Keyword Density is a measure of how many times a particular keyword appears in a single piece of content. It’s expressed as a percentage and calculated by dividing the total number of times a keyword is used with the total number of words a particular piece of content contains.
In the early 2000s, marketers used to add as many related keywords as possible to their pages to try to rank for all of them. This practice was known as keyword stuffing, and Google quickly caught on to it. A few years later, smart marketers abandoned keyword stuffing but learned that writing articles with high keyword density could help rank their websites on the first page of Google.
Over the years, Google updated their algorithm numerous times and started penalizing websites that took advantage of high keyword density.
Despite the fact that Google stopped paying as much attention to keyword density when ranking websites, there are still marketers that focus on reaching a certain keyword density with their content.
Today we’re going to examine why focusing on keyword density is bad and what you should do instead.
Can Keyword Density Hurt Rankings?
In his excellent blog post on Google’s 200 ranking factors, Brian Dean discusses all the latest information currently available on how Google ranks websites. According to Dean, keyword density isn’t as important as it once was, but it might still be used by Google to determine the topic discussed on a particular page.
He warns that using high keyword density in your articles can hurt your rankings. Dean also notes that using your keyword in the first 100 words of your content does correlate with first page Google rankings.
Now that you understand how using high keyword density in your articles can be dangerous, let’s look at what you should do instead.
Why Long-Form Content?
Chris Lee, the founder of RankXL.com, states that you should focus on writing content that your audience will like since Google is focusing on providing people with the best possible content for their query.
He explains that Google no longer relies on exact match keywords and phrases and that you shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about keyword density. Instead, you should focus on writing quality, in-depth content that will serve your audience’s needs.
Answer Your Searcher’s Questions
Rand Fishkin, the co-founder of Moz.com and the founder of SparkToro, explains that high-keyword density and keyword stuffing is a thing of the past. He states that the most important thing your article needs to do is solve the searcher’s query, so that your content helps the user accomplish what they set out to do.
Fishkin also adds that using words and phrases related to the searcher’s query in your content can provide a significant boost to your rankings. This requires an understanding of search intent, or why a particular person is conducting a Google search.
There are four types of search intent:
- Informational intent – Users with informational intent are looking for specific information that they currently need. They could be searching for tomorrow’s weather forecast or trying to learn how to play the guitar.
- Navigational intent – There are people who still type in the name of the website they want to visit into Google, rather than typing the website’s full URL into their browser’s address bar.
- Transactional intent – Users who are ready to purchase a product or service and are looking for a website where they can do this have transactional intent.
- Commercial – Some shoppers aren’t ready to buy just yet but are looking for reviews or recommendations for specific products.
Google has become quite good at figuring out search intent and tends to favor websites that match the searcher’s intent. Websites that match both the search term and the search intent of a particular query are ranked the highest.
To optimize your page for search intent, you need to make sure that it matches your visitors’ search intent. If a keyword indicates that people are using it to search for information, you shouldn’t try to show them a product page.
Similarly, if your page is attracting traffic from visitors using transactional intent keywords, you shouldn’t show them a long blog post but rather lead them to your product page.
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the true search intent of a particular query. Even Google sometimes isn’t quite sure what a particular searcher wants to see. When that happens, Google tries to cater to different types of intent.
For example, let’s say you typed in “HVAC company” into Google. Since it isn’t 100% sure what you’re looking for, Google might show you a list of pages with different search intent on its first page of results.
Most likely you’re likely you’re looking to book a HVAC company, so Google will show you a list of HVAC companies near you at the top of the search results.
It will also show you pages comparing different HVAC companies, as well as pages containing tips on how to choose the right HVAC company.
Finally, it will show you related searches to try to determine your intent.
While you don’t have access to all of the data that Google has, you can use visitor surveys to ask what people who land on your page are looking for and then use that information to modify your page accordingly.
Increase Topical Relevancy
Joshua Hardwick is the Head of Content at Ahrefs.com and the founder of The SEO Project. Hardwick echoes Fishkin’s thoughts on the importance of using related words and phrases to increase the topical relevancy of your content.
He points to a Google patent on phrase-based indexing, which states that Google “uses phrases to index, retrieve, organize and describe documents.”
Using phrases and words that are related to your keyword helps Google understand what your content is about and how relevant it is to the searcher’s query.
For example, if the primary keyword you’re trying to rank for is “Best restaurants in New York City”, related phrases you could use include:
Best restaurants in Manhattan
Best places to eat in NYC on a budget
Trendy restaurants in midtown NYC
You can use Google to find more related phrases for your keyword. Just type in your keyword into Google search and then scroll down to the bottom of the page. This is what you’ll see:
At the bottom of the page, Google will display phrases that are related to your search. These phrases are actual searches that people are making with Google, so including these in your content could also help you rank for those keywords as well.
However, you shouldn’t stuff your articles with just any related phrases you can find but rather pick a few that you can naturally incorporate into your content.
Keep It Natural (and under 3%)
Nathan Gotch, the founder of GotchSEO.com, thinks that you should focus on writing your articles in the most natural way possible. In most cases, this would result in your articles having near-optimal keyword density.
However, he does state that it wouldn’t hurt if you check the keyword density of the top-ranking content for your target keyword.
Gotch suggests that you find the average keyword density of the highest ranking pages for your keyword and then adjust your keyword density accordingly. However, if you want your page to rank in the long term, you should never allow your keyword density to go over 3%.
Rather than thinking about content in terms of keyword density, you should focus on content creation. Keyword density is more suited to be a part of your editing process, rather than a strategy on which to base your content.
Check Your Keyword Density
You can use the free keyword density checker tool from Internet Marketing Ninjas to check the keyword density of your own pages or your competitors’ articles. Just paste in the link of the page which you want to analyze, and you’ll get a report similar to this one:
If you’re using WordPress, a plugin such as Yoast SEO can help you keep an eye on keyword density while you’re writing your article.
Most SEO experts agree that focusing on keyword density is an outdated practice that should be avoided. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t incorporate relevant keywords into your content. However, your focus should be on creating comprehensive, in-depth content that solves your audience’s problems.
When writing an article, write as you usually would without worrying about keyword density. Try to naturally incorporate a few related phrases into your content to make your article more topically relevant. Once you complete the article, check your keyword density to ensure that it’s no higher than 3% to avoid being penalized by Google.
Following these tips will help to increase the chances of your content ranking high in Google as well as keep you out of trouble once Google inevitably releases another update for its search engine in the future.