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How Many SEO Keywords Should a Page Really Target?

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How Many SEO Keywords Should a Page Really Target?

Here’s what we recommend: pick just one primary keyword and enough secondary keywords to cover a given topic in full.

In the rest of the article, I’ll explain why and how.

Primary vs. secondary keywords 

Going forward, we’ll differentiate between two kinds of keywords. 

The primary keyword, also called the target keyword, is the main topic of a page. It’s also the single keyword to optimize a page for. 

Secondary keywords are any keywords closely related to the primary keyword that you’re targeting with your page. 

Synonyms, subtopics, and long-tail keyword variations can be considered secondary keywords. But the best use of secondary keywords for SEO is as relevant subtopics—this is what I’ll focus on in this article. 

So to sum up the difference, if the primary keyword is the topic of the book, you can use secondary keywords as subtopics. 

Primary vs. secondary keywords

Why one primary keyword is enough

There are at least three reasons why. 

Reason 1. Any page needs one clearly defined topic

Sounds quite obvious, but a satisfactory explanation of this idea can become complicated quite quickly. It’s probably best if we look at this from a user experience perspective. 

Since people look for specific things online, it won’t be the best idea to make them look for those things on pages about multiple things or even worse—everything. So a single page targeting multiple topics will not be that useful.

And since Google exists to help people find specific things, it will likely show a page with a specific focus, i.e., the most relevant one, rather than a page that tries to rank for multiple different topics simultaneously. 

Sample keyword from Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a website about everything but only because each page is about something particular. Imagine how unhelpful it would be to see its homepage instead of this page for the query “table football.”

Reason 2. Google is good at catching close variations and misspellings 

Have you noticed what happens when you misspell something in Google? 

Example of how Google handles misspelled words

Google will correct you like a grammar teacher because you likely had something else in mind when typing that search term. 

But what about close variations and synonyms? 

Same thing. Google will rank your page for keywords with the same meaning and intent without you having to target every single variation intentionally. It knows that people search for the same thing in different ways.

To illustrate, let’s compare “submit website to search engines” and “website submission to search engines.” The SERP comparison in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer tells us these two keywords have almost the same results. 

SERP comparison in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Reason 3. You can rank for hundreds of keywords if you optimize for one

According to our study, the average #1 ranking page will also rank in the top 10 for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords. 

This doesn’t apply only to keywords with large volumes. The pattern remains the same even for less popular keywords. 

Case in point: Our article on seo basics was optimized for a single keyword with 1,400 monthly searches. The article now ranks for 463 keywords, out of which 156 are in the top 10. 

Example of an article ranking for multiple keywords in the top 10

Some of those keywords don’t sound like close variations at first: 

  • seo basics”
  • how to use seo” 
  • beginner’s guide to seo”
  • getting started with seo”
  • search engine optimization how to”
  • seo knowledge”
  • seo fundamentals”

Yet, in Google’s eyes, they can be “served” by the same or similar pages. 

The best part here is that all of the keywords bring traffic independently. As a result, that article optimized for a keyword with a volume of 1,400 monthly searches in the U.S. generates an estimated 8,600 visits every month. 

Organic traffic to our guide on SEO for beginners

So while targeting not multiple but a single primary keyword is the best tactic, you will get the best results if you incorporate multiple secondary keywords. 

Why you need secondary keywords 

In short, to cover a topic in full, you need relevant subtopics. And one of the best ways to find relevant subtopics is through secondary keywords. 

Imagine that Google is a huge bookstore, and you walk in to get the best beginner’s guide to gardening. You’d surely appreciate it if the shop assistant showed you a guide that explained all the basics in layperson’s terms that other people seemed to be satisfied with. Why would you even look at other guides? 

In an overly simplified analogy, that’s how Google works. The system understands what the searcher may be after and tries to serve the most helpful result while keeping other options in the back. 

How to find primary and secondary keywords 

Let’s look at some practical ways to find both primary and secondary keywords at scale. 

How to find primary keywords 

Use these methods to find the main topic for your content. 

