Keyphrases, not keywords

Around 33% of all searches are for two-word combinations, 26% for three words, and 21% for four or more words. Just 20% of people search on single words.

Search engines such as Google attribute more relevance when there is an exact phrase match on a web page (a phrase that matches the user’s search term), rather than just single words. It’s therefore more effective to consider and optimise occurrences of phrases rather than single words.

When you’re writing and optimising content on the web you should try to focus your attention on a manageable list of key themes, and select phrases and word combinations to repeat. Search engines assess occurrences of both keywords and synonyms on the page, so you can still keep your copy sounding fresh and engaging for users, while optimising it for your key phrases and concepts.

Select a manageable number of key concepts, order these into lists of associated words and phrases and ensure that you have site sections, page titles and content which feature each of these keyphrases.

When you are creating content there are three techniques and factors to consider.

Keyphrase prominence – stand out from the crowd

Search engine optimisation is a competition between you and the other websites that deal with similar themes and issues. When carrying out SEO you need to make it clear that you have more valuable content than other competing sites. You therefore need to show that your site’s priority is the same as your users, or in other words, the words that they are searching for are some of the most important on your site.

All search engines attempt to determine the most important words on a page, in a tag, or in a link. They have a number of ways of determining importance, but one of the main ones is prominence, the closer a word is to the front of the analysed text area, the more relevant or important it is.

Prominence implies that a word used at the beginning of a link or piece of text is more important than the rest. The words that follow are scored lower and lower by the algorithm until (in a very long text section) their value tends toward zero. Search engines evaluate each important page area or inbound link separately. Therefore your title tag, meta-description tag, keyword/keyphrase tags, heading tags, alt text tags, and page text all produce their own prominence pictures that, together, tell the search engine about your page.

An example of this in action is the title of this section. Compare the section titles:

  • Keyphrases, not keywords
  • Not keywords, keyphrases

By placing the term I want to optimise for at the start of the sentence I’ve increased its visibility and prominence to search engines.

Keyphrase proximity – build phrases

Just like ants, keywords work better as a team. Always try to keep your keywords and phrases together and where this isn’t possible keep them as close together as possible.

Search engines follow ruthless logic – if you manage to match your users’ search term exactly, rather than just one or two words, you are much more likely to increase your traffic from search engines. You can use Google Analytics to learn the search terms that site visitors are using to reach your site, and then add to or refine your SEO activities to improve your performance.

Keyphrase density – don’t dilute

Keyphrase density is used by search engines as a way of determining whether a web page is relevant for a specific keyword or phrase and is calculated using the percentage of times a keyword or phrase appears on a web page compared to the total number of words on the page.

SEO experts consider the optimum keyword density to be 1 to 3%. Using a keyword more than that could be considered search spam. You should therefore keep your keyphrases in mind when you are writing content – but don’t overuse them.

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