Demystifying Keyword Density

- June 4, 2007

Ask around; what is the best keyword density for a web page to rank well for a given term? Searching on the internet I found answers ranging from 2% to 12% and one as high as 20%. The interesting thing is they could all be right.

The one thing many people fail to take into consideration when looking for this magical number is the idea that it changes based on factors related to the page or search term. Additionally, its importance in the algorithm may also fluctuate based on external influences. Instead of hunting for that perfect density, it may help to better understand what part keywords play in getting a page ranked.

I shouldn’t have to say it, but unfortunately I do; a keyword or phrase needs to be on the page in order to rank well for the term. Can a page rank if the term is not on the page? Sure if it has inbound links using the terms, but it’s not going to rank very well on those alone. Using the keyword or phrase in a variety of ways throughout a page will greatly increase the chances of showing up higher in the rankings for that term.

Now back to density…Proper keyword density is a moving target. Two main factors are the total amount of words on a page and the competitiveness of the phrase in the engines.

When there are very few words on a page 6% density is a tough target to hit and make the copy readable. However, when the page has a large amount of copy 6% is much more manageable. When analyzing a page 6% of 1000 words may seem much less “spammy” than 6% of 100 words. The optimal keyword density of a page will change based on how many total words are on the page.

If a keyword phrase is unique and the competition in the search engines is low, a much lower or much higher keyword density may work just fine. The overall effect density has on search results is much broader when there is little or no competition. As the competition for a phrase increases, the keyword density target becomes more critical. Ironically, the density also plays a smaller and smaller part in ranking as the competition for a phrase increases.

To be fair, I tell people on a regular basis to target a 4% keyword density on a page. I do this primarily to get them thinking about how to use keywords on a page. I find having a set target is a good motivator and really helps a webmaster or site owner to understand the importance of targeting a page to a specific phrase or set of words.

The hunt for the perfect keyword density is slowing down as more people realize natural language seems to fare just as well if not better in the search engine results. If you understand the fundamentals of targeting a page for a phrase, there is no reason to worry about keyword density. Just write good copy.

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