Method 1. Use a keyword research tool 

One of the best ways to find a good keyword to target is to use a keyword research tool. One that not only uncovers keyword ideas but also provides actionable SEO metrics

Here’s how to find a good primary keyword with Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer

Let’s say you run a website with pet supplies, and you think dog toys may be a good topic for your visitors. You can:

  1. Enter your seed keyword (“dog toys”). You can also use multiple seed keywords.
  2. Go to the Matching terms report. 
  3. Browse through Parent Topics on the left-hand side. When you find an interesting topic, click on it to see the keywords that fall under the same keyword group. 
  4. Pick the keyword while weighing in Keyword Difficulty (KD), Traffic Potential (TP), and what makes the most sense for your website (you can learn more about choosing the right keywords in this guide). 
Finding primary keywords via Parent Topics

Method 2. Find common topics in any niche

Use a content gap analysis tool like Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool to find topics often covered within a niche. It’s a helpful technique if you’re entering a niche you don’t know much about. 

 Here’s what to do: 

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Open Content Gap tool
  3. Enter URLs of websites with similar content, and make sure the last input field is clear
  4. Hit Show keywords 
Finding topics with Content Gap

You can also use filters to refine your list. For example, show only the most common keywords (Intersect filter) with a minimum volume of 100 and a maximum Keyword Difficulty (KD) of 20. 

Filtering results in Content Gap

Method 3. Analyze keywords of your competitors 

This method will show the keywords that your competitor ranks for (or any other site you wish to analyze). Based on that, you can pick keywords that could make a good fit for your website too. Here’s a rundown of the process using Site Explorer. You can:

  1. Enter your competitor’s website address.
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report.
  3. Refine the list of keywords to your heart’s content. For example, you may want to uncover keywords that include a particular word or phrase. 
Analyzing competitor's keywords
Filtering competitor's keywords

How to find secondary keywords 

Use these methods to find relevant subtopics for your content. 

Method 1. Find secondary keywords of the top-ranking pages 

Once you uncover secondary keywords of the top-ranking content, you’ll have a good idea of the subtopics to include in your content. 

Here’s how to find them with Keywords Explorer

  1. Enter a topic you want to analyze, preferably a primary keyword you want to target 
  2. Go to the Related terms report 
  3. Set the toggles to Also rank for and Top 10
  4. Look at the results and pick keywords that sound like good subtopics for your page 
Related terms report—finding ideas for subtopics

Recommendation

Google tries to avoid ranking content that brings nothing new to the table.

Excerpt from Google's helpful content self-assessment test

So use competitor analysis wisely. Get an understanding of the kind of information necessary to meet searchers’ expectations but make sure to add something unique (your own research, a unique perspective, more up-to-date data, etc.). 

Method 2: Find missing keywords with Content Gap 

This last method should be used to boost your existing content. It allows you to find subtopics you may be missing by uncovering relevant keywords you don’t rank for. 

We’ll use Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool again. But this time, we’ll insert a page in the last input to compare it with others. 

Using Content Gap to find missing secondary keywords

For example, comparing pages about playing with dogs, we see that the authors of the compared page can consider adding a section about games to play with puppies. 

Results from content gap analysis

How to optimize content for keywords

If you want to target a keyword for SEO effectively, it’s essential to know how to use your primary and secondary keywords inside the content. Here’s a quick overview. 

What’s most important is your primary keyword should determine the search intent, which is a fundamental aspect of search engine optimization. To get the search intent right, plug in your primary keyword into Google, look at the top-ranking pages, and identify: 

  • Dominating content type – Popular types: video, article, landing page, product page. 
  • Dominating content format – Popular formats: reviews, comparisons, listicles, how-to guides, and opinion-based articles. 
  • Relevant content angles This refers to the unique selling point of the top-ranking pages. For instance, “best,” “free,” “in 5 minutes,” “for 2023,” etc. 
SERPs for "learn piano" uncover the search intent
Analyzing the SERPs for “learn piano,” we see that the dominating type is article, the format is a guide, and the useful angles are these: for beginners, best way, 2022, for adults.

Next, as already mentioned, you need to cover your chosen topic in full. A quick reminder here: Your primary keyword is the topic, while your subtopics can come from relevant secondary keywords. 

But not all relevant subtopics will be uncovered by keyword research. It’s always a good idea to look at the structure of top-ranking pages to get an idea of what searchers may be looking for. 

To make the job even easier, get our free SEO Toolbar and let it work out the structure for you. 

