Search Engine Optimization

What is keyword density, and why does it matter?

By Ryan Cecil on July 12, 2019

When I was a marketing intern, my first few months were scattered with an absolute ton of new phrases to learn. One of the first, and most important ones I heard was content. How did something as analytical as SEO have anything to do with writing? It starts with keywords.

What are keywords?

Moz couldn’t have said it better, “Keywords are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. In terms of SEO, they’re the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries.” If you boil everything on your page — all the images, video, copy, etc. — down to simple words and phrases, those are your primary keywords.” (Read more here).

What is keyword density?

Keyword density is a pillar when it comes to writing proper SEO copy. So what is keyword density? It’s simply refering to the number of times (or percentage) certain keywords or keyphrases appears in any given text.

Over the years, the pillar has shifted due to Google’s algorithm improvement updates. In days past, there was an ancient practice known as keyword stuffing.

What is keyword stuffing?

Keyword stuffing is adding as too many keywords and keyphrases into the copy and HTML, to the point that it doesn’t read or look much like natural writing. Googles updates are always user focused. They want sites with the best user experience at the top, and they don’t want people gaming the algorithm to be the ones at the top.

Old school keyword stuffing was a blackhat strategy back in the day where people would over stuff text with keywords, making the overall keyword density incredibly high. The result usually read like a robot spitting out text, and it was an example of keyword stuffing to the extreme.

Google didn’t like this, so in a major update they began to penalize sites that did this. This more or less ended the era of keyword-speak text.

This raises an interesting question, though.

If keyword stuffing is bad, why are we still worried about keyword density?

This one thing that is somewhat difficult to tackle with writers fresh into the SEO and marketing scene. We don’t want to the writing to feel unnatural, but we want the keywords to have a strong presence in all the web copy.

If it all needs to be so natural, even according to Google, why do we care?

Because it is still a major factor in keyword rankings.

Recently, we launched a new homepage and did a little short-term case study to show you why keyword density and optimization matters.

Here is a keyword dense homepage:

what is keyword density

Here is the not keyword dense homepage:

keyword density

We launched the new site with the low keyword density homepage, and this is what happened the next day.

Blue number is the ranking, and the red number is how much the keyword dropped the next day.

Loss of rankings means loss of traffic, which means loss of leads, which leads to your business possibly losing money. Some of those keywords that came off the first page have thousands of people searching everything month. Bad news.

But this illustrates how important it is to have proper keyword density.

A week after we implemented the new homepage, I went through it with our marketing director and adjusted the text to include target keywords and keyphrases in a natural manner, getting it closer to the original, keyword dense page. We spent a few hours on this.

Tweaking, inserting, deleting. And then, when we felt it was keyword dense and sounded great, this happened right after we indexed the content:

Almost an immediate and complete recovery.

And that was just the first day, there was an immediate upward trend following the downward trend.

seo rankings
Following the not keyword dense homepage
keyword rankings
After tweaking the keyword density on the homepage

So… Does keyword density matter?

Yes. Yes it does.

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