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How Many SEO Keywords Should a Page Really Target?



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


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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New Google Ads Feature: Account-Level Negative Keywords



New Google Ads Feature: Account-Level Negative Keywords

Google Ads Liaison Ginny Marvin has announced that account-level negative keywords are now available to Google Ads advertisers worldwide.

The feature, which was first announced last year and has been in testing for several months, allows advertisers to add keywords to exclude traffic from all search and shopping campaigns, as well as the search and shopping portion of Performance Max, for greater brand safety and suitability.

Advertisers can access this feature from the account settings page to ensure their campaigns align with their brand values and target audience.

This is especially important for brands that want to avoid appearing in contexts that may be inappropriate or damaging to their reputation.

In addition to the brand safety benefits, the addition of account-level negative keywords makes the campaign management process more efficient for advertisers.

Instead of adding negative keywords to individual campaigns, advertisers can manage them at the account level, saving time and reducing the chances of human error.

You no longer have to worry about duplicating negative keywords in multiple campaigns or missing any vital to your brand safety.

Additionally, account-level negative keywords can improve the accuracy of ad targeting by excluding irrelevant or low-performing keywords that may adversely impact campaign performance. This can result in higher-quality traffic and a better return on investment.

Google Ads offers a range of existing brand suitability controls, including inventory types, digital content labels, placement exclusions, and negative keywords at the campaign level.

Marvin added that Google Ads is expanding account-level negative keywords to address various use cases and will have more to share soon.

This rollout is essential in giving brands more control over their advertising and ensuring their campaigns target the appropriate audience.

Featured Image: Primakov/Shutterstock

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Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn



Google's Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

Google Analyst Gary Illyes offers guidance on large robots.txt files, the SEO impact of website redesigns, and the correct use of rel-canonical tags.

Illyes is taking questions sent to him via LinkedIn direct message and answering them publicly, offering valuable insights for those in the SEO community.

It’s already newsworthy for a Google employee to share SEO advice. This is especially so given it’s Illyes, who isn’t as active on social media as colleagues like Search Advocate John Mueller and Developer Advocate Martin Splitt.

Throughout the past week, Illyes has shared advice and offered guidance on the following subjects:

  • Large robots.txt files
  • The SEO impact of website redesigns
  • The correct use of rel-canonical tags

Considering the engagement his posts are getting, there’s likely more to come. Here’s a summary of what you missed if you’re not following him on LinkedIn.

Keep Robots.Txt Files Under 500KB

Regarding a previously published poll on the size of robots.txt files, Illyes shares a PSA for those with a file size larger than 500kb.

Screenshot from:, January 2023.

Illyes advises paying attention to the size of your website’s robots.txt file, especially if it’s larger than 500kb.

Google’s crawlers only process the first 500kb of the file, so it’s crucial to ensure that the most important information appears first.

Doing this can help ensure that your website is properly crawled and indexed by Google.

Website Redesigns May Cause Rankings To Go “Nuts”

When you redesign a website, it’s important to remember that its rankings in search engines may be affected.

As Illyes explains, this is because search engines use the HTML of your pages to understand and categorize the content on your site.

If you make changes to the HTML structure, such as breaking up paragraphs, using CSS styling instead of H tags, or adding unnecessary breaking tags, it can cause the HTML parsers to produce different results.

This can significantly impact your site’s rankings in search engines. Or, as Illyes phrases it, it can cause rankings to go “nuts”:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from:, January 2023.

Illyes advises using semantically similar HTML when redesigning the site and avoiding adding tags that aren’t necessary to minimize the SEO impact.

This will allow HTML parsers to better understand the content on your site, which can help maintain search rankings.

Don’t Use Relative Paths In Your Rel-Canonical

Don’t take shortcuts when implementing rel-canonical tags. Illyes strongly advises spelling out the entire URL path:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from:, January 2023.

Saving a few bytes using a relative path in the rel-canonical tag isn’t worth the potential issues it could cause.

Using relative paths may result in search engines treating it as a different URL, which can confuse search engines.

Spelling out the full URL path eliminates potential ambiguity and ensures that search engines identify the correct URL as the preferred version.

In Summary

By answering questions sent to him via direct message and offering his expertise, Illyes is giving back to the community and providing valuable insights on various SEO-related topics.

This is a testament to Illyes’ dedication to helping people understand how Google works. Send him a DM, and your question may be answered in a future LinkedIn post.

Source: LinkedIn

Featured Image: SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock

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Everything You Need To Know



Of all the many, many functions available in Google Ads, I have a few that are my favorites. And sitelink assets – previously known as sitelink extensions – are at the top of my list.

Why? Because they’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them if you think through your strategy carefully.

For example, you can use the mighty sitelink in your advertising to:

  • Promote low search volume themes.
  • Push lagging products out the door.
  • Maximize hot sellers.
  • Highlight certain product categories.
  • Answer common questions.
  • Handle PR problems.

And that’s just a start! Sitelink assets can almost do it all.

Best Practices For Using Sitelink Assets Extensions

If you truly want to get the most out of your sitelinks, you need to think about your intention.

To help you with that, I’m going to lay out a few sitelink guidelines.

1. Get clear on your objectives. Before you start, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve with these assets? Are you advertising products or services? Will the asset work well with both branded and non-branded keywords? Your answers to these questions will help determine if your sitelinks are versatile and useful to the searcher.