Content report in Ahrefs' SEO Toolbar

While we’re at using keywords inside the content, let’s address a couple of “don’ts”: 

  • Don’t stuff your content with keywords – You don’t need to try to mention your keywords as much as possible or aim for some kind of keyword density or statistical importance score. 
  • Don’t try to “force in” synonyms and closely related keywords (aka LSI keywords) – Google won’t rank your content higher just because you’ve used more words than other pages to describe the same thing.

Finally, it’s a good idea to:

  • Insert your target keyword into the title – Title tags help Google understand what the content is about. 
  • Align the H1 tag with the title – The easiest thing to do here is to make the H1 and title tags identical. 
  • Use secondary keywords in the H2–H6 headings – But only if it’s natural to the main body of the text. This can help Google understand what your page is about. 
  • Use the primary keyword in the URL – Not a requirement, just the easiest way to help Google and searchers understand the context of the page. 

Those are the basics. If you’re interested in learning more, check out How to Do Keyword Optimization for SEO (3 Steps)

Final thoughts 

Let’s recap the article in a handy list of dos and don’ts.

Table of dos and don'ts when targeting keywords for SEO

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter or Mastodon



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Google’s AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

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Google's AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

An analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries by Bartosz Góralewicz, founder of Onely, reveals the impact of Google’s AI overviews on search visibility for online retailers.

The study found that 16% of eCommerce queries now return an AI overview in search results, accounting for 13% of total search volume in this sector.

Notably, 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.

“Ranking #1-3 gives you only an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews,” Góralewicz stated.

Shift Toward “Accelerated” Product Experiences

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis analyzed the disconnect between traditional organic ranking and inclusion in AI overviews.

According to Solis, for product-related queries, Google is prioritizing an “accelerated” approach over summarizing currently ranking pages.

She commented Góralewicz’ findings, stating:

“… rather than providing high level summaries of what’s already ranked organically below, what Google does with e-commerce is “accelerate” the experience by already showcasing what the user would get next.”

Solis explains that for queries where Google previously ranked category pages, reviews, and buying guides, it’s now bypassing this level of results with AI overviews.

Assessing AI Overview Traffic Impact

To help retailers evaluate their exposure, Solis has shared a spreadsheet that analyzes the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.

As Góralewicz notes, this could be an initial rollout, speculating that “Google will expand AI overviews for high-cost queries when enabling ads” based on data showing they are currently excluded for high cost-per-click keywords.

An in-depth report across ecommerce and publishing is expected soon from Góralewicz and Onely, with additional insights into this search trend.

Why SEJ Cares

AI overviews represent a shift in how search visibility is achieved for ecommerce websites.

With most overviews currently pulling product data from non-ranking sources, the traditional connection between organic rankings and search traffic is being disrupted.

Retailers may need to adapt their SEO strategies for this new search environment.

How This Can Benefit You

While unsettling for established brands, AI overviews create new opportunities for retailers to gain visibility without competing for the most commercially valuable keywords.

Ecommerce sites can potentially circumvent traditional ranking barriers by optimizing product data and detail pages for Google’s “accelerated” product displays.

The detailed assessment framework provided by Solis enables merchants to audit their exposure and prioritize optimization needs accordingly.


FAQ

What are the key findings from the analysis of AI overviews & ecommerce queries?

Góralewicz’s analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries found:

  • 16% of ecommerce queries now return an AI overview in the search results.
  • 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.
  • Ranking positions #1-3 only provides an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews.

These insights reveal significant shifts in how ecommerce sites need to approach search visibility.

Why are AI overviews pulling product data from non-ranking sources, and what does this mean for retailers?

Google’s AI overviews prioritize “accelerated” experiences over summarizing currently ranked pages for product-related queries.

This shift focuses on showcasing directly what users seek instead of traditional organic results.

For retailers, this means:

  • A need to optimize product pages beyond traditional SEO practices, catering to the data requirements of AI overviews.
  • Opportunities to gain visibility without necessarily holding top organic rankings.
  • Potential to bypass traditional ranking barriers by focusing on enhanced product data integration.

Retailers must adapt quickly to remain competitive in this evolving search environment.

What practical steps can retailers take to evaluate and improve their search visibility in light of AI overview disruptions?

