SEO keyword use can be tricky if you’re a web marketer trying to achieve page one on Google. If you already know how to find trending keywords, you need to know how to utilize those phrases the right amount of times within your content. Keyword density in your blog posts, landing pages, service pages and other content is a strong indicator of relevance to search engines when they’re determining your overall rank, whether good or bad. Like a moth to a flame, your keywords attract the attention of search engine spiders, drawing them in until all they see are red hot rankings soaring high. It’s your job to build conversions by clearly communicating your ideas through your website — all you need is a little knowledge on how many times to use your key terms.
So how many times should you use your keyword?
Let’s find out!
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Keyword Amount Introduction Video
“A lot of people think there’s one recipe, and you can follow that like you’re baking cookies, and if you follow the recipe to the letter, you’ll rank number one. And that’s just not the way it works. If you think you can say, ‘OK, I’m going to have 14.5% keyword density, or 7% or 77%, and that will mean I’ll rank number one,’ that’s really not the case or the way search engines work.”
What’s the Best Keyword Amount?
If you watch the video above, hiatus-prone SEO guru Matt Cutts explains in plain detail how many times you should use a keyword on a web page. As you can see, there’s no hard and fast answer. No percentage that will make the magic happen for your website—too high and you risk flagging a penalty, too low and you risk lacking relevancy. But that doesn’t mean there are some necessary guidelines and SEO best practices we need to enact in our web strategy. But first, let’s take a quick jaunt down history boulevard to ensure a bright SEO-success-filled future for ourselves.
In the early days of the web, stuffing your site’s pages with certain keywords, much like a Thanksgiving turkey, was fairly common practice in the quest for page-one rankings. Let’s say you were Sega Genesis, makers of iconic video games in the mid to late ’90s, and you wanted to target the term, “best video games.” The idea was to use that target keyword over and over again in web content to show search engines just how relevant Sega was to video games and vice versa.
Of course, fast forward 20 years, and we now know that this act of “keyword stuffing” is lost among SEO and content producers, and is known more for its harmful consequences instead of its useful ones. In short, don’t use what we in the industry refer to as “black-hat” keyword tactics.
How Do Search Engines Understand Keyword Use?
“The way that modern search engines, or at least Google, are built, is that the first time you mention a word [the search engine responds], ‘Hey that’s pretty interesting, it’s about that word;’ the next time you mention that word, ‘Oh OK, it’s still about that word;’ and once you start to mention it a whole lot, it doesn’t help that much more. There’s diminishing returns. It’s just an incremental benefit and it’s not large. What you’ll find is when you continue to repeat words over and over again, you’re in danger of keyword stuffing and gibberish. The first one or two times you mention a word, that might help your rankings, absolutely, but just because you can say it seven or eight times, it doesn’t mean it will help your rankings.”
Google’s search engine is quite an amazing feat of technology: billions of pages indexed, countless collections of astounding works at the click of a search button, and the capability to understand hundreds of languages and millions of words, presenting relevant answers for subjective queries. So how does Google understand what’s on your web page? Through the use of a bit of code called a “spider.” These are small bots, if you will, that crawl websites by following links from one URL to another, landing on pages and recording them within Google’s giant index (like a phone book for websites). Understanding the nuances of Google’s spiders and index is imperative to successful SEO strategy in two ways:
- Huge Index
Similar to a phone book in style, but not in size, Google’s index is enormous. According to WorldWideWebSize.com, as of Wednesday, May 11, the web had at least 4.67 billion indexed pages. You can imagine why Google’s spiders only record page code and dump the pages they don’t think are useful, such as duplicates, those with low-word count or ones that are poorly laid-out—and especially keyword-stuffed gibberish. Your content needs to count. We’ll get into that in the next section.
- Link Building
Internal and external link building is still the most effective way to increase your SEO rankings. Spiders work by hopping from link to link to uncover new web pages on the Internet. If your content is not linked to anything or from anything, it’s much more unlikely to be crawled and indexed. Link internally to relevant service pages and blog posts, and externally to useful resources or industry-leading articles.
Quality over Quantity
“Think about it like this: Find the keywords you want in your copy, make sure your copy is long enough to work those words in in a natural way and not an artificial way. My recommendation is to read it aloud, have someone else read it or read it to someone else, and ask, ‘Do you spot anything artificial, stilted or doesn’t read right?’ And if you can read through the copy and have it read naturally where a person isn’t going to be annoyed by it, then you’re doing relatively well. But if all you’re typing is, ‘I know you’re interested in red widgets, because red widgets are one of the best things in the world to have, and if you’re an expert on red widgets then you’ll know that the best source of red widgets is blah, blah, blah.’ Then that’s going too far. You can tell when you land on a page, if you’re an experienced SEO, when someone’s trying to get the same phrase on the same page as many times as possible because it just looks fake. That’s the area in this niche where we’re saying, ‘OK, instead of helping, let’s try to make it hurt a little bit.’”
From the head of Google’s Web Spam team himself, saying that Google intentionally “hurts” pages that conduct keyword stuffing.
So let’s ask ourselves, what is the Google search engine’s job, at its core, anyways? Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, once described the perfect search engine as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” Since he said that, Google has grown to offer products beyond search, but the spirit of what he said remains. Its goal is to make it as easy as possible for you to find the information you need and get the things you need to do done.
