So, what keyword practices don’t make me shudder, and what can you do to ensure that you’re practising SEO ethically?

1) Use your primary keyword in your title tags alongside a secondary word or phrase, and make sure they’re always relevant to the page rather than which keyword you want to rank for above all others. In other words, don’t do this…

Try something like this instead…

It tells the reader what the page is about, why it could benefit them and who the company is that’s offering this service, creating trust and familiarity.

2) Use your primary keyword in your subheadings alongside a secondary word or phrase, but this time try and break it up to make it sound less spammy and help it fit more seamlessly into your page content, as Adam illustrates in the post ‘How to Structure Content, Place Keywords and Internal Link.’

3) Don’t try and force keywords into your content verbatim. It reads awfully and is painfully obvious to page visitors that you haven’t put any thought into the text. This is particularly good advice when writing your headlines. They’re the element that helps readers decide whether to tune in or back out, and although it does help to include a keyword, it helps even more if it grabs page visitors by the shoulders and won’t let go. Make it emotive, interesting and write with passion, and you’ll find that the keyword falls in of its own accord.

4) Don’t forget about the other elements of modern SEO. Keyword implementation might help you rank better in SERPs when it’s done right, but it’s also nothing without a concerted effort in content production, social media integration, optimised web design and ethical link building too. These are the elements that convince potential leads of your expertise and develop relationships with your audience.

So yes, keywords do have the potential to make me stifle a sigh, but they can also work to your advantage if you just take the time to forget about them for a second and allow them to come secondary to your other marketing efforts. Although when implemented correctly they do help with your rankings, creating fresh content of real quality that search engine spiders can regularly crawl is a much more effective way of convincing Google (and customers) of your credibility, especially with another algorithm update on the horizon.

Arguably more important than any other ranking factor today, it’s this commitment to producing interesting, user friendly content that has most traction with Google – not providing keyword fodder that’s been created to try and game the system.

Want to find out more about the changing face of SEO and keyword strategies? Take a look at our post about where SEO stands in 2013.

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Posted By charlotte

Charlotte is responsible for pushing the envelope of great content to support the Tone digital push. Follow her on Twitter @charlotte_tone or Google+