You may hear “keyword’ multiple times in a day/week/month and still be unsure why keyword density or keyword relevancy matters. And, if you’re not a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, you may not be sure why keywords matter so much TO YOU. They matter because keywords aren’t just marketing talk, they’re regular human talk.
Think of keywords as topics, or ideas that form content on a website. Think of them also as the words and phrases regular humans enter in search boxes on any search engine, predominately Google, to find content. Think back on the very words or phrases you’ve used today to search for answers to your questions. Those are your search queries and those are also keywords. Everything on a webpage page, including text, videos and images are primary keywords.
And because search engines need something to tell them what a specific page is about, so they can index and rank it in the search engine results pages (SERPs), they crawl with an eye for keywords. Keyword density is important because it makes clear to a search engine what the topic is on that specific page. Improving keyword relevancy is also connected to keyword density and its importance.
Wait, what? Keyword relevancy? Nothing complex here. Just be certain your chosen keywords are relevant to your product or service.
“That way, customers are more likely to click your ad as they search for specific terms,” according to Google. “Try replacing a single-word keyword with terms or phrases. Use keywords of two to three words that potential customers are likely to use to describe your product or service. In some cases, this means you’ll want to make keywords that are too general more specific.”
Also, make sure your keywords are relevant to the ads in your ad groups. Google support offers multiple insights on how you can be more applicable with keywords—and relevancy’s importance.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget that keyword density helps with TF-IDF analysis. Wait. What? What is TF-IDF? It’s a place where true SEO folks are at their happiest, but for the rest of us, it stands for frequency-inverse document frequency and is a way of determining content quality “based on an established expectation of what an in-depth piece of content contains,” according to keyword research and online ranking data SaS platform Semrush. Semrush identifies TF-IDF as a tool that “measures the importance of a keyword phrase by comparing it to the frequency of the term in a larger set of documents.”
Now that you have some additional context, let’s go back to keyword density rate, also referred to as keyword saturation rate. It is the percentage of the number of times a specific word or phrase appears within a piece of online content divided by the aggregate number of words on the page. If your piece of content is 200 words and you use the target keyword two times, the keyword saturation rate is 2%. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, consider the following ways to optimize your keyword density rate for SEO purposes.
The Ideal Keyword Saturation Rate
Keyword saturation rate communicates to Google (and other search engines) the frequency at which specific target keywords and phrases are used in content. And it can be a fine line to navigate. If the target keyword is used too frequently, Google will penalize the content for oversaturation. (Google sees you, overstuffers.) But, if the target keyword is used rarely or irregularly, it will be difficult for the search engine to pick up on the content and rank it accordingly.
According to inbound marketing and sales software Hubspot, the sweet spot for keyword frequency is between 0.5% and 1.5%. But, if you search the web, you will find some self-assigned SEO experts contending the optimal rate is upward of 2.5%. Before publishing any piece of content, run it through a web-based keyword density calculator to gauge its keyword saturation rate.
If the rate is between 0.5% and 2.5%, feel confident that you can publish the content, knowing search engines will recognize it and rank it highly. When customers or prospects search for the keywords or key phrases you are targeting, they will find your content in the first couple pages of the search engines and click through to those pages, as well as other pages on your website.
When in Doubt, Insert Keywords Where They Fit Naturally
Every SEO writer and strategist’s nightmare is online content unranked by search engines or ranked deep in never-never-seen land, well beyond the initial page or two of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Remember, Google continues to dominate search engine use, with an 85% percent market share of desktop searches in January 2023, according to Smart Insights. Also remember, according to Smart Insights, that the Advanced Web Ranking January 2023 “demonstrates the steep decline in click-throughs for keywords in 1st position down to 20th. It clearly shows the power of the top 5 positions.” The second page results are seen by less than 10% of searchers.
If your content has a keyword saturation rate less than 0.5%, there is a chance Google will not recognize its importance and utility. Frequency is one of the more important signals search engines rely on when determining site rankings. While you don’t want your content to have a low saturation rate, it is important to ensure that you have a purposeful strategy behind your keyword usage.
