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One of the main parts to good SEO is having the right keywords to use. There is a lot to say on the subject of keyword research, as well as a few standardized best practices. It largely depends on your goals and target audience, two things that affect each other, as well. There may be a need to avoid certain keywords, either to segregate traffic to different parts of a site, or to avoid similar keywords that may get unrelated search results.
With this in mind it is important to find the highest ranking keywords that result in getting the right audience, and avoid the wrong audience. The are two ways to go about this, either make up relevant words to use, or check search engines for statistics on which keywords rank highest. The latter being the best choice, each site has a different way to handle these statistics.
When a site has the list of what the most popular terms are they need to remember that those terms aren’t necessarily the best terms to use. As mentioned above, having the right audience is more important than just having a large audience. Each keyword will need to be vetted to see if it is right for the goals of the site. A good trick to keep in mind here is to play to a more specific keyword when avoiding the wrong audience, and a more general one to combine effects. However, don’t leave out the specific keywords as as exact matches have a high bonus for rankings.
There is also the issue of difficulty, a small site will likely never get on the front page results for really popular or common keywords. Try to avoid keywords that have a lot of competition unless you are really prepared to fight over those results. Going after keywords that are more awkward or really specific may make the writing a challenge, but will yield much better search result in exchange. Do note that 100% of an audience of 5 is 5, and 0.5% of an audience of 100,000 is 500. The popular keywords are popular for a reason.
When applying keywords to a document, try to avoid to much repetition, and density. Make certain to have original content, as well. Search engines have been fighting against spam sites with increasing desperation, and a lot sf other sites are getting caught in the way. A potential strategy is to have lots of keywords, or having the keyword merely be the subject to avoid triggering a bad rank.
Testing is the most important part of everything. Everything. Things change, sometimes the advice just doesn’t work, maybe there are many paths to try. No matter what, it is a good idea to test. Simply have multiple versions of a site and deploy them to see what each change does. As a word of caution, don’t run many changes at once, as it can be difficult to work out how the change affected everything. There are complex programs that automate this process and collect data, AB testing and multi-armed bandit algorithms. Feel free to do some research on the topic, as these methods can be used to improve every part of a website, not only the keywords.