How To
7 min read

What Is Keyword Density? (And Why Should You Care?)

Jorge Llombart
November 20, 2022

When it comes to creating SEO-optimized content, a good blogger is always keeping keywords in mind. Keywords are the cornerstone of any content creation marketing effort, since they’re what will ultimately make that piece of content rank on Google. However, it has long been said that simply picking the right keywords is not enough — they also have to appear an appropriate number of times throughout the piece of content. This way, Google knows exactly which keywords to rank you for. 

In digital marketing and SEO jargon, this is known as keyword density.

It has also long been claimed that the right keyword density and keyword placement are as important as choosing the right keywords, if not more important. Conventional marketing know-how even claims that we should aim for specific ratios.

Therefore, we’ve decided to dedicate a special article to this topic. We’ll explain the ins and outs of keyword density, debunk some myths, and shed light on the matter so you can master all the concepts you’ll need to bear in mind when scaling your content creation strategy. 

In today’s blog, you will learn about the role of keyword density in SEO, what it is, how to use it properly, how to calculate it, how many times to use your primary and secondary keywords, and much more. Let’s get started!

What is keyword density?

Keyword density, also known as keyword frequency, is defined as the percentage of times a keyword appears on a web page. More specifically, it is the ratio of the number of times that keyword appears and the total number of words on the page. 

Why should you care about keyword density for SEO?

Keyword density matters for a few different reasons.  For starters, keyword density is used by Google to properly determine the topic of a web page, even though it’s not officially a ranking factor anymore.

Let’s explain this in more detail.

In the early days of the internet, keyword density used to be one of the most important ranking factors, and black-hat SEO practices such as keyword stuffing still worked.

In recent years, however, Google has gotten smarter and adapted its algorithms.

Nowadays, the number of times a keyword appears on a webpage will not improve SEO directly. However, keyword density does have an indirect effect on SEO (and thus can still affect rankings): optimal appearance (and placement) of the target keywords will help Google understand what the topic of a page is about, and thus improve (or hurt) the SEO of that page.

If Google can’t determine the main topic of your page, this will almost always negatively affect that page’s rankings. The opposite is also true — if Google finds it easy to identify and understand the page’s topic, rankings will improve.

Google also uses keyword density to determine whether a website is trying to game its algorithms at the expense of user experience. According to Google itself, content should always be optimized for users, not for machines. Any attempts to over-optimize keywords in a way that harms user experience will result in lower rankings.

The last reason keyword density matters relates to user experience itself. If your content contains too many keywords or keywords that are placed unnaturally, users will probably be confused or put off by your content — this reduces the likelihood that they will come back or convert into customers. For this reason, Google uses several different signals to calculate the user experience quality of the websites it indexes; a poor user experience will lead to poor search rankings.

What's the optimal keyword density?

There is no official optimal keyword density, but many SEO experts agree that the optimal keyword density is generally somewhere between 1–3%. 

If a webpage contains 3,000 words, for instance, each of your target keywords should appear organically at least three to nine times.

Keep in mind this is just a rule of thumb — optimal keyword density and placement might vary depending on your audience or the type of page.

For blog posts, it could be enough to have a keyword density of 1–2%, but for product pages or ecommerce, experts recommend a higher rate of around 3–5%. Exceeding those ratios in an unnatural way could be detrimental for your SEO.

Try to provide as much value to the user as possible — if you need to exceed the recommended keyword density ratios in order to somehow add value to the user, this will probably not backfire; Google’s topmost priority is the user experience of your pages. As long as everything in your pages adds value and nothing is overtly spammy, you don’t have to worry about exceeding any keyword density ratios.

How to calculate keyword density?

Keyword density can be calculated using the following straightforward formula: (Number of times a keyword appears / Total word count) x 100.

Keyword density is basically a percentage of the amount of times a given keyword appears relative to the total number of words in a piece of content.

For instance, if you have ten words and your keyword appears one time, the keyword density of that keyword is 10%. If the total word count of your piece of content is 1,000 words and one of your target keywords only appears two times, the keyword density of that keyword is 0.2%.

