Optimal Keyword Density

Hostway Tech Team - March 12, 2010

By Melissa J Luther

You have no doubt heard that search engines view the quality of a Web site based in part on the keyword density of the site. You’ve probably also seen Web pages that repeat a specific phrase every other sentence, making it nearly unreadable. How can you know you are using your keywords often enough to be helpful but not so often as to be detrimental?

Why Keywords Matter

Keywords are supposed to indicate what a Web page is about, so it makes sense that the more often a word appears on a page, the more likely it is that the subject of the page is related to that word. This is where keyword density enters the picture.

Keyword density refers to the number of times a keyword appears in page content compared to the total number of words in that content. For example, a keyword repeated 10 times in a 500-word article results in a keyword density of 2 percent. Is this a good density? Sometimes.

The Magic Keyword Density

Unfortunately, there is no magic number for optimal keyword density. The search engines have never specified a preferred percentage either, so SEO practitioners made estimates based on personal experience and observation. At one time, the recommendation was to use your main keyword at a density of three to seven percent and your secondary keywords at one to three percent.

Current wisdom holds that 7 percent may actually be too high, and that a keyword density of 1 to 5 percent provides good rankings. The actual percentage that is best for you will depend on your chosen keyword(s) and your particular industry or niche. A popular keyword in a popular niche will probably require a higher density, say 4 to 5 percent, than less commonly searched keywords. For a small, less competitive niche, a density around 2 to 3 percent may be sufficient.

Relevance vs. Optimization

Keep in mind also, that Google wants to serve searchers with the content most relevant to their search, which is not necessarily the most optimized page. Since Google understands semantically related words, as well as variations on a word (plural, singular and -ing versions), using these can help boost your relevance, even if it lowers your density slightly. This will also sound more natural to your readers.

You may need to experiment with different keyword densities to determine which provides the best rankings for your site. You can also use a free keyword density tool, like SEO Book’s Keyword Density Analyzer to evaluate the density of your high-ranking competitors Web sites. Try to use a similar density on your site. Remember that keyword density is only a small part of the ranking algorithm, so your competitors may have achieved their rank due to other factors.

As with all optimization techniques, it’s important to strike a balance between the search engines and your visitors. Keyword density is within your control, so you should certainly optimize it to the best of your ability, but don’t focus on it too heavily. Providing value and a good user experience will outweigh minor deficiencies in your keyword density.

About the Author

Melissa J Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions LLC, helps small businesses create and maintain a strong Internet presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an Internet presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking, and social media as appropriate.

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