2. Use sitelinks as part of your larger strategy. Don’t think of your sitelinks in isolation. You should also consider the accompanying ad, landing page, and other assets. Make sure they all work together in service to your overarching strategy.

3. Use a mix of sitelinks. Sitelinks can serve multiple purposes, so make sure you’re using a variety. For example, you don’t want to use every sitelink on an ad to promote on-sale products. Instead, use a mix. One could promote an on-sale product, one could generate leads, one could highlight a new product category, and one could direct prospective clients to useful information.

4. Create landing pages for your sitelinks. Ideally, you want to send users to landing pages that tightly correlate with your sitelink instead of just a regular page on your website.

5. Track sitelink performance and adjust. It’s not enough to set up sitelinks. You should also track them to see which links are getting traction and which ones are not. This doesn’t mean that all sitelinks should perform equally (more on this below), but it does mean they should perform well given their type and objectives.

Why it’s Better To Use A Mix Of Sitelink Assets

Let’s dive deeper into this idea of using a mix of sitelinks by looking at an example.

In a new client account, we created four different types of sitelinks:

  • Two sitelinks are product-focused (as requested by the client).
  • One sitelink connects users with an engineer to learn more about the product (“Speak to an Engineer”). It has more of a sales focus.
  • One sitelink allows users to learn more about the products without speaking to an engineer (“What is?”).

The “What is?” sitelink is outperforming the “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink when we measure by CTR. While we need more data before making any changes, I predict we’ll eventually swap out the sales-y “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink for something else.

The fact that the educational link (“What is?”) is performing better than the sales-y link (“Speak to an Engineer”) isn’t too surprising in this case. The product is a new, cutting-edge robot that not many people are aware of, yet. They want more info before talking to someone.

sitelink extensions - performance exampleScreenshot by author, January 2023

By using a mix of sitelinks, and assessing the performance of each, we gained a lot of valuable information that is helping to guide our strategy for this account. So going with a mix of sitelinks is always a good idea. You never know what you’ll discover!

Sitelink Assets Examples

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of sitelink assets in Google Ads.

Example 1: Chromatography

Sitelinks extension - Chromatography exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Application Search: This ad is for a highly technical product that can be used in a wide variety of applications. (Chromatography is a laboratory technique for separating mixtures.) So putting “application search” in a sitelink here might make sense. It helps prospective clients find what they’re looking for.

Sign up and Save Big: A good sitelink for lead generation and potential revenue.

Technical Support: I’m not a big fan of putting technical support in sitelinks. Tech support seems more targeted to current users rather than prospective users. But who knows, maybe they really do want to help current users get tech support via their advertising.

Guides and Posters: Again, this sitelink is a bit unusual, but it might be appropriate for this product. Perhaps people are downloading branded posters and posting them in their workplaces. If so, it’s a great way to build brand awareness.

Example 2: Neuroscience Courses

Sitelink Extensions - Nueroscience courses exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

I love everything about these sitelinks! The advertising is using them to reach people in all phases of the buyer journey.

For people not ready to commit:

  • Study Neuroscience: This sitelink is broad and informational. It’s helpful to people who have just started to explore their options for studying neuroscience.
  • Get Course Brochure: This sitelink is also great for people in the research phase. And while we mostly live in an online world, some people still prefer to consume hard-copy books, brochures, etc. With this sitelink, the school is covering its bases.

For people getting close to committing:

  • Online Short Course: This is the course the school offers. It’s a great sitelink for those almost ready to sign up.

For people ready to sign up:

  • Register Online Now: This is the strongest call to action for those ready to commit. It takes people directly to the signup page.

Example 3: Neuroscience Degrees

Let’s look at another example from the world of neuroscience education: this time for a neuroscience degree program.

Sitelink extensions - neuroscience degree exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

In contrast to the previous two examples, the sitelinks in this ad aren’t as strong.

Academics Overview: This sitelink seems more appropriate for a broad term search, such as a search on the school’s name. If the searcher is looking for a specific degree program (which seems like the intention based on the term and the ad), the sitelinks should be something specific to that particular degree program.

Scholarships: Just as with the above sitelink, “Scholarships” doesn’t seem very helpful either. The topic of scholarships is important—but probably doesn’t need to be addressed until the person determines that this school is a good fit.

Example 4: Code Security

Next, let’s look at two Google search ads for code security products.

Sitelink extensions - code security exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023


The sitelinks in these two ads look like typical assets you’d find for SaaS, cloud-based, or tech companies. They click through to a lot of helpful information, such as product plans and success stories.

I particularly like the Most Common Risks sitelink in the second ad. It leads to a helpful article that would be great for engaging top-of-funnel leads.

On the flip side, I’m not a big fan of the Blog sitelink in the first ad. “Blog” simply isn’t very descriptive or helpful.

Still, there are no right or wrong sitelinks here. And it would be interesting to test my theory that blog content is not a top-performing asset!

Sitelink Assets Are More Than An Afterthought

I hope I’ve convinced you of the usefulness and versatility of sitelinks when created with specific objectives that align with your broader strategy.

So don’t create your sitelink assets as an afterthought.

Because if you give them the careful consideration they deserve, they’ll serve you well.

Note: Google sitelink assets were previously known as sitelink extensions and renamed in September 2022.

More resources:

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