Should you include keywords in your title tag, H1 tag, etc.? 

Yes, absolutely. You should use keywords in as many title and header tags as possible (as long as all of them sound natural with the said keywords). Google gives more weight to words and keywords that appear in the headers when ranking and interpreting the content of a website. The higher the level of the heading in the heading/content hierarchy (H1, H2, H3, etc.), the more weight will be placed on the keywords it contains.

As we mentioned earlier, SEO takes into consideration both the number of times a keyword appears and where it appears — this combination of “how many” and “where” is a must for on-page SEO optimization.

How does Google handle keyword density?

Google does not use keyword density as a ranking factor per se, so it is not an element you should obsess too much over. However, keyword density does help Google understand what your content is about, giving it an indirect impact on SEO.

It’s wise to naturally and contextually repeat target keywords throughout the content in specific key placements (as explained above). Doing so will help Google understand your content, and Google will reward you for that!

Even though keyword density is important, you shouldn’t obsess over it — just try to stick to the aforementioned advice and include every single keyword in a natural way. 

Google has a very tough ranking policy when it comes to techniques aimed at gaming its algorithms (this is what is known as “black-hat SEO”), and abusing keywords is one of those techniques.

Excessive or unnatural keyword use that doesn’t add any value to the user is referred to as keyword stuffing, and Google has explicitly stated on many occasions it will lower the SEO of any websites that use this black-hat tactic.

If you want your pages to rank, we recommend that you practice white-hat SEO optimization and focus on user experience, quality content, and targeting search intent.

How to improve your keyword density? 7 SEO keyword density tips you should know

In order to improve keyword density, you should add your target keywords in linguistically natural ways throughout your content until the keyword density of the page is within or slightly above the recommended ratios. 

However, remember that it also matters where you place these keywords, so you should prioritize certain placements when distributing your target keywords throughout the page.

Abide by the following SEO keyword density tips, and you’ll be primed for success when it comes to SEO:

  1. Besides appearing in your header tags, your target keywords should ideally also appear as close to the headers as possible (for instance, in the first paragraphs after each header), in the last words of your article, in the first words of your article, in all the meta descriptions and titles, and naturally throughout the content.

  1. The main tag of the page, the H1 tag, should contain the primary keyword you want to optimize for. 

  1. Next, in the first words directly below the H1 tag, you should include the said keyword and its potential variants, as well as any secondary keywords (if possible).

  1. All the page’s other header tags (H2, H3, H4, etc.) should also contain the primary keyword (when the content following these tags deals with the topic the primary keyword refers to) or secondary keywords (when they deal with topics related to the secondary keywords).

  1. Your images should be optimized for SEO as well — it’s advisable to include your target keywords in the alt text for each image.

  1. As for the meta descriptions and meta titles, remember they are the parts of your page that will be displayed on Google search results; users will read these words before clicking and entering your page, so it’s important to keep them concise and informative.

Keep them within the recommended lengths (the meta title should be 50–60 characters long, and the meta description should be between 150–160 characters), and make them as engaging as possible. Of course, they should also contain your target keywords, as that will be important both for Google rankings as well as compelling users to click. 

  1. Another pro tip for meta title and meta description optimization: Try to make your keywords appear as much on the left side of the search results snippets as possible. For human visual processing reasons, these are the parts of the search results snippets that users will note first. 

If you want to see how your meta descriptions will look on the search results while you write them, there are plenty of SEO WordPress plugins that let you preview meta descriptions while editing. 

In conclusion

Keyword density matters because it helps Google understand your content, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of search engine optimization. Make sure the most important keywords appear in the right places, and for the rest, just write about your topic and the target keywords will show up naturally.

Along these lines, avoid keyword stuffing or adding keywords unnaturally in ways that might hurt user experience. Optimizing for search engines is okay and indeed a must, but overdoing it might lead to lower rankings. 

Always stick to the following rule of thumb when adding keywords: if it looks natural, add it. If it looks unnatural, leave it out.

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