The Write Stuff – Blog

Jan 21 2014 Keyword Density – Are you playing a mug’s game?
Keyword density, a dangerous game

 

It seems keyword density is one of those subjects that still causes a lot of confusion. Most of us understand that keywords are an important part of our online copy, but what is less clear is how and where these words should be used.

This was a topic broached on by one of my Facebook fans. Mark wanted to know my thoughts, as an SEO copywriter, on keyword density – so here they are:

Keyword Density vs Keyword Frequency

My quick response to Mark was to focus less on the density of the keyword, and more on the frequency. You might wonder what the difference is. Let me explain.

Density is the number of times the keyword, or key phrase, is mentioned in the copy to achieve a certain percentage of the word count. For instance, you would need to mention the keyword 16 times in a 200 word article to achieve a keyword density of 8%. It used to be that the higher the density, the better, since the search engines would use the density of a word to help determine the subject matter of a page.

These days we call that keyword stuffing! It’s a big no-no and search engines will punish sites that use spammy keyword stuffing practices.  They might drop the offending site’s page rank, or even remove the site from their index altogether.

Frequency, on the other hand, only requires your keyword or phrase to be mentioned on the page enough times for it to be recognised as the “key” word/phrase.

For instance, in a 200 word article you might only need to mention your keyword 4 or 5 times for it to be the most frequently mentioned term on the page. Substantially less than when trying to achieve an arbitrary density!

A neat little tool I use to check keyword frequency is Wordle. You just copy and paste your text into the screen, hit create, and the most frequent words will be the biggest, making it easy to identify what they are (Wordle automatically ignores common words like it, and, the, etc.)

TIP: Wordle will treat capitalised and non-capitalised words as different words, so ensure they are consistent for accurate results. You can also use a tilde to join multiple words (long-tail keywords) together. A tilde is this symbol: ~

Keyword Placement

It’s important to consider where you place your keywords within your copy, as search engines will use the mark-up code to help identify them.

You should generally try to include your keyword or phrase in your header <H1>, sub header/s <H2/H3>, opening sentence, and closing paragraph – as well a couple of times throughout the body of the article as appropriate, depending on the length of the article.

However, this may not always be possible and should be considered more of a “serving suggestion” than a “golden rule”.

Other places to include your keywords are picture descriptions, alt tags and meta-tags.

These areas are particularly valuable if you have limited page copy, or are struggling to achieve a good frequency… but should not be abused with keyword stuffing!! Descriptions should always add value for your reader – first and foremost!

The Final Word

Ultimately, you should forget about keyword density. The focus of your keywords should be to provide relevant information to your audience. They should never seem forced or obvious.

When you write an article focused on the needs of your reader, relevant keywords will often appear with sufficient frequency and, more importantly – naturally  – which is what search engines like Google look for when assessing the quality of your copy.

Your own common sense should guide you. If your keywords seem clunky and unnatural because they’ve been forced in to the copy, then rethink how you’re writing your article and start again. The aim of the game is to serve your readers – not the search engines.

 Do you have a question about SEO copywriting that you’d like answered? Send me an email, or drop by my Facebook page for a chat.

Posted in Copywriting Tips, SEO, Websites by 10 comments

10 Responses to “Keyword Density – Are you playing a mug’s game?”

  • Reply Shauna January 22, 2014at 12:17 pm

    Thanks Anna, great post. We all know keyword stuffing is bad but it’s hard to know where the sweet spot is in terms of frequency (see, I was paying attention!). You’ve provided a great guide that’s easy to use and not overwhelming for any SEO newbies. Love your work!

    • Reply Anna Butler January 22, 2014at 4:39 pm

      LOL – extra points to you Shauna!
      That’s what I love about Wordle… it’s super easy to see which words are hitting that sweet spot.

  • Reply Mani January 22, 2014at 12:42 pm

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks for covering an important and confusing SEO issue.

    • Reply Anna Butler January 22, 2014at 3:26 pm

      You’re welcome Mani.

      It can be easy to forget that people who don’t work with keywords and online copy everyday might not know the latest ‘best practices’. This is why I love encouraging people to ask questions!

  • Reply Chris Finnegan January 22, 2014at 2:23 pm

    Hi Anna,
    Great plain english, easy to follow article! You mention having keywords in the opening sentence which is important as keywords closer to the top of the page carry more weight,

    Cheers
    Chris

    • Reply Anna Butler January 22, 2014at 4:36 pm

      Thanks Chris. And yes, while having keywords at the beginning of your copy is a great sign for search engines, the quality of the writing should never be sacrificed to make words fit in places they don’t look right.
      If they end up in the second sentence… that’s OK too (although if you haven’t got to it by the 3rd sentence, your sentences are either too short, or you might be waffling a bit much!)

  • Reply kate Toon January 22, 2014at 3:01 pm

    Good posts.
    I’d argue that placement in the URL and the Title tag are a priority.

    Also ensure you make your content Semantic search friendly by including a variety of words and synonyms,

    Thanks
    Kate

    • Reply Anna Butler January 22, 2014at 3:30 pm

      Excellent advice as always, Kate. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply Merryn January 26, 2014at 8:16 pm

    Fabulous post Anna. I find the plugin Yoast SEO to be really effective for SEO Copywriting as it prompts you to add your chosen keyword.

    • Reply Anna Butler January 26, 2014at 9:36 pm

      Cheers Merryn. And yeah, Yoast is awesome. Very user-friendly and definitely my favourite SEO plugin.

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