Retailers can take several practical steps to evaluate and improve their search visibility:

  • Utilize the spreadsheet provided by Aleyda Solis to assess the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.
  • Optimize product and detail pages to align with the data and presentation style preferred by AI overviews.
  • Continuously monitor changes and updates to AI overviews, adapting strategies based on new data and trends.

These steps can help retailers navigate the impact of AI overviews and maintain or improve their search visibility.


Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock



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Google’s AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

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Google's AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

Google’s rollout of AI-generated overviews in US search results is taking a disastrous turn, with mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, BBC, and CNBC reporting on numerous inaccuracies and bizarre responses.

On social media, users are sharing endless examples of the feature’s nonsensical and sometimes dangerous output.

From recommending non-toxic glue on pizza to suggesting that eating rocks provides nutritional benefits, the blunders would be amusing if they weren’t so alarming.

Mainstream Media Coverage

As reported by The New York Times, Google’s AI overviews struggle with basic facts, claiming that Barack Obama was the first Muslim president of the United States and stating that Andrew Jackson graduated from college in 2005.

These errors undermine trust in Google’s search engine, which more than two billion people rely on for authoritative information worldwide.

Manual Removal & System Refinements

As reported by The Verge, Google is now scrambling to remove the bizarre AI-generated responses and improve its systems manually.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that the company is taking “swift action” to remove problematic responses and using the examples to refine its AI overview feature.

Google’s Rush To AI Integration

The flawed rollout of AI overviews isn’t an isolated incident for Google.

As CNBC notes in its report, Google made several missteps in a rush to integrate AI into its products.

In February, Google was forced to pause its Gemini chatbot after it generated inaccurate images of historical figures and refused to depict white people in most instances.

Before that, the company’s Bard chatbot faced ridicule for sharing incorrect information about outer space, leading to a $100 billion drop in Google’s market value.

Despite these setbacks, industry experts cited by The New York Times suggest that Google has little choice but to continue advancing AI integration to remain competitive.

However, the challenges of taming large language models, which ingest false information and satirical posts, are now more apparent.

The Debate Over AI In Search

The controversy surrounding AI overviews adds fuel to the debate over the risks and limitations of AI.

While the technology holds potential, these missteps remind everyone that more testing is needed before unleashing it on the public.

The BBC notes that Google’s rivals face similar backlash over their attempts to cram more AI tools into their consumer-facing products.

The UK’s data watchdog is investigating Microsoft after it announced a feature that would take continuous screenshots of users’ online activity.

At the same time, actress Scarlett Johansson criticized OpenAI for using a voice likened to her own without permission.

What This Means For Websites & SEO Professionals

Mainstream media coverage of Google’s erroneous AI overviews brings the issue of declining search quality to public attention.

As the company works to address inaccuracies, the incident serves as a cautionary tale for the entire industry.

Important takeaway: Prioritize responsible use of AI technology to ensure the benefits outweigh its risks.



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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

A keynote at Google’s Marketing Live event showed a new AI-powered visual search results that feature advertisements that engage users within the context of an AI-Assisted search, blurring the line between AI-generated search results and advertisements.

Google Lens is a truly helpful app but it becomes unconventional where it blurs the line between an assistant helping users and being led to a shopping cart. This new way of engaging potential customers with AI is so far out there that the presenter doesn’t even call it advertising, he doesn’t even use the word.

Visual Search Traffic Opportunity?

Google’s Group Product Manager Sylvanus Bent, begins the presentation with an overview of the next version of Google Lens visual search that will be useful for surfacing information and for help finding where to buy them.

Sylvanus explained how it will be an opportunity for websites to receive traffic from this new way to search.

“…whether you’re snapping a photo with lens or circling to search something on your social feed, visual search unlocks new ways to explore whatever catches your eye, and we recently announced a newly redesigned results page for Visual search.

Soon, instead of just visual matches, you’ll see a wide range of results, from images to video, web links, and facts about the knowledge graph. It gets people the helpful information they need and creates new opportunities for sites to be discovered.”

It’s hard to say whether or not this will bring search traffic to websites and what the quality of that traffic will be. Will they stick around to read an article? Will they engage with a product review?

