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So I work for a company that recently decided to jump on the SEO bandwagon. We asked the different departments (each has its own site) what they wanted their keywords to be and I got a lot of examples of things like this:

foo bar
foobar baz
foo-bar baz
foo bar baz
foobars baz
foo-bars baz
foo bars baz

...you get the idea. As we're trying to keep the number of keywords down for each site to avoid "stuffing," I've limited each site to 20 keywords only. But this just seems like a silly waste, and whatever limited boost in our search ranking we get from the keywords is going right out the window.

The site is created using asp.NET/C#. What we're planning on doing is adding something like the following to the Master page, so it will appear on every page in the site:

<meta id="keywords" name="keywords" 
    content="general keyword 1, 
             general keyword 2, 
             general keyword 3..." />

Is there a way to easily address the issue that they're getting at (i.e., that they want the site to rank for the same term but with different formatting)? Or is it not even an issue that needs to be considered? FWIW, the technically correct form of the keyword that the really want is foo-bar baz. And yes, I know that keywords aren't really going to do much (if anything) for us, but try explaining that to the department heads. They want their keywords, so they're going to get their keywords.

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define "limited each site to 20 keywords only". Usually you limit each "page" to one max. two keywords and focus that single url/page around that keyword. oh, and if the correct term is "foo-bar baz" then that is what that landingpage should focus on ... – uberconversion Mar 25 '13 at 14:11
I'm not sure I follow, I'll edit in an example of what I'm talking about and some more info on the site structure. I might be going about this entirely wrong. – mikeTheLiar Mar 25 '13 at 14:13
simple: one keyword per page. you don't want to stuff 20 keywords on each page. so you end up with a highly optimized page for the term "foo-bar baz" and another page for the term "barfoo ipsum". you don't want to try to cramp every combination of "foo+bar+baz" into the every single page you got. – uberconversion Mar 25 '13 at 14:15
Exactly, that's what I'm trying to avoid. So you're saying that there should only be one keyword for every page? So for example the homepage will have "foo-bar baz" and that's it? – mikeTheLiar Mar 25 '13 at 14:22
You can widen your customers keywords with off page SEO. See my answer. (Sorry if it goes on a bit, but changing pages is not always required.) – Simon Hayter Mar 25 '13 at 15:31

Search Engine Advancements

Google, Bing, and Yahoo have come a long way since they first launched, a lot of the keyword signals is actually done off the page. Things like meta tags are not used by Google but may be used by Bing and Yahoo to get an initial feeling for the page, some of the top SEO plugins don't even use meta keywords as Bing and Yahoo work well without (Debatable Topic, but let's not go there - Google this information).

Off The Page SEO

A lot of key-wording these days are actually of the page. There is no reason to use all the following keywords either in the meta or the page:

foo bar
foobar baz
foo-bar baz
foo bar baz
foobars baz
foo-bars baz
foo bars baz 

With one or more mentions of the phrase foobar baz will rank for a lot of the above examples, as the page becomes stronger though backlinking and social mentions your keywords will widen. If someone was to backlink to you using:

<a href="http://example.com/foobar">baz bar foo baz foobar foobar</a>

Then it's very likely that the search baz bar foo baz foobar foobar will appear in the search results - Even though this sentence and order of wording does not exist on the page. Back link anchors are still one of the most powerful ways to increase your keywords without altering page content. Additionally uber strong sites with lots of authority would automatically rank for all your phrases without any anchors because of the trust factor - take this site for as example and pick a question and check how many times you can get that question to appear in the search results.

With This Said Do Kill Your Link Profile

While anchors helps define keyword phrases, its important to note that its not all about anchors links, over doing it will result in negative.. A good link profile is a mix of text links, anchors, just mentions no-links. I personally believe that text links are by far more natural than anchor links since most people wouldn't even know the difference between a text link and a anchor link, and I believe that text links make the anchors more powerful. Worth reading on this, as many come to the same conclusion that non-anchors help the page on the anchors they have and anchors they don't have.

Just Write The Content The Way Your Visitors Will Love

In this day and age rich content and experiences go a long way, when writing content you shouldn't need to think about keywords as they will just come naturally. Content written for people is better than content that is written for search engines.

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spot on. +1 for adding "Write Content The Way Your Visitors Love" ... ;) – uberconversion Mar 27 '13 at 9:03

It sounds like you or your company are still thinking like 90's SEO... Times have changed, the web has evolved. There is minimal to no value in the meta keywords tag, now used by only a small (insignificant) amount of bots/crawlers.

If you're thinking keyword frequency/density or worried about keyword stuffing, then any onsite methodology you have is flawed from the outset.

Think usability, think engagement, think quality, think benefits - then reap natural rewards.

As bybe already mentions, just write quality for your target audience and what will reward them. The likes of Google can now think far beyond what words on a page to determine how valuable content is with entrance search query.

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I know. Believe me, I know. I tried to talk them out of it, but they would not let it go. Actually, the entire site is pretty '90s - image buttons everywhere, css is patchy at best, etc. I'm slowly trying to bring them around. – mikeTheLiar Mar 25 '13 at 16:41
I feel your pain... :( – zigojacko Mar 25 '13 at 17:12

Your products and services are the keywords that matter. Locations served are probably next. You need to include them in your content, mark them up for emphasis, layout, and design, and find related keywords in Webmaster Tools or a Keyword tool.

Keywords you already show up are better.

Putting your keywords into silos is a good idea, you should focus your efforts on specific landing pages and what searches drive traffic and convert.

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You are already doing keyword stuffing with foobars baz. That single keyword covers 4 total keywords:

  1. foobars baz
  2. foobar baz
  3. foobars
  4. foobar

You don't need to mention all of these four keywords, that will increase your keyword density to a negative level. Use only the one and it will do the job for the rest.

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This sounds like the answer. Can you provide a source? – mikeTheLiar Oct 4 '13 at 12:50

Keywords are exactly that, words. They are not phrases. So, for your example above "foo bar foobar bars foobars baz" is all inclusive.

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I don't think so. The spec neither. foo bar can be something different than foo, bar. – unor Mar 27 '13 at 20:53

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