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The Truth About Keyword Density

Updated on January 6, 2012

Keyword Density

If you are chasing some magical keyword density in the hope that it will improve your search engine rankings you're only chasing your tail. Although the page should be self descriptive and the target keyphrases present in all the appropriate places, keyword density is simply a myth.

The protagonists responsible for keeping the keyword density myth alive tell us: "Search engines count how many times a term appears in a document. The more times a term appears, the higher the keyword density. The higher the keyword density, the more relevant a document becomes for that term."

What makes this claim believable is the logical flow of the statement, it sounds right. Then there is the mathematics used to convert those who remain agnostic or unbelieving.

The Keyword Density calculation

The keyword density of term i (KDi) = the frequency term i occurs in a document (TFi) divided by the total word count of the document (WCi). Thus, the keyword density of the word 'optimization' when repeated 4 times in a 100 word document would be: 4/100 = 0.04: giving a keyword density (KDi) of 4%.

This calculation only serves to make the notion of keyword density more believable. So much so that forums, article sites and blogs are full of posts proclaiming some mythical keyword density that will have customers flocking to your site and make you rich beyond your wildest dreams... Total Crap!

Keyword density, as described above, is a simplistic on-page measure that expresses a crude term/document ratio. This ratio fails to take into account the keyword density of any other document that may be competing for the same term. In an attempt to overcome this obvious inadequacy, you then compare the keyword density of your document to that of the top ranking documents and adapt your page to match the keyword density of that document set. The result: Spamglish!

How to screw up your pages, destroy your credibility, aggravate your visitors, and justify the necessity for the back button.

I think we have all seen our share of pages that have undergone this process. Pages become difficult to read, look spammy and lower the reader's perception of the authors writing abilities. Ultimately, credence and credibility suffer along with trust and conversions.

If search engines derived document relevancy based heavily on keyword density, then all you would have to do is repeat your target term over and over to get pages to rank. Search engines are not that dumb. Keyword density ratios fail to take into account the relative position (contextual relevancy) and relative dispersion (distribution) of terms in the document or how many documents are relevant for the term.

Furthermore, keyword density ignores internal linking, site structure, back links, how long users stay on the page, domain age, etc. Keyword density is a worthless metric; keyword density tools are a waste of time, and people who chase some mystical on page keyword density are probably doing more harm than good.

Write for the reader NOT search engines

If you write naturally with the goals of the reader in mind, contextual relevancy and keyword distribution will pretty much take care of themselves. Write for humans not Search Engines.


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    • profile image

      grijanje 7 years ago

      this was helpful

    • jasoncox83 profile image

      jasoncox83 7 years ago from Ohio

      Something else to add, prior to MayDay 2010, so not sure if it still is accurate..But Google would give a penalty for those that go above either a 5.0% or 5.5% can't remember..But if you went above that keyword density they would penalize you for keyword stuffing..Well written article.

    • Peter Hoggan profile image

      Peter Hoggan 7 years ago from Scotland

      Yep, the page title and Headlines H1 H2 etc are important. Keep this in mind, but try to write naturally.

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Peter I truly respect your level of understanding here. I know that you are talking about keyword density and I get that. I believe that Keywords are important for your title, but they even trip me up there sometimes. I think you said that target keyword phrases should be present in the appropriate places, are you saying that Title and maybe some hub subtitles are the appropriate places? Just trying to learn.

    • Esrom Art profile image

      Esrom Aritonang 8 years ago from Indonesia

      Your explanation about keyword density gave me basic understanding. I am a beginner writing in the internet. Your article really help. I am also hate a writing that manipulated the keyword. I love your statement: Write for humans not Search Engines.

    • Peter Hoggan profile image

      Peter Hoggan 8 years ago from Scotland

      You Cheat, just so there is no doubt in your feeble addled brain, I have also responded to you on the post to which you refer over at SEOmoz.

    • Peter Hoggan profile image

      Peter Hoggan 8 years ago from Scotland

      You cheat, maybe you had better rename yourself to 'I am an idiot', if you had taken just a little more care before accusing any one of copying anything you might have found out that I was the author of the document at SEOmoz.

      But hey there will always be people like you in every walk of life that are prepared to knock the hard work of others while contributing absolutely nothing... bottom feeders and scavengers who have no self worth and spend their time trying to bring others down to their pitiful level.

      Crawl back in your cave and figure out something useful to do with your time.

      I await your apology, if you are man enough or woman enough to come forward with such a thing!

    • profile image

      You Cheat 8 years ago

      Copied article from SEMoz

    • Peter Hoggan profile image

      Peter Hoggan 9 years ago from Scotland

      creativelady, customers never buy products from search engines and rankings are only a means to an end. So, other than making each page sufficiently self descriptive, which should come about by writing naturally, there is really no reason to count the number of times you, or your competitors, have included a keyphrase. Write for humans and use links to get rankings.

    • Peter Hoggan profile image

      Peter Hoggan 9 years ago from Scotland

      Amanda, I never calculate keyword density the object of the page is to motivate the reader to complete your call to action. To do that each piece needs to be accessible, usable and legible.

    • creativlady profile image

      Alla Goltsman 9 years ago from USA

      'Write for humans not Search Engines' - I like this idea, although the search engines not people do the ranking.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 9 years ago from UK

      I've often wondered about all the hype re key word density. There has to be a method of ranking, and as you say, this just sounds so logical. However, I can't bring myself to write that way. I want people to actually finish reading my work, and not just give up in disgust! It's nice to know that other factors are indeed taken into consideration.

    • Peter Hoggan profile image

      Peter Hoggan 9 years ago from Scotland

      Shalini, many website owners have been preconditioned to think that keyword density is an important ranking factor. Online SEO resource talk about keyword density quoting some magical level and some SEO's even put keyword density tools on their websites.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 9 years ago from India

      Great hub - I do wish clients would stop being so myopic, insisting on a high keyword density!


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