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: ~
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.