What on earth is keyword density?
Search engine optimisation isn’t rocket science, but it sometimes feels like it is.
There are so many different elements involved in SEO that you practically need a degree in marketing to keep track of it all. Aside from keyword research, there’s also:
…and so much more. On top of that, leading engines like Google are constantly updating their SEO algorithms to ensure that they can deliver the best possible experiences to their target audience. Throw all of this together, and it’s no wonder that companies find themselves turning to SEO experts for help.
Why can’t we just write great content without worrying about search engine visibility?
The simple answer is that without great SEO, your brand can’t thrive online. Think about the billions of blogs that are available on the web. How many of them do you see when you type a search into Google?
Search engines only show you the pages that rank, with the top position getting 33% of all online traffic. Without SEO, you’re just shouting into the void.
Keyword density is a foundational component of SEO that used to have a much greater impact on your ranking. While the facts around optimum keyword density have changed in recent years, this measurement is still a useful part of any SEO campaign. That’s why, by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’re going to know how to check keyword density on your pages and find your ‘magic’ number.
What is keyword density and what does it mean to SEO?
So, what is keyword density?
In basic terms, it’s how often a keyword or phrase appears on your page.
Most companies already know that keywords are some of the most critical parts of any great SEO strategy. While keyword strategies have evolved to suit changing online algorithms, the terms themselves are still how Google and your customers find your content.
In the initial days of SEO, keyword density was measured religiously. The more times you could mention a keyword in the same blog or article, the more likely you were to rank at the top of the search results.
Unfortunately, this meant that the internet was full of thin, boring and unhelpful content. Companies placed more focus on repeating the right term than they did on creating something their customers wanted to read.
Since Google is all about delivering great experiences online, they decided to reduce their focus on keyword density percentage and track other factors instead. The Panda update rolled out, and brands started to question whether good keyword density mattered anymore. Google began to focus more on user experience and ‘context’, which meant that repeating a word wasn’t enough to place you at the top of the ladder anymore.
Focusing too heavily on keyword density today could even get you penalised if Google thinks that you’re ‘stuffing’ your content.
It makes sense. After all, when you write something with the underlying knowledge that you must fit a phrase into your piece a certain number of times, you can’t be creative. Your mind gets so overwhelmed with math equations that you forget that content still needs to be comprehensive, purposeful and relevant.
So, does that mean that SEO keyword density is dead?
Maybe not. Although it isn’t a good idea to search for a certain number of repetitions in your content, knowing how to check keyword density may be useful. After all, learning the basics means that you can make sure you’ve avoided keyword stuffing, and possibly dangerous writing before you publish anything on your site.
Today’s SEO strategies are all about finding a safe keyword density, that doesn’t detract from your content quality or brand reputation.
How to check keyword density: Ways to calculate your magic number
As mentioned above, keyword density refers to the number of times a term appears in your content.
If you want to calculate your keyword density percentage, you don’t necessarily need a special tool. All you need to do is divide the number of times your keyword appears on a page, by the number of words in that page. For instance, if you mentioned your keyword ten times in a 1000-word article, your density would be 1%.
Of course, if you’re publishing a lot of blogs as part of your content marketing plan, you might not want to waste time searching through each piece for signs of a specific term. In that case, it helps to use a keyword density checker. On WordPress, you can download a keyword density tool like Yoast which automatically checks your page for you before you hit ‘publish’.
Alternatively, if you want an external tool, you can try one of the following:
1. The Small SEO Tools keyword density checker
If you’re looking for something free and simple to help you check for optimum keyword density, Small SEO Tools is a very popular option on today’s market. Their best-known tool is their backlink checker, and they also have a plagiarism checker too – to make sure your articles aren’t too close to anything else on the web.
The keyword density checker works in two ways. You can either input an URL into the system after you’ve published your content or copy-and-paste from a word doc. This keyword density tool allows you to exclude meta tags and alt-tags from your search for a more accurate calculation too.
2. Marketing Ninjas keyword density tool
Marketing Ninjas is another well-known provider of tools for online marketing. This company’s keyword density checker is free to use, just like the one above, and works by scanning through the content on your page when you input an URL.
