Keyword Density: The Topic that Spawns 1000 Debates
Keyword Density. It’s a phrase you may want to lower your voice to say, as a simple utterance about “keyword density” can spark serious debate amongst web marketing acolytes. Does it work? Did it ever work? Is it crap? Does it even exist? Is it even a “thing”?
Well, obviously it exists (no matter what you want to call it), because people attempt to use keyword density all of the time as a tactic to increase their standings in search engine rankings. Keyword stuffing is nothing new to the land of SEO.
Search algorithms did start out (in the dawn of time) using measurements of the number of times keywords or key phrases were used on pages. This is what most people mean when they refer to using Keyword Density as a tactic. They believe that using the keyword you covet to rank for multiple times within the content of a page is an important data point to serve up to search engines to increase rank. (There are some people who believe they have even pinpointed the exact ratio of keywords to content that is optimal for search engines to value your site for that word.)
However, as with almost every data point that search engines initially used – keywords were exploited (with keyword stuffing on pages) and so the algorithms lessened and lessened its importance as other factors were built in. There are both arguments for and against heavy usage of keywords on a page. Truthfully, search engine algorithms are taking into consideration so many different data points that ensuring you use keywords at a certain ratio against “regular” content on a page or a site is really just a big waste of time and effort.
And yet, that is not to say that keywords are not important. They are. They are very important. And this is where keyword density can get confusing to some people, as we saw recently when we fell down a rabbit hole of a chat room on LinkedIn. The discussion regarding keyword density took many twists and turns – with some voicing their opinions about mathematical formulas for keyword/text ratios, and others arguing that the entire concept behind keyword density is wrong because in reality – the real keyword measurement that search algorithms use is a measurement of density across the web.
Huh? Yes. The name for measuring keyword density across the web is inverse document frequency, which you can also learn about here. Interestingly this post by Bill Slawski as well as his argument in the heated LinkedIn discussion was that keyword density does not even exist – the proper term is actually “term frequency” (though we think that may be arguing for arguments sake). What he does a terrific job of explaining is the concept of Inverse Document Frequency.
“A word such as the might appear on a lot of pages, while a phrase such as gravitational waves might appear on a much smaller percentage of pages on the Web. Calculating how rare or frequently words or phrases appear on the full body (or corpus) of pages on the web is known as inverse document frequency.” – Bill Slawski.
So what does all of this mean for you as you try and write content that will help Google, Bing, Yahoo, et al see you as an expert in your industry? Really – not much other than driving home the point that search engines place the most value on QUALITY. Write quality content not keyword stuffed content. Don’t worry about ratios of keywords to other content.
However – and this is VERY important – you do need to pay attention to your keywords. When you create content pick your keyword or key phrase (if you need to pick two fine, but really – don’t get carried away – remember quality not quantity in all things). If it helps you take that keyword and write it somewhere so that it is in front of you. Put it at the top of your document. Put it on a post it on your computer screen. Now, use it. Not all of the time. Use it consistently – when needed. INCLUDING in all of your social media shares.
Social media data points not only contribute to search engine rankings but they also hold sway over the way people perceive your article and your content (and how they post and link to you will surely matter).
What do I mean by this? If you have written an article about all of the ways to serve ice cream, and they keyword you are focusing on is “ice cream cake” and you use that keyword in your social shares – people will automatically be focused on what you want them to focus on. If you Tweet out “101 ways to enjoy ice cream #IceCreamCake” then you are not only pointing out your keyword, but also encouraging others to share your article based on that keyword. Maybe someone is researching ice cream and comes across your post via that hashtag and includes a link to it in their post discussing their love of Ice Cream Cake? That sort of natural linking is the most valuable thing that you can secure for search engine rankings for your site based on the keyword you want.
So maybe, in the end – Slwaski is right – keyword density isn’t the right term at all. But we think maybe a better suggestion to replace it is Keyword Awareness.