SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is one of the most well-known and impactful marketing tactics you can use to drive traffic to your site. However, the specifics of SEO and what is actually going to impact your search ranking has changed over the years and there are a lot of misconceptions about what is really important. Search engines have gotten smarter and you can no longer get away with “Black Hat SEO” practices meant to trick search engines into ranking you and ignoring human users.

How Much Do Keywords Matter?

The short answer is, a lot less than you think. Google stopped using the “keywords” meta tag as a factor in search ranking back in 2009. But this hasn’t stopped people from insisting that they need to add keywords into the fields in the backend of their CMS. For example, if you use the popular Yoast SEO plugin on your WordPress site, there is a field for “Focus Keyword” and there is a little color coding system that ranks how optimized your page is based on how you are filling on those fields. So it seems like an obvious thing for you to fill that in. However, whether you get that little dot to turn green or not isn’t indicative of what Google thinks.

In the early days of SEO, “keyword stuffing” was a common practice so no matter what the content on your site was about, you could stuff your meta keywords full of popular search terms. This method used to be successful in tricking search engines to rank your pages higher based on the meta keywords. But these days, the human element is extremely important in search rankings. It’s all about relevance. You want to think about what terms would drive your target audience to your site and create content about that topic, so that your keyword phrase naturally should be part of your content. Essentially the keywords you target are still important, but you aren’t simply placing them in a keyword field on the backend, you should be naturally working them into your content.

Keyword density is another consideration when you are working your keyword phrases into your content. This is defined as: the % of times a keyword or phrase appears on a web page compared to the total number of words on a page. Again, you don’t want to shoehorn these keywords into your copy. If your content is targeted based on what your audience is searching for, they should lend themselves to the content organically. While there is no ideal % to give you, experts suggest that somewhere in the 0.5% to 1% range as a good guideline.

Focus on Page Titles and Meta Descriptions

According to SmartInsights, Page Title tags are “the single most powerful on-site factor to assist with keyphrase targeting and rankings.” Optimizing your Page Titles can have a big impact on traffic. In order to get the most impact out of your title, make sure that:

1. It’s brief. 60 characters is ideal. Anything longer can risk being cut off in the search results. If it isn’t visible, it won’t help encourage users to click.

2. It’s relevant. The title should contain that targeted keyword or phrase that your page content is all about.

3. It’s unique. You don’t want to have multiple pages on your site with the same title. See above – the title should be relevant to the page content.

4. It’s enticing. If this title shows up in a search engine result, does it stand out enough to make someone click? Also, it should be descriptive enough that it lets a user know that this is the content that they are looking for.

Meta Descriptions tie in to this last item. While Google doesn’t use them as a ranking factor, a well-written meta description could catch the eye of someone searching for information. This is your 160 character (or less) pitch to them to try to entice them to click on your page over another search result. It should use clear concise language, differentiate itself from similar search results and make it clear to your users what the web page will offer to them if they click.

Conclusion

So ultimately meta data matters, but probably not for the reasons you thought it did. It’s much less of a factor in search engine algorithms but very important for your human audience. And at the end of the day, those are the users you really care about.