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Furthermore, how relevant is it that the homepage be a targeted keyword rich page?
What I've noticed is on G results that if I type in one of our 2nd tier phrases, we rank in the top 10 but the search results show our homepage's <title> and URL BUT the descriptive text shown is from a page two steps off our homepage.
So, what's this mean? It seems that the page is ranking well but what's being shown on the SERP is the <title> from the homepage which doesn't match the accompanying descriptive text nor the searched phrase.
I follow Google's advice of writing for the visitors, although I do include keywords as I am going.
For your second part; are you using the META description tag? If you are not, I would advice doing so. It is essentially free advertising space on the SERP's so it is key to place a paragraph in their that you think will bring in the visitors and include relevant keywords.