What is keyword density?

Keyword density describes the ratio of SEO keywords on a webpage as a percentage of the total words on that page.

Keyword Density in SEO: How Does Google Weigh Word Frequency?

In the context of SEO (search engine optimization), keywords are the words or phrases that users input into a search engine, and in the West, this search engine is usually Google. Because Google is programmed to provide relevant results, matching keywords on any given webpage plays an important role in Google’s ranking algorithm. 

The fact that keywords are a ranking factor is well-known in the world of SEO; however, how much weight they have and how to best utilize them is a more controversial topic. A natural impulse for many is to think that “more keywords equals better ranking,” but that philosophy underestimates the sophistication of Google’s algorithm.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is a disparaging term for intentionally packing keywords into a page with the intent of boosting its ranking in the search results. This is not only no longer particularly effective but is also widely considered an unethical or “black hat” practice.

In the past, keyword density was simply weighted in favor of quantity. Keyword density was a significant enough factor that some websites would actually hide keywords in the margins of their web pages. However, as stated, Google has drastically improved its ranking algorithm. While keywords still certainly play a part in ranking, focusing solely on keyword density — as many websites prescribe — is an attempt to give a simple answer to a very complex question. In fact, because Google is aware that people try to exploit keyword density in order to rank well, the algorithm often recognizes keyword stuffing and deprioritizes the offending page as a bad result of related queries. 

Nevertheless, in an attempt to make good use of keywords without keyword stuffing, many individuals and groups utilize keyword tools to keep their keyword density balanced. These tools process a web page and determine what the keyword ratio for the page is. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that the keywords should account for about 2-4% of the page to maximize the value of keywords without appearing to be spam. Although some of these tools, such as Yoast, are advanced and based on credible information, it is important to remember that all of these results are estimates based on estimates. There is no magic number — at least that Google is sharing publicly at this time — and, even if there were, it is unlikely to be a simple, static percentage.

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Good Keyword Strategies

This may seem confusing; keywords can help a page’s ranking, but also potentially damage it? Yes, and as stated, this contradiction largely has to do with the complexity of the algorithm, but it is also in Google’s best interest to keep the details of their algorithm confusing and opaque. Google doesn’t want people to know how to take advantage of their proprietary system and have no obligation to share how it works. In fact, some of the information about the algorithm that Google does share publicly may be intentionally misleading in an attempt to deter black hats. 

Write Great Content

Google’s algorithm is looking for great content and great answers, so rather than looking for a way to trick the algorithm, a much simpler and more effective strategy is just to write great content and give great answers. As long as you are staying on topic for what you are trying to rank for, you will naturally use the keywords and associated words and phrases often. However, it will not be so often that your content looks like spam, because you are a human writing naturally. 

Limiting the scope of keyword utilization to equations or tools can result in a clearly tailored product. It’s an uncertain result of a haphazard solution based on limited information. Keyword density is an important factor, however, without useful content to back it up, the whole process is a pointless or even detrimental endeavor. When in doubt, write for the human reader, because that is who Google is catering to.

Keyword Variance

Not only will writing naturally often provide a reasonable frequency of the exact keywords you’re targeting, but it will also provide a natural number of similar or associated keywords and phrases. Google also expects to see these in a naturally written document that thoroughly explores an issue. For example, an article about a rise in freak skeeball accidents will of course frequently use the words “skeeball” and “accident,” but it would also commonly use associated words and phrases like “injury,” or “arcade.” A well-written piece produced by a human will utilize a variety of words and phrases related contextually to keywords and topics explored. 

When considering keyword density to improve ranking, it is vital to remember that there are no simple answers. Tools and estimates can help, but good content is far more valuable, from both an ethical and ranking perspective.