Content optimization

How important is keyword density in SEO?

Written by

Haley Carrol

Last updated

October 19, 2020

A fear that bloggers and website owners often have is that their content will not rank because it does not contain the right words and phrases that Google and other search engines are looking for when generating the SERP. This is a justified fear to have as you don’t want all of your hard work and quality content to be pushed down simply because the language you use does not match Google’s algorithms. 

That’s why people implement keywords into their copy. Keywords are the words and phrases that users enter into a search bar, and are used to prompt a list of results on the SERP. It is true that Google looks for websites that contain these keywords when finding and indexing the user’s search results.

The keywords that are most relevant to the content you offer on your website are known as target keywords, and these are the words you should be paying attention to. Keyword research can help you determine the best target keywords. 

So it’s clear that you need to incorporate target keywords into your webpages, but how many do you really need in order for Google to recognize your content as valuable? This brings up the topic of keyword density. 

What is keyword density?

Before we get into how keyword density affects your website’s SEO, we need to understand what it is. 

Keyword density measures how often your target keyword appears in the body of text you are analyzing. Sometimes, people refer to this concept as keyphrase density because oftentimes users are searching for phrases instead of just singular words, and you’ll want to include the entire phrase in order for the search engine to recognize it. 

Keyword density can be calculated by dividing the number of times the keyword is used in the webpage’s copy, divided by the word count of the copy and multiplied by 100 to convert that number to a percentage. For example, if you use 3 keywords on a webpage that has 100 words total, your page’s keyword density would be 3% (3/100 = 0.3 x 100 = 3%)

This seems simple enough to measure and keep track of, but does the keyword density of your webpages really matter?

How important is keyword density in SEO?

Google boasts that search engines have developed past the point of simply ranking pages higher based on how often the user’s keyword appears in the webpage’s copy, and this is in fact true. The AI that has been implemented into the software of search engines now has the ability to analyze far more complicated things. So what ARE search engines looking at?

What do search engines look for?

Google’s Panda update, introduced all the way back in 2011, was implemented in order to start ranking thin content lower. Thin content is copy that contains no value for the reader, may be duplicate content or perceived to be thin content, or is simply irrelevant to what the user is looking for. The more recent introductions of the Hummingbird algorithm and RankBrain allowed Google to better understand the information it analyzes, and return users with results that better match their search intent. (Confused about what all that means? Learn more about search intent here.)

In summary, search engines want to find rich content with natural writing that matches the user’s search intent. They seek writing that answers the user’s question and provides value to them. 

Okay, so where does keyword density fit into all this?

With that being said, keyword density is somewhat of an SEO myth. There is no magic percentage to reach in order to optimize your webpage. While keywords are important to use, it’s more about which ones you use and where, and less about how often. 

When focusing too much on achieving a high keyword density, you run the risk of keyword stuffing-using a keyword too many times on a webpage can trigger penalties from search engines and will most certainly make your writing seem robotic and spammy. This is a serious SEO no-no and should be avoided at all costs. 

First, make sure you keywords are in the right spots

Instead, you should make sure that the keywords you do use are put in the right spots. This means including your target keyword in the title tag and body content of the webpage, as close to the beginning as possible for each. Less important are including keywords in the headings, URL, meta description, and image alt tags, but you can still add them in these places for further optimization.

In each of these components your target keyword should appear only once, with the exception of the body content. For the body of your webpage, you can include the target keyword and variations of it more than once, while still keeping the writing natural and avoiding straight up repetition.

Next, use different forms of your target keywords 

For variation, you should focus on incorporating long-tail keywords and LSI keywords into your copy; these will be additional signals to Google that your content is relevant to your target topic.

Finally, make sure your content is valuable

After completing all this, you need to make sure that your website aligns with the user’s search intent and is written with the user in mind. Is your target user looking for information? Are they trying to make a transaction? Are they attempting to make a commercial investigation? 

Once you answer this question, you need to tailor your content to match their intent through the content’s style, type, format, and angle. Think about whether the user needs a product landing page, a blog post, or something else. Do they need a tutorial video or a compiled list? Construct your content in a way that makes sense for the user and provides the most ease of access to them. 

Once you’ve done this, your webpage will be in pretty good shape to rank, will have a higher chance of getting backlinks and will increase your website’s domain and authority. 

Conclusion

Remember, we aren’t saying that you shouldn’t include keywords into your writing; it’s just that keyword density is not the end all be all of SEO. Make sure that your target keyword is incorporated throughout the different aspects of your webpage, and use synonyms and related keywords to make the content stronger. Instead of being keyword dense, your web pages should be content dense and full of value for your users. 

So yet another SEO myth has been busted. If you’re wondering about other commonly accepted SEO principles, check out our blog for more helpful articles and information.