In the information-based aged that we live in, a search engine needs to be incredibly relevant, constantly analytical and unconventionally creative. So too does the modern SEO and content creator in order to manipulate the results in his favor. That’s why in digital we need to focus on the quality—not the quantity—of keyword use.
Writing natural web copy centered around one or two key phrases (and variations of the phrases) is what will have search engines falling head over heels in love with your pages. Let’s say you want to target expecting mothers with your new stroller product. You create a landing page, identifying your target keyword, one with high search volume and low competition, as “strollers for infants.” Use that phrase, as Matt suggested, one to two times up front in your copy to inform the spider and human visitor alike what the content is about. Throughout the rest of your copy, mix it up a bit; try working keywords such as “infant strollers,” “strollers for baby girls (or boys),” “baby strollers,” “lightweight stroller”… you get the idea.
Where to Place Keywords: Keyword Hierarchy
You now know the best keyword density and how often you should be using your keywords in your content, so you’re probably wondering where in the hell you should exactly place these SEO-embellishing phrases. Here is the keyword hierarchy marketing checklist you should keep handy:
- Title tags
The title tag is what you see in search engine results as the main blue link that’s clicked on. This is the most important place to insert keywords. There are a few things you should know about title tags before you start optimizing:
- Title tags should be between 65–70 characters.
- Use the main keyword at the beginning of your title tag and (try to) work in an additional variation of that keyword if possible.
- Ensure that you’re not repeating title tags as that may result in a duplicate penalty from Google.
- Header tags
If you’re visiting a blog with multiple headlines, they’re probably ordered in this fashion on the backend: H1, H2, H3, H4, etc. These little snippets of code that are wrapped around your headlines give the spider (and human visitor) a high-level overview of your page.
To give you an example, the first headline they’ll see when entering a landing page is “Cotton, White Socks, for $19.99!” You’ll have an intro paragraph, followed by your second headline, saying something along the lines of, “Why Come to Us for the Best Cotton Socks in Philadelphia?” followed by another explanatory paragraph, followed by a third and final headline that might say, “Contact Now for Top-notch White Socks in PA!” followed by a clear CTA. Humans can understand your page without diving deeply into the copy—that’s a great start in creating quality content.
But humans aren’t the only things you need to consider when conducting strong SEO. Spiders understand code—not prose. The backend of your site will look different. You need to implement tags, or wrappers, around your headlines that look like this:
<h1>Cotton White Socks, for $19.99!</h1>
<h2>Why Come to Us for the Best Cotton Socks in Philadelphia?</h2>
<h3>Contact Now for Top-notch White Socks in PA!</h3>
You can see how tossing in keywords and variations of such will help both humans and robots better grasp what’s most important on the page. Try to work a main keyword or variation into the H1 tag if possible.
The URL is often an overlooked but nevertheless valuable spot to place your main keyword. After all, it is the fundamental route in which both spiders and humans navigate to a page. Including your keyword in your URL string can be paramount in achieving a top-tier ranking on the SERPs. Users find links with readable, descriptive terms more trustworthy, so there’s no reason not to name your URLs logically with organized keywords.
Here’s an example of how you should use a keyword in your URL for a hypothetical web marketing company’s blog titled Keyword Marketing: Every Tip, Trick & Secret You Need to Know and More:
- Meta Description
Meta descriptions are the short snippets underneath the title tag within search results. It gives a short summary of the content of the page. It can be a nice place to use a keyword or variation for ranking purposes. Here’s what you need to know before you start optimizing:
- Meta descriptions truncate at 160 characters, so it’s best to keep them below that amount. Anywhere between 150 and 160 is recommended.
- This is your best chance at creating compelling copy to draw a user into your website, so do not spam your meta description. Offering a natural and compelling introduction to the web page will help you draw visitors in, more so than stuffing it with keywords.
- ALT Tags
ALT tags were developed so the blind could navigate the web through use of a screen reader. These are simply text descriptions of images. If you find a relevant image for your content, be as descriptive as possible when writing your ALT tag. For example, if you’re a health care marketing company in Minneapolis and you write a blog about treating third-degree burns, your featured image might include the ALT tag, “third-degree burn victim at health care clinic in Minneapolis.”
- Body Copy
Finally, you should have keywords in the content itself. One to two keywords up front, four to five if you’re writing long-form articles, and an appropriate amount of variations. But don’t add more for the sake of high rankings. Anything over those numbers won’t boost rankings much, if at all. When it comes down to it, relevance and quality are much more important than keyword density. Ensure that your pages’ keywords flow well with the text and don’t sacrifice quality for more keywords.
Keyword Density Formula
If you’re dying to know the density of keywords on your web pages, we don’t blame you: There’s a lot of value in learning more about the content that makes up your website. You may be worried you’re stuffing or you may have old content that you wrote without any keyword knowledge. Whatever it may be, insert the necessary data in the formula below. A site like Word Counter might be useful, or look up word count within your document software. You’ll glean many insights from this practice.
Best Keyword Density: In Conclusion
Matt Cutts wraps up his video by imparting some of his never-ending stream of wisdom:
“So, I would love it if people could stop obsessing over keyword density — it’s going to vary by area based on what other sites are ranking for, there’s not a hard and fast rule. Anyone that tells you there is a hard and fast rule they may be selling you keyword software or something along those lines. So I hope that helps, I hope we can dispel that misconception and have people realize not to worry that much about it. Just make sure to have the words you want on the page, make sure they read naturally, and you should be in pretty good shape.”
Good advice, Matt, good advice.