Keyword Density in Modern SEO

The written content on a website is one of the most powerful indicators that Google uses to categorize pages on its search engine results pages. It’s as if every single written word on the site is a tiny string pulling its page toward a relevant audience. So, like many other content writers in the world of search engine optimization (SEO), I always have one question on my mind: Should I put another keyword there?

To an amateur web developer, filling your website with keywords may seem like an easy way to boost your website’s rankings toward the top of the search results. Truly, there’s nothing stopping us from putting phrases like “best sandwich in Chicago” and “shoes near me” all over our websites. Unfortunately, (fortunately?) it’s not that simple. Today, search engines like Google use more sophisticated algorithms that focus on the relevance and quality of content rather than just the frequency of keywords. The true bar for SEO is “helpful” content rather than keyword-saturated content.

All things considered, best practices for keyword density can be a little bit hazy. The key to success with your keywords is to find the right balance between getting Google’s attention with plenty of relevant keywords and creating content that is informative to the user.

What is Keyword Density?

Keyword density refers to the percentage of times a particular keyword or keyphrase appears on a webpage compared to the total number of words on that page. You can calculate a page’s keyword density by finding the exact number of keywords on the page and dividing that by the number of total words on the page. For example, if I have 20 keywords on a page with 1,000 words, I would have a keyword density of 2% (20 / 1000 = 0.02). However, when people in the industry talk about keyword density, they’re usually talking about the frequency of keywords in a general sense, not the exact percentages.

Keywords and keyword density are two cardinal concepts in content writing. For decades, writers have been taught to include relevant keywords on every webpage to help search engines better understand their content. To an extent, this is still true, but these days we’re walking a fine line. If we add too few keywords, then we won’t be maximizing our website’s potential. If we add too many, we’ll be in danger of being flagged for keyword stuffing.

What is Keyword Stuffing?

Keyword stuffing takes a website’s keyword density to the max. Like my example with “best sandwich in Chicago” and “shoes for sale,” keyword stuffing is the practice of overloading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Keyword stuffing was once somewhat effective in the early days of SEO, but can now be identified and demoted automatically by Google’s algorithm.

When an unsuspecting reader arrives on a website stuffed with keywords, the content can start to sound unnatural, and more difficult to comprehend fully. Oversaturating your content with keywords will not help you rank better anymore. Search engines recognize these tactics as spam, and your attempt to increase keyword relevance may backfire. According to Google, “Sites that violate our policies may rank lower in results or not appear in results at all.”

Using Keyword Density Checkers

Keyword density checkers are tools designed to analyze a block of text and calculate the frequency of specific keywords relative to the total word count. In other words, these tools take a lot of labor out of finding your exact keyword density. Depending on the tool, you can either input a URL or a string of text. The keyword density checker will then analyze the content on the page or the string of text and provide statistics about how frequently some words and phrases were used.

While a keyword density checker won’t tell you to add or remove keywords on its own, it will help you better dissect your content. For example, if you accidentally use a keyword over a dozen times on a single page, your keyword density checker will call attention to that instantly. Chances are, you aren’t producing spammy content by accident, but an extra once-over by the tool will ensure that you don’t get too trigger-happy with your favorite keywords.

Keyword Messaging from Google

It’s worth noting that in Google’s guide to creating helpful content, the very first sentence tells us to create content “to benefit people, not to gain search engine rankings.” But what about all of that keyword research we did for the sake of ranking well for high-impact keywords? One of the most important steps in SEO content optimization is integrating keywords into your content. Is my entire career built on a lie?

So, why does it seem like the more we dig into Google’s recommendations for content creation, the less it seems like keywords are important at all? The fact of the matter is that Google wants to reward content that benefits users rather than content designed to impress Google. I want to emphasize that keywords are still important for your website, but the best-written content will use those words and phrases without performing literary gymnastics. 

High keyword density alone isn’t going to fool anyone, and no one wants to read overstuffed copy. But people do want to recognize the words they use in the copy they read, as long as it’s done naturally. 

Imagine writing about baseball cards without using the words “baseball” or “cards.” Practically impossible. But instead of saturating your keyword density with the phrase “baseball cards” over and over again, ask yourself what you would want to see on a web page before making a purchase. As long as your content is insightful and original, keywords will appear naturally, and can be swapped with similar words that you researched along the way.

What Should My Keyword Density Be?

Can we calculate keyword density? Yes. Is there an exact keyword density that websites should strive for? Not really. A quick Google search will yield several percentages for the keyword phrase “ideal keyword density,” but these values should be taken with a massive grain of salt. Despite numerous blogs that claim to have cracked the code for the best keyword density, Google doesn’t have any official guidelines for keyword count.

Keyword density has become less crucial to search engines as they’ve continued to evolve. Modern search engines, like Google, have algorithms that prioritize contextual relevance rather than sheer keyword frequency. In lieu of creating pages with a high keyword volume, it’s better to focus on creating well-written, people-first content that naturally incorporates keywords where appropriate. Providing value to readers is one of the cornerstones of modern SEO, so definitely take a “quality” approach rather than “quantity.” Instead of writing the same keyword one more time, try to create an aura of experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness for your readers.

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