For a free tool, the Marketing Ninja keyword density service provides a detailed analysis on the content of your page. You’ll see the number of words in the material, the number of non-link and linked words, and more. It’s a reliable tool for SEO all around, mainly if you’re just getting started with your online presence.
3. SEOBook’s keyword density percentage service
Finally, SEOBook offers a free way to check up on your keyword density whether you prefer to just enter an URL or paste your content into the search box. This keyword density checker sets itself apart from the other options on the market by giving you plenty of configuration options to choose from when you’re looking for the right density. For instance, you can exclude or include your meta tags, page titles, and meta descriptions.
As mentioned above, the aim of using these tools should be to make sure that your content isn’t so cluttered with keywords that you’re going to have a hard time delivering any real value.
Optimum keyword density: Top tips for good keyword density
As with most aspects of SEO, there isn’t a specific set of guidelines to follow when you’re hunting for optimum keyword density. You won’t find a page on Google devoted to telling you all about the best keyword density percentage.
Different tools and organisations have their own opinions on the ‘magic number’. For instance, Yoast recommends a keyword density range of about 0.5% to 2.5%. However, the best rule you can follow is this one: “Write your content for humans, not robots.”
If you read through your blog and think that your keywords sound forced and unnatural – then there are too many of them.
Google’s algorithms are increasingly focused on ‘user experience’. That means that if you create content that your customers love, you’ll automatically get on Google’s good side at the same time. Here are a few tips to make sure that you achieve ‘safe’ keyword density in your posts.
1. Avoid keyword stuffing at all costs
When the concept of SEO was still emerging about 10 years ago, there was a standard practice companies used to hit the top of the rankings fast: keyword stuffing. Essentially, this process involved using a combination of long-tail and short-tail keywords as frequently as possible in a page. The writers used their keywords so often, that the content stopped making sense.
One way that brands attempted to solve the quality problem was to include footers at the bottom of their web pages, which contained hundreds of keyword variants and search terms. Unfortunately, this also slowed the pages down and made searching for the perfect content tougher.
Now, any hint of keyword stuffing on your site is enough to get you a serious penalty from Google. That means that you not only ruin your chances of getting to the top of the search results, but you could end up being practically impossible to find online. Make sure that your keywords only appear where they’re most natural.
2. Use the right keywords
Succeeding with keywords in SEO isn’t just about achieving good keyword density. You’ll also need to make sure that you’re using the right terms to connect with your target audience.
In the past, brands used maybe one or two keywords in their content. This wasn’t necessarily a bad practice in short-form pieces like 500-word blog posts, but today, keywords and SEO have become more complex. Thanks to the age of semantic search, it’s more important for brands to use a variety of related phrases and words to give context to their topics.
In a world where user intent is the primary focus for many search engines, writing for both customers and robots alike means choosing a variety of words closely related to your subject. This includes ‘proof’ keywords which show Google your content covers the topic you say you’re covering. For instance, in an article about SEO, proof keywords are likely to contain words like ‘optimisation’, ‘ranking’, and ‘keywords’.
The good news? If you’re writing well, then those terms should show up automatically.
3. Know where to place your keywords
Just as it’s important to know which keywords you should be using, you’ll also need to figure out where you should place those terms. Keywords don’t have to exist entirely within your body content. In fact, it’s best to spread them out a little more if you want to maintain a safe keyword density.
When Google starts searching for companies to rank at the top of the SERPs (Search engine result pages), it looks for contextual keywords in certain places, such as your:
Knowing where to place your keywords means that you get more traction with Google, without having to risk the readability of your text with customers.
Forget suggested keyword density: Do SEO the right way
The conversation around keyword density is very different today.
In the past, achieving the right keyword percentage was all about stuffing as many terms into your content as possible. Now, companies that focus too much on attaining the proper keyword density could risk ruining their content, reducing their credibility, and even losing brand loyalty.
If you want to stay ahead of the curve today, then you need to make sure you’re not just writing for the search engines. Excellent SEO isn’t an algorithm you can plug into a computer or a perfect number that you can achieve on a digital scorecard. Today, SEO is a complex part of your content marketing campaign. It involves walking the tightrope between customer satisfaction, and digital context. Here are some of the ways that you can make sure you accomplish your SEO goals (without worrying too much about density).
