Is there an ideal ratio of keywords to total word count for a piece of content to rank well in SERPs?
In this post, we’ll go over what keyword density means, whether it’s important for SEO, and some actionable tips for you to get the most out of keywords.
Quite simply, keyword density is the number of times a keyword is used on a webpage relative to the page’s total word count. Usually, keyword density is expressed in the form a of a percentage that can be calculated with the following formula:
Number of target keywords / total number of words = keyword density
For example, a blog article on how to take care of goldfish might use the keyword “goldfish” 13 times in a post of 1000 words. In this case, one would divide 13 by 1000 to arrive at 0.013. Multiply 0.013 by 100 to get the percentage, and you have 1.3%. So, the blog article has a keyword density of 1.3%.
Once you learn how, calculating keyword density is simple. The real question becomes exactly how important is keyword density for SEO.
Keywords themselves are integral to SEO. They tell search engines what a piece of content is about, so the search engine can know where to display it in search results. For marketers, targeting keywords is an effective way to attract leads to a product or service.
In the early years of search engines, some marketers would try to game the system by stuffing their content with keywords. For example, many booking agencies would keyword stuff their webpage footers with phrases like “cheap hotels paris” or “cheap hotels nyc” just to increase their SERP ranking. And back then, keyword stuffing was somewhat effective.
However, search engines have since evolved to detect and penalize keyword-stuffed content. Major algorithm changes like Google’s Panda, Hummingbird, and RankBrain updates have ensured that only quality content ranks. The 2011 Panda update started penalizing thin content and unusually high keyword density. The 2013 Hummingbird update placed greater emphasis on natural language. The 2015 RankBrain update allowed AI technology to alter search ranking depending on the keyword. Together, these algorithm changes make keyword stuffing unviable. Now, keyword stuffing gets webpages demoted or even removed because it’s considered a black hat SEO tactic in bad taste.
That said, content still needs to have the keyword spread throughout. Otherwise, search engines won’t know what the content is about. But reaching a particular keyword density is much less important than other SEO factors. In 2014, John Mueller from Google said, “Keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn’t focus on . . . Search engines have kind of moved on from there.” Many agree that keyword density is less important than it once was.
If anything, search engines like Google put more weight on keyword clustering. They try to understand content thematically by identifying topic clusters. To do this, they look at semantically related words. For example, instead of only crawling web pages for a single keyword like “goldfish,” Google acknowledges related terms like “fish food” and “fish tank” to better understand what the content is about overall.
Furthermore, search engines take into account keyword variations, also known as “stemming.” Examples include plurals or alternate conjugations of a word. Returning to our previous “goldfish” example, keyword variations would include “goldfishes.”
On a basic level, keyword density does matter for SEO, especially if you want to target keywords and rank for competitive terms. You should always strive to include keywords, their variations, and related keywords in your content. That way, search engines index and rank your content for your target keyword.
Remember our calculation from above:
Even if keyword density is not a top SEO factor, it’s worth knowing a range for keyword density, just so your content avoids having too few or too many repetitions of the keyword.
Most SEO experts believe the ideal keyword density is 1-2%. Of course, Google has never established an ideal keyword density, so the answers vary depending on who you ask. WordPress SEO plugin creator Yoast, for example, recommends a keyword density of anywhere from 0.5 to 3%. But on average, the 1 to 2% range is the most accepted range.
That means a 1000-word piece should contain the target keyword anywhere from 10 to 20 times. In our previous example, you would include the word “goldfish” 10 to 20 times if the article were 1000 words long.
When it comes to keyword density, focus first on writing for readers. Nobody wants to read something that sounds forced or artificial. Your content should read naturally.
Only after the content is written should you go back to check keyword density. You can check keyword density manually with the formula provided earlier or with a tool like the Yoast SEO plugin or the Moz On-page SEO Grader. Keep in mind, synonyms don’t count toward keyword density. So just count the actual keyword and its stem variations. Also, longer keywords tend to have more weight with Google than shorter keywords. So if you have a long-tail keyword, aim for a lower keyword density limit of 1%. But if your keyword is short like “goldfish,” go ahead and aim for that upper limit of 2%.
You can also use a technique called the Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF) to identify the right keyword. TF-IDF analyzes keyword frequency within a piece of content while also devaluing common words that say little about the subject. For example, words like “and,” “a,” and “the” are common but irrelevant to the topic. Hence, they are weighted less, while unique terms like “goldfish” are valued more. TF-IDF can help you generate new content ideas and improve your existing content by telling you what its natural keywords are. There are also several tools you can use for TF-IDF analysis, like Seobility’s TF*IDF tool and TF-IDF Tool.
Of course, the real impact of keyword density is hard to measure. Consider A/B testing two versions of your site copy, one with a lower and one with a higher keyword density. Then monitor both versions to see which ranks higher on SERPs. This way, you can narrow down the best keyword density for your content.
Finally, make sure you not only include keywords but place them in the right places. You shouldn’t randomly spread keywords throughout the web copy. They should be in the post’s beginning and end, H1 and H2 tags, the URL, the title tag, and the meta description. This way, Google knows exactly what keyword you are trying to rank for.
Though its impact is sometimes overrated, keyword density definitely impacts SEO. Try to stay within the 1-2% range, while also keeping your copy natural, including keyword variations and related keywords, A/B testing keyword density, and paying attention to keyword placement. If you follow these guidelines, your content will have a good ratio of keywords to overall word count.
If you need more help with your content marketing, our SEO experts at SEO.co have been in the business for a long time. They know the ins and outs of keyword targeting. After identifying the keywords that are important to you, we’ll draw up a plan for creating content that will rank for those keywords. Contact us today to get started.