Visual Search Results

Sylvanus shares a hypothetical example of someone at an airport baggage claim who falls in like with someone else’s bag. He explains that all the person needs to do is snap a photo of the luggage bag and Google Lens will take them directly to shopping options.

He explains:

“No words, no problem. Just open Lens, take a quick picture and immediately you’ll see options to purchase.

And for the first time, shopping ads will appear at the very top of the results on linked searches, where a business can offer what a consumer is looking for.

This will help them easily purchase something that catches their eye.”

These are image-heavy shopping ads at the top of the search results and as annoying as that may be it’s nowhere near the “next level” advertising that is coming to Google’s search ads where Google presents a paid promotion within the context of an AI Assistant.

Interactive Search Shopping

Sylvanus next describes an AI-powered form advertising that happens directly within search. But he doesn’t call it advertising. He doesn’t even use the word advertising. He suggests this new form of AI search experience is more than offer, saying that, “it’s an experience.”

He’s right to not use the word advertisement because what he describes goes far beyond advertising and blurs the boundaries between search and advertising within the context of AI-powered suggestions, paid suggestions.

Sylvanus explains how this new form of shopping experience works:

“And next, imagine a world where every search ad is more than an offer. It’s an experience. It’s a new way for you to engage more directly with your customers. And we’re exploring search ads with AI powered recommendations across different verticals. So I want to show you an example that’s going live soon and you’ll see even more when we get to shopping.”

He uses the example of someone who needs to store their furniture for a few months and who turns to Google to find short term storage. What he describes is a query for local short term storage that turns into a “dynamic ad experience” that leads the searcher into throwing packing supplies into their shopping cart.

He narrated how it works:

“You search for short term storage and you see an ad for extra space storage. Now you can click into a new dynamic ad experience.

You can select and upload photos of the different rooms in your house, showing how much furniture you have, and then extra space storage with help from Google, AI generates a description of all your belongings for you to verify. You get a recommendation for the right size and type of storage unit and even how much packing supplies you need to get the job done. Then you just go to the website to complete the transaction.

And this is taking the definition of a helpful ad to the next level. It does everything but physically pick up your stuff and move it, and that is cool.”

Step 1: Search For Short Term Storage

1716722762 15 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows an advertisement that when clicked takes the user to what looks like an AI-assisted search but is really an interactive advertisement.

Step 2: Upload Photos For “AI Assistance”

1716722762 242 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above image is a screenshot of an advertisement that is presented in the context of AI-assisted search.  Masking an advertisement within a different context is the same principal behind an advertorial where an advertisement is hidden in the form of an article. The phrases “Let AI do the heavy lifting” and “AI-powered recommendations” create the context of AI-search that masks the true context of an advertisement.

Step 3: Images Chosen For Uploading

1716722762 187 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows how a user uploads an image to the AI-powered advertisement within the context of an AI-powered search app.

The Word “App” Masks That This Is An Ad

Screenshot of interactive advertisement for that identifies itself as an app with the words

Above is a screenshot of how a user uploads a photo to the AI-powered interactive advertisement within the context of a visual search engine, using the word “app” to further the illusion that the user is interacting with an app and not an advertisement.

Upload Process Masks The Advertising Context

Screenshot of interactive advertisement that uses the context of an AI Assistant to mask that this is an advertisement

The phrase “Generative AI is experimental” contributes to the illusion that this is an AI-assisted search.

Step 4: Upload Confirmation

1716722762 395 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

In step 4 the “app” advertisement is for confirming that the AI correctly identified the furniture that needs to be put into storage.

Step 5: AI “Recommendations”

1716722762 588 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows “AI recommendations” that look like search results.

The Recommendations Are Ad Units

1716722762 751 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Those recommendations are actually ad units that when clicked takes the user to the “Extra Space Storage” shopping website.

Step 6: Searcher Visits Advertiser Website

1716722762 929 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Blurring The Boundaries

What the Google keynote speaker describes is the integration of paid product suggestions into an AI assisted search. This kind of advertising is so far out there that the Googler doesn’t even call it advertising and rightfully so because what this does is blur the line between AI assisted search and advertising. At what point does a helpful AI search become just a platform for using AI to offer paid suggestions?

Watch The Keynote At The 32 Minute Mark

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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