To do so, make sure that you aren’t trying to force keywords where they don’t fit naturally in a sentence. Here’s a good way to gauge the natural flow of your keywords: If you wouldn’t say your chosen keywords out loud—repeatedly—and expect people to understand and stay with you, then you’re trying to force those words. Just step away from the keyword rodeo.
Also understand that the placement value of a keyword varies. Certain spots on your website have more value for on-page SEO and are more optimal than others.
According to HubSpot, the following are some of the key places on your website to optimize for your chosen keywords:
- Headings and content
- Images titles and alt text
For optimal utilization, include your target keywords in your headlines and sub-headlines to emphasize their importance to Google.
Gather Information and Background Through Research
To gain a better understanding of how you can optimize your content, search your targeted keywords to see what your competitors are doing to rank higher. For example, are they placing certain keywords in titles? What are they including in their meta descriptions?
You might also observe similar words and phrases they’ve used within their webpage’s body copy to see if there’s anything else you may want to leverage on the topic. It’s also important to understand what’s ranking in the SERPs, while paying close attention to the density and volume of each word or long-tail phrase.
Keyword Density Tools
You can check your content’s keyword density rate with several check tools. As an example, the ADDMe tool makes it easy to create a keyword saturation report. You can even save the resulting report as a .csv file if desired.
Some prefer SEO plugins used with WordPress. As an example, Yoast SEO displays the keyword and key phrase density rate within the section for post editing. This tool details whether the density of the targeted keyword is optimal or used in excess. The tool even considers the aggregate number of words on the page and suggests alterations based on the word count.
Resist the Temptation to Keyword Stuff
Keyword stuffing is the overuse of keywords and key phrases with the goal of ranking as highly as possible in the SERPS for the words/phrases in question. It’s a rookie mistake to publish content to the web with a keyword saturation rate that exceeds 3%. Such an elevated keyword density rate will result in Google and other search engines penalizing your content for keyword stuffing, causing it to be removed from the rankings, or not be ranked at all.
Not only do you NOT want to negatively affect your ranking, you also want to ensure that your content isn’t suffering from overly used keywords. Keyword density is not the only ranking factor for SEO and must go together with quality content that fulfills a user’s search intent and entity-based semantic search engines. Keep in mind that while keywords can help drive people to your site, quality content is what will keep them coming back, which is why you must provide messaging that feels natural and offers true value to your audience.
Test Your Results and Adjust Accordingly
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you test your results and continue to adjust your content as needed. Check your keyword rankings and your targeted keywords to see how you might be able to further optimize your page.
If you’re comfortable with all these concepts, we applaud you. If you’d like guidance on any aspect of search engine optimization for your marketing efforts, let us know and we can start a conversation about a holistic and research-based approach to improve your search results.
Frequently Asked Questions
Keyword density refers to the percentage of times a target keyword or key phrase appears on a webpage in relation to the total number of words on that page.
The optimal keyword density rate for SEO is a topic of debate among experts. There is no fixed number or specific rate that guarantees better rankings. It is recommended to focus on creating high-quality, relevant content that provides value to users rather than obsessing over keyword density.
Keyword density is one of many factors that search engines consider when determining rankings. While it was once more influential, modern search engine algorithms are more sophisticated and prioritize user experience, relevance, and overall content quality. Therefore, keyword density alone does not guarantee higher rankings.
It is not necessary to aim for a specific keyword density percentage. Instead, focus on using keywords naturally and organically within your content. Write for your target audience, not search engines.
Rather than following rigid guidelines, it is recommended to use keywords naturally in your content. Ensure that they fit contextually and enhance the overall readability and value of your content. Overusing keywords, also known as “keyword stuffing,” can be detrimental to your rankings.
Yes, excessive keyword density, or keyword stuffing, can be penalized by search engines. Keyword stuffing is viewed as a manipulative practice and violates search engine guidelines. Focus on creating high-quality, informative content that resonates with your audience.