From a user standpoint, “keywords” simply refer to the terms one enters when using a search engine to look for something. Slow cooker recipes, discount flights, and how to start an online business are all examples of things people search for.
From the perspective of a search engine crawler, keywords are a web page element that help the crawler determine what the page is about. As we discussed last time, their importance has shifted since the early days of the Internet. Google and others rely much more heavily on links to determine a page’s relevance.
Nevertheless, keywords remain vital insofar as their occurrence on a web page is what allows them to show up in SERPs. This is only logical. A page about slow cooker recipes is probably going to say “slow cooker” and “recipe” somewhere in the text. (Likely together.)
When it comes to SEO for ecommerce, there are two ways businesses incorporate keywords into their web store pages. The first is the page’s content. The second are meta tags and other elements.
Ecommerce keywords in content
As with the slow cooker example above, keywords most commonly appear in the text of the page’s content. For an ecommerce website, this would include product and category descriptions, promotional landing pages, and so on.
We’ve discussed the practice of keyword stuffing before—saturating the page with keywords in an attempt to trick the crawlers. Search engines heavily penalize sites that do this. On the other hand, the term needs to appear often enough for the crawler to identify it.
This raises the question: how often does good SEO for ecommerce use keywords?
There is no official keyword-to-text ratio that we know of. If there is, the search engines aren’t saying. What we do know is that search engines have evolved to prioritize content written for human readers. So it’s best to approach content writing with that in mind.
Returning to the slow cooker example, you would expect to see “slow cooker” at least once or twice in a paragraph-long product description. But you probably wouldn’t see it more than three times. Is this a rule? No, but it’s good language. In conversation we use it to designate things we’ve just talked about, instead of naming them over and over. (This paragraph uses the term twice.)
Modern search engines evaluate pages on the basis of semantic search. In a nutshell, this means that they try to evaluate the searcher’s intent by looking at the keyword in context. (As opposed to simply matching terms that appear on a given page).
Among other things, this puts tremendous importance on synonyms and related words. An informative, reader-friendly slow cooker description is likely to use terms like heat settings, countertop, 4-6 hours, clay, and possibly crock pot. Using these terms in a natural way helps your page rank for slow cooker much better than repeating slow cooker robotically.
Subheadings and link text
Subheadings (headings that use the HTML <h2> tag) are technically part of the content. But they serve to inform the reader (and therefore the search engine crawlers) what a given section of content is about. If your page has subheadings, try and use your keyword in at least one of them. Again, don’t force it. Remember semantic search!
Generally, link text is also a part of the content. But it bears mentioning here specifically because of its linking role.
Linking to a page effectively tells the search engine that this page is a reliable source of information. Specifying a keyword in the link’s text obviously emphasizes this even further. The trick is that these links lead to the page you want to rank for, and thus don’t appear on the page itself.
This can happen if someone reviews your slow cooker on their food blog and links to your product page. Alternatively, you can use internal links to drive traffic from other pages on your site.
Meta keywords and other elements
We’ve discussed meta elements and their importance to SEO for ecommerce in a previous article. But here’s a closer look at the most important tags as they relate to keywords.
This tag lets you define a page’s keywords explicitly. At one point it was critical to good SEO. But since at least 2009, Google no longer uses it to evaluate page rank. It may or may not still play a role for other search engines.
When possible, you should use your keyword in the page title. This is usually quite easy for product pages, since keywords like “slow cooker” are part of the name, and the name is usually the title. In some cases, the relationship is not so obvious (like a blog post).
Try and work the keyword into the title, but remember to err on the side of reader-friendliness. A readable title is much more sharable (and thus more likely to bring you backlinks).
Closely related to the page title, the URL is another important place that crawlers look for keywords. The readability rule applies here, as well. It’s best to keep URLs as concise as possible. For example, instead of:
Remember to omit words like “the” and “a” and separate words with hyphens.
Alt text is a backend element that provides descriptions of the images on your site. It is another opportunity to deploy your keywords on the page. However, bear in mind that this text is meant as a substitute for the image when it isn’t available. As such, it should be a clear, concise, yet detailed description of the image.
In terms of the level of detail, you should provide enough information to indicate what is in the picture. It needs to say more than just “slow cooker.” But don’t overdo it. Just because this element isn’t typically visible doesn’t mean you can start keyword stuffing.
An example of good alt text for this image would be Red slow cooker heating soup on white kitchen counter.