Why Keyword Density No Longer Applies in SEO Today

The term “keyword density” used to hold a lot of weight when it came to crafting good content for your website. However, these days, knowing where to place your keywords instead of how many times you need to repeat them has become more important.

Google’s Take on Keyword Density

Google has always stressed that the best way to tackle keyword placement on a page is just to write the content naturally. By creating content with the readers in mind instead of the search engines, the keywords won’t look artificially placed. Because over optimization of keywords warrants a subsequent penalty, where you place your keywords is more important than the number of times it appears on a page.

Even the most respected names in Google don’t want us to worry over the idea of keyword percentages too much. Matt Cutts, former lead of Google’s web spam team, gave some advice on the matter by saying:

“The first one or two times you mention a word then that might help with your rankings, absolutely. But just because you can say it seven or eight times that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily help with your rankings.”

Google wants to make it very clear for everyone that there is no magic formula or hard and fast rule about keyword density. Instead of obsessing over it, you’re better off just writing the best article that you can and make those valuable keywords that you’re targeting appear naturally.

Things to Consider When Writing Keywords

  1. Search Engine Keyword Algorithm

It goes without saying that the Google search engine algorithm has evolved a lot throughout the years. During this time, the search engine has gotten a lot smarter when it comes to serving up search results which best match the users’ intent.

The exact workings of Google’s algorithm are still a mystery to many, but it functions on several general levels:

  • Keyword Matching – Despite shying away from an excessive pattern of exact keyword matching, Google still takes a look at the keywords of an inquiry and uses them to deliver a relevant result. Because of this, there’s still some value in using the appropriate keywords for your page – be it in the page’s title tag, headers, or meta information.
  • Intent Analysis – Different queries have different user intent behind them. Some people use search engines to find specific information while others just want find a specific product with the intention of buying it online. For example, if two users make use of the keyword “LeBron James basketball shoes”, one user could be trying to find out what the latest model is while another wants to find an affordable pair online. Google always tries its best to match user intent with the keywords entered in this regard.
  • Topic Modeling – The idea of topical modeling naturally stemmed out from the way search engines utilize keyword matches. Each keyword always has terms and phrases that are directly or indirectly related to it. The context in which you use these related terms helps define your keywords even further. Aside from giving your content more variety, good use of semantic terms also helps avoid the pitfall of using the same keywords repeatedly.
  • QDD and QDF – These are two concepts that play on variants of search queries. QDD or “query deserves diversity” relies on varying results that try to capture various search user intent. QDF or “query deserves freshness” is based on newer results being relevant to the user’s search query.
  1. SERPs Snippets

Ever since Google devalued meta descriptions as a ranking factor, some webmasters no longer put as much attention on meta data and search results snippets in general. Despite this change, snippets still serve an important function for SEO in terms of user behavior.

A well written snippet can still influence clicks if the user finds the text to be relevant to their search. You can actually say a lot in 160 characters, and a snippet can easily be written in an informative manner while fitting in your desired keywords.

GDI snippet on Google SERPs

The above snippet targets the main keywords “SEO company Philippines”. You’ll see that it has a straightforward yet informative meta description that clearly describes the services that it offers as an SEO agency in the Philippines. While many modern CMS platforms can automatically generate a snippet for you, most of the time it looks very generic and may not target the keywords that you’re gunning for.

In short, users take a look at 3 things when looking at a search result snippet:

  • Is it informative and relevant to my search?
  • Is the copy eye catching and well-written?
  • Is it coming from a trustworthy source?

As long as you aim to satisfy these three factors, then you should be able to craft some nicely written snippets that will improve that page’s click through rate.

  1. User Engagement

This is closely related with the previous item, where the ultimate goal of ranking on the SERPs is to get users to engage with your piece as much as possible. This is the reason why we want everything, from our page’s copy to its snippet, to be as polished as possible.

Aside from getting users to reach your page, you’ll also want them to interact with it further – sharing your content gives out a strong signal that you’re a brand authority on the matter. Similarly, amplification data also plays a big role in user engagement. When people actively search for your brand and your keywords, it sends a strong signal to the search engines that you are an authority on the matter and rank you accordingly.

Even your domain name tells everyone something about you and your site. People tend to be wary of domains that are hyphenated and match their keywords exactly. After all, anyone would think twice before clicking on a search result that leads them to “www.free-bitcoin.com”. While it’s entirely possible to create a legitimate site using an exact match domain, there are better ways of grabbing a user’s attention.

Keyword Placement Best Practices

Strategic Keyword Placement

To reiterate what Matt Cutts said above, as long as you can mention your keyword once or twice in the main body of your article then you should be fine. Apart from the main content, there are several other locations where you can also place your keywords.

  • Once in the page title
  • Once in the headline or the H1 tag
  • Once in the meta description
  • Once in the subheader(s)
  • Once in an image’s alt tag
  • Once in an image file name
  • Once in the URL

Take note that mentioning the keyword once or twice in the main body is not a hard and fast rule. If your page is visually heavy, you might end up with more keyword mentions than normal. Still, as long as your copy reads naturally to your users, then you shouldn’t have to worry about anything. Which leads us to our next point…

Don’t Spam Your Keywords

You don’t have to include keywords in all of the locations mentioned above. Fitting in seven keywords around your page, including the ones in the main body, looks rather forced. If you had to prioritize where to place your keywords, the first three items should be more than enough.

You’ll want to cater your page to human readers as well as the search engine bots. And forcing ten or more keywords on a page won’t read favorably to both. Remember, as long as you’re able to write an informative piece, the keywords should come out naturally without having to force them in.

Go Topical Instead of Obsessing over Keywords

Google’s algorithms have reached a point where they’re now able to associate words with other related terms. Semantic language has allowed it to adapt and learn the importance of these associations, so the more you use them, the better the context you are giving your page overall.

For example, if you have a page that sells basketball shoes, you don’t have to keep using the keyword “basketball shoes” all the time throughout the page. You can play around with mentions of sneakers or athletic shoes, as well as name-drop specific models of basketball shoes. Google is smart enough to understand that these things are closely associated with one another and credit your page for correctly using them.

In the end, keywords still play an important part in today’s SEO landscape. Instead of worrying about how often you have to use your keywords, playing smart by knowing where to place them has become the more accepted strategy these days.