1. Create entertaining, engaging content
First things first, your readers are far more important than the search engines.
Rather than worrying about what a robot thinks of your content, you should be thinking about your readers. After all, these are the people that you’ll be building affinity with through your words.
Ultimately, search engines don’t read your content; they just evaluate it based on some pre-set algorithms. If you use the right mixture of keywords, links, and other essential SEO strategies in your campaign, you might have what it takes to impress the search engines, but you won’t get very far unless you also engage your audience. High bounce rates (when people click on your site and then immediately click away) harm your SEO rankings.
If customers arrive on your pages and see you’ve got nothing but fluff to offer, they won’t stick around. Work on grabbing your customers attention, giving them the detail, they need, and offering something unique. Do that, and the SEO rank will come naturally.
2. Try keyword variants
If you’ve checked your keyword density and noticed that it’s pretty high, you might be in trouble. A high frequency indicates that you’re at risk of being classified as a ‘spammy’ site. However, sometimes, you can naturally have a high density, without deliberately trying to stuff your content full of keywords. After all, if you’re talking about a specific topic in detail, a specific set of words is bound to show up in your blogs and articles several times.
The good news is that you can cut down your density slightly be replacing some of your keywords with ‘alternative’ or variant terms. For instance, if you’re writing about digital marketing, you might cut up your content with references to digital advertising, digital promotion, or online marketing instead.
Using keyword variants gives you a safer keyword density while ensuring that you also have more opportunities to rank for the terms that your customers might be looking for. What’s more, these related terms can also give more context to Google, so it knows where to place you in the SERPs.
3. Use hidden keywords
You could always try using ‘hidden’ keywords to boost your content strategy.
We’re not recommending using the old-fashioned method of hiding your terms at the bottom of your web pages here. That sort of practice is sure to get you slapped by Google. Instead, we’re talking about creating your own keywords that allow you to win domain authority from Google.
For instance, mentioning your brand in relation to the term you’re talking about will help search engines to identify the niche that your company belongs to. If the team here at Fabrik was writing about ‘branding’ for instance, we might talk about “Fabrik’s branding services” too. This long-tail keyword phrase probably isn’t a competitive term, but it does give extra information to Google.
4. Test your strategies early and often
Finally, with almost anything you do in the world of SEO, it’s essential to gather as much hard data as you can about your successes and failures. The last thing you want to do is make assumptions about how well your content is ranking, and how it’s resonating with your target audience.
If you’re not already signed up with a tool like Google Analytics, make sure you have a way to start tracking your site’s performance before you start playing with things like keyword density. With the right systems in place, you can A/B test your content, site copy, and even your product descriptions to make sure that you’re not inadvertently hurting your searchability with high keyword density.
There are plenty of tools out there you can use, from free solutions to premium tools that you can download straight onto your office computers.
The truth about SEO keyword density: Does it still count?
As the world of SEO and digital marketing continues to transform, many companies are left wondering whether keyword density is still an essential component of their online strategy.
In the early days, things like density played a critical role in how high you were placed in the SERPs. Today, the higher you go with your density percentage, the more likely it is that you’ll end up with a penalty from Google. So, does this mean that the era of density is dead?
Ultimately, keyword density is still important – but not for the same reasons as it was in the past. From a practical perspective, it always makes sense to focus on your keywords where you can and make sure you mention the right terms in the most relevant places. Monitoring keyword density also means that you can ensure you’re not doing anything to harm your reputation or earn a place on Google’s spam site hit-list.
However, actively trying to reach a certain number in your density percentage just wastes your time and could even make your content less appealing.
Today, it’s far more critical to make sure that you’re delivering the right brand experiences with your content, through a recognisable tone of voice, and a commitment to sharing useful information.
Keyword placement and research are still essential but obsessing over the details will only get you so far. Today’s search engines rank websites based on the experience that they can deliver to their target audience. That means that if you create the content that your customer wants to read, they keep coming back to your site. As a result, you’ll automatically rank higher – regardless of what your keyword percentage looks like.
Content is still an art. Don’t try to turn it into too much of a science.
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