Outdated Keyword Optimization Techniques that Could Be Killing Your Rankings

cavemanIt’s almost a weekly occurrence. An email (or four) pops up in my inbox asking for help because pages that once ranked really well in Google have gradually been falling.  For most, it happens without fanfare over time, until somebody finally asks the questions, “Where have all of our sales gone?” and “Why can’t anybody find us on Google anymore?”

Since the first rollouts of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, there has been a slow and silent progression with regard to keyword optimization and SEO copywriting.  With “better quality” and “natural-sounding text” being two popular battle cries of Google, web pages all around the Internet are seeing differences in rankings and traffic.

However, the possible causes of these differences have largely gone unnoticed.  That’s because many of the criteria Google looks for where on-page elements are concerned have changed slowly and quietly for the most part.

There are a basketful of causes that could account for sites having reduced rankings (and, thus, less traffic and fewer sales/conversions). However, using these outdated keyword optimization techniques may be having more of a negative impact on your pages than you thought.

1. Optimizing for Only One Keyphrase per Page

In years past, Google had significantly less sophisticated methods of identifying what web pages were about. Still many people believe they have to choose one keyphrase and use it in its exact states to get a page to rank.

I interviewed Matt Cutts about the changes in SEO copywriting.  One of the areas he talked about was the diverse number of clues Google now uses to discover what web pages are about.

It is not necessary to use just one keyphrase to ensure Google correctly identifies your page’s topic.  As Google’s algorithm has gotten more sophisticated, keyword optimization has become much simpler.  (Read the article mentioned above for more info about the changes Matt suggests.)

2. Using Keyphrases Too Often in Your Copy/Content

Here’s where keyword density advocates will chime in. Let’s skip that whole conversation and look at results, OK?  It is pretty simple to see the results this old strategies achieved. Now many sites are facing over-optimization and having to backpedal because of the drastic changes in Google’s intolerance of keyword overuse.

Keyword optimization isn’t about quantity.  In fact, in one video from Google’s YouTube channel, Matt specifically says that mentioning keyphrases too many times will get you “diminishing returns.” In addition, when talking about optimizing for a specific keyword density, he states, “… rather than helping, let’s make that hurt.”

Dial it back.  Just because you *can* put a keyword phrase somewhere doesn’t mean you *should*.

3. Writing with No Regard for Keyphrases

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who think Google’s call for natural copy/content means writing with no regard for keywords at all.  Uh… no.  “Keyword” optimization – by its very name – means you are writing using keywords and phrases.

“Natural” doesn’t equate to keyword-free.

With very few exceptions, getting good rankings requires the use of keyphrases in your copy.  It’s how you use those phrases that comes into question in discussions of natural SEO copywriting.

To help your text read more naturally, avoid amateurish mistakes like:

  • Forcing singular or plural keyphrases into sentences when they are grammatically incorrect.  Just as an example: “Visit our dogs carriers page for great bargains” is simply wrong.  It should be “Visit our dog carriers page.”  While “dogs carriers” might be a great phrase, using it in your copy this way will not only look like a typo on your page, but it also doesn’t look natural.
  • Stating the Obvious – One practice that always makes me cringe is when I see a page that reads something like “Our USB drives (also called flash drives, flash sticks, thumb drives and USB sticks) are of the highest quality.”  It’s a lame attempt to shove a ton of keyphrases into a short amount of space.  It sounds horrible.

On-page keyword optimization certainly doesn’t operate in a vacuum.  There are lots of elements in the whole SEO equation. But getting your pages in line with Google’s preferred copywriting strategies can go a long way to obtaining higher rankings or recapturing lost ones.

Ready to get up to date with the latest keyword optimization techniques? Check out my new video series at www.WritingWithKeywords.com for all the details.

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About Karon Thackston

For over 25 years, web & SEO copywriter Karon Thackston has created optimized copy and content that has increased conversions & search rankings. Find out more about Karon on Google+.


  1. Fabulous tips! I’m in the process of redoing my website now and this is so spot on. Always such a good reminder. Thank you so much. Diana

  2. Karen- Thanks for good advice. I’ve always written for the reader while writing on a key word topic. So I’m discussing “corporate training”– both key word and topic– and it naturally flows that the key words are used throughout the article. Do I need to go back and change corporate training to executive training or job coaching or something else to avoid keyword density?

    How many times can it appear in a 600 word article?



    • Hi Sandy! Not sure what you mean by this, “to avoid keyword density.” Keyword density is a metric of the number of times you use a keyphrase compared to the total number of words on the page. It can’t be avoided. People mistakenly believe that certain levels of keyword density are better than others. (Not true, by the way.) If you go to Google and search the top 10 for a particular keyphrase then calculate the keyword density (KWD)of each of the listings on the first page, you’ll see that none of them has the same KWD.

      While people will tell you need to achieve a particular percentage of KWD, you don’t. Don’t force the keyphrases into your copy. Google doesn’t need nearly as much help as it needed years ago. It has improved its technology now so that it is much more accurate at determining what the page is about without the constant (and annoying) repetitiveness of keywords.

      I go into the changes (post-Penguin) in keyword copywriting in great detail in my “Writing With Keywords” course. But to answer your other question, synonyms are important to your SEO copywriting so, yes, I’d suggest you sprinkle one or two of those around to improve your page.

      You know what? I think I’ll toss out a coupon code for anyone who wants to get the new course. You can use 30wwk (no spaces) to save 30%. I’ll leave that active until July 31, 2013. 🙂
      Karon Thackston recently posted..Is Your Search Engine Copy All-Natural & Organic?My Profile

  3. Hey Karon,
    Thanks for this. Passing along to a client. Her sales have recently plummeted on her old site (we’re working on her new one now) and she is trying to understand why.

  4. Karon I loved the article. Simple direct suggestions that make sense. I did look at the competitions website for keyword density. I was amazed at how low the term density was. I have redone the content on some of my most important pages. Simplified the keyword phrases and the content flow has improved. I even found some of those nasty plurals you discussed. Worked in some synonyms and LSI keywords. The pages have started to move up.

  5. Great John! Glad the info was helpful. Question for you (just because everybody defines them in their own way, it seems) what do you see as the difference between synonyms and LSI keywords?

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