Ideal Keyword Density for Top Rankings?

seo-rankingDoes keyword density matter? What is the best keyword density? Is my keyword density too high?

These questions appear everyday from bloggers and webmasters. While many people argue that keyword density has no value, few actually understand that it actually does… but not in the ways that you would expect. It is not the case that xx% of keywords is ideal — That mindset is outdated and completely incorrect.

Keyword density is not analyzed as a single metric anymore. Google does not crawl your page and make a table of your most frequently used keywords. Instead, it analyzes each word on the page and gives it weight, depending on its prevalence and location. It’s now how many times you use your keyword that important, it’s how you use the keyword. Let me explain…

These Factors Weigh More than Keyword Density:

  1. Keyword usage in header and title tags
  2. Prevalence and spread of the keyword throughout the page
  3. Whether or not the keyword is in image alt-text
  4. If the keyword appears at the starting few sentences of the first paragraph
  5. Keyword usage in the URL / Domain
  6. Usage of synonyms and similar words throughout the article

One could make a simple argument in favor of keyword density: In order to place the keyword in each of these locations, you are effectively using the keyword more times. (Thereby increasing keyword usage, indirectly increasing your overall keyword density.)

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Can Keyword Density be too High?

keyword-density-stuffing Yes. While there is no optimal keyword density, using a keyword too many times without a good reason is an old-school tactic known as “keyword stuffing”. This is easy for Google to analyze and will directly result in lower rankings. Any tactic that attempts to manipulate the search engines will almost surely result in lesser rankings.

The common question is: “What keyword density is too high” — I am not one to put an arbitrary number on things, since the actual percentage is directly dependent on the type of site. (That being said, there is a simple way to judge.) Read the content out loud. If you read the content out loud and you hear the same word used over and over, you are likely using the keyword too much. Since synonyms and alternate keywords are great for pulling “long tail” rankings, why not use them? Often times optimizing a page for a few different keywords is more effective then heavily optimizing a page to focus on one main keyword. As a general rule, however, you should seriously consider a second look at your content if your main keyword appears more than 4% of the time. (Unless the page is thin on content, there is scarcely a need for many repetitions of a single keyword)

A Few Things to Consider:

  • Including your keyword a couple times is still best practice, but there is no need to over optimize.
  • If you read the content aloud, and it feels repetitive, replace the keyword with a few synonyms.
  • SEO Keyword density USED to matter much more — Thus, some content on the web is outdated and incorrect.
  • Position Matters: The location of the word on your page is more important than the overall keyword density
  • The exact percentage is irrelevant, how you use the word is what matters.
  • Not all locations are created equally. Titles, headers, bolded words and meta data carry additional weight.

If Keyword Density Doesn’t Matter… What Does?

Google analyzes hundreds of factors. Aside from your on-page SEO, Google looks carefully at the links to your website. Having bloggers talk about your website and link to you crucial. Updating your own blog with quality content is also important. Even establishing a social media presence is increasing in weight. As a whole, social signals, backlinks, on-page SEO, freshness, authorship score and brand presence carry much more algorithmic weight than the number of times your main keyword is used.

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