The Myth of Keyword Density
Keyword density is a term we hear all the time, and with keywords still being the main factor search engines use to decide who ranks for what, this is unlikely to change. However, it is important to be clear on what is meant by keyword density. Typically this would refer to the number of times a keyword is used in proportion to the number of words on a page.
If the keyword you’re targeting is ‘insurance’ and it comes up 12 times on a page containing 500 words, then the keyword density is 2.4%
One of the keywords we’re currently working on for a client is ‘maths tutors in london’. If this keyword appeared three times on a page containing 500 words, this page would also have a density of 2.4%. The keyword is 4 words long, repeated three times, so a total of 12 words within the article are keyword words.
Keyword density has been considered an important metric since the birth of the search engine. While its relevance dropped when Google’s original Page Rank algorithm began prioritising sites by their inbound links, keyword density remained a popular term and we still hear it being thrown around now.
Search Engines Do Not Measure Keyword Density
The calculation that was done above to calculate keyword density is not repeated by search engines. They do not work out how many times a keyword is used in a page. Keyword density has no influence on search engine ranks, it never has influenced search engine ranks, and it has never even been measured by search engines. What this means is that the concept of ‘keyword stuffed’ content is actually a myth; it is not the stuffing of keywords that will cause search engine penalties, but rather the high occurrence of the same keyword within the page, and lack of variation in the text.
There is a lot of bad information on this topic. Search online for what’s the optimum keyword density and some will say “don’t go below 1% or you won’t get ranked”, “keep it less than 7%, that’s the way to avoid penalties”, or “3-5% is the optimum”. They are all wrong.
Although keyword density itself is not measured, this is more a matter of specifics than a ground breaking revelation. Google, Bing, Yahoo and every other search engine you’d care to be ranked in, have very complex methods of determining the quality of the text on a page. Even if you selected 10 different related keywords and repeated them over and over on a page, alternating between them in a random order, you won’t rank for those terms. It’s obvious to search bots that you haven’t produced good content.
How To Avoid Over Optimisation
The SEO mix goes way beyond simple keywords on the page, but it still plays an important part in ranking. Keyword placement on page can be summarised into a few points:
- Use your main keyword phrase as close to the start of the text as possible
- Use similar variations of the keyword naturally within the text
- Bear your keyword in mind, but do not deliberately force it in
Do not calculate your keyword density. Not only is the calculation a waste of time, but focusing on achieving a specific keyword density is hard work and uses time that could be spent doing something productive. In my experience, it also encourages writers to put keywords in where they don’t really fit, which is unfortunately one of the easiest things you can do to get Google to penalise your site. With search engine crawlers become more and more advanced, they can immediately spot a keyword that doesn’t fit, and they’ll know you’re trying to trick them. Keep text clean, keep it natural, and forget about keyword density because it doesn’t matter.
In case you’re interested, I used the phrase ‘keyword density’ 15 times in this article (including the two mentions in this sentence, but not including the title) giving a keyword density of 2.23%. However, the almighty Google doesn’t care.