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Keyword Density

Allan Bisset

It’s a question I’m often asked.  How many keywords or keyphrases should a web page ideally contain?  Here are my thoughts...

What is a keyword/keyphrase?

Essentially they are the words or phrases that the user employs (i.e. types into the search box) when using a search engine. Keywords to a large extent define the function of the search engine.  The ratio of the keyword to the total number of words appearing on the web page is known as the keyword density – long regarded as one of the most critical aspects of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).   Keyword density is unquestionably a factor in any search engine’s determination of whether a web page is relevant for a specified keyword or keyword phrase -  although just how significant it is has been questioned more and more.  Whatever the position, it is still true that almost all the search engine algorithms  do assign some degree of importance to the number of times a keyword appears on a web page.  However, while some allow a large keyword density on the webpage, others like Google, do  place a limit on it to avoid search spamming through keyword stuffing.

Less Is More

The bottom line is that there is no hard and fast rule regarding the ideal keyword density in a website. It used to be “More is More” but has now swung back to “Less is More” mainly because the search engines change their algorithms.  Also, different search engines seem to prefer different keyword densities.  While more than 2% keyword density is considered spamming by Google, Bing and Yahoo seem to allow a more liberal 5% - 10% or greater.  Some search engines attach more importance to keywords in your title and meta tags,  whereas Google (still the most important search engine) seems to consider keywords in your web page text (including ALT tags) as more important.

Competition Influences Density

The ideal keyword density also changes depending on just how competitive the environment in which it has to function is.  Fiercely competitive keyword terms such as 'Search Engine Optimisation' find it difficult  to assure a good ranking even with a keyword density as high as 60%.  When the keyword is highly competitive, ideally you should focus on around one /two words per page. Pages with low competitive keywords could ideally focus on three or more keywords per page. More often than not, search terms comprise moderately competitive keywords and while these must be used on the home page they should also be linked to internal supporting pages.

Write for Your Visitors

The Ideal keyword density therefore is more of a range than a precise number. Anything between 1% - 7% keyword density is what any web page should aim for (1% keyword density is achieved by inserting a keyword once in every 100 words of text for example). Writing a minimum of 250 words creates enough content to naturally include a good keyword density.  Writing for your human visitors rather than just the search engine spiders is  also crucial.  Web pages with a keyword density of just 2% (but which contain relevant and genuinely informative content with keyphrases naturally and appropriately inserted so that entire piece makes sense to a human reader) can rank as highly as pages  with a keyword density of 20% - 30%.   The search engines too have started focusing more on the semantic  relevance and connection between words instead of simply relying on keyword density in their endeavor to curb spamming.

So while it cannot be denied that keyword density remains one of the aspects of search engine optimisation, it is definitely not the only factor and it's significance is continually being questioned.   Don’t lose sleep over achieving the exact keyword density in your web pages.   Just focus on writing meaningful, cogent and relevant content, without worrying too much about the keyword density.  That is the key to achieving good SERPs positions and coincidentally delivering an excellent user experience.



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