Keyword Density: The SEO Myth that Never Dies

As a freelance copywriter, the majority of the work I do is SEO content writing. In doing so, I deal with a lot of clients who have specific demands for their copy. One request that keeps popping up is to maintain an optimal keyword density. My question is this: does keyword density really matter anymore? It’s almost 2009, and some people are still stuck on a concept from over 10 years ago.

A Quick Overview of Keyword Density

I doubt any of you don’t know what keyword density is, but let’s do a brief overview just in case. Keyword density is the measurement of how many times a keyword appears in relation to the total number of words in the document. If your keyword shows up 3 times every 100 words, your keyword density would be 3%. Simple enough, right?

Moving On…

Now, some believe there is a magical keyword density range that helps you achieve higher search engine rankings. The general consensus of this group is you want to aim for anywhere between a 3%-5% keyword density in your copy. Supposedly, landing in this sweet spot drastically increases your chances of ranking well in the search engines.

So, is this true? Should you be optimizing your pages to hit the “magic” keyword density range? The simple answer—no.

From the search engine’s perspective, there is no sweet spot for keyword density. The variance in keyword density in the SERPs is proof enough of that. Pages with a wide range of keyword density rank well for certain terms. It’s just not a great measurement of a page’s relevance for a keyword, and it’s far too easy for humans to manipulate it.

The simple truth is search engines are far too advanced to be tricked by something as basic as an optimal keyword density.

Side Effects of Keyword Density

Beyond the obvious fact keyword density isn’t too important to search engines, there are other nasty side effects that come from chasing this myth. Most importantly, it creates robotic copy that’s a nightmare to read for human visitors. You can’t write naturally if you’re constantly trying to hit this tiny keyword density range. It makes your copy feel forced, and it’s obvious that it’s tailored for search engines instead of humans.

Secondly, it diverts your focus from conversion to keyword density. Even if keyword density was the most important search ranking factor (which it isn’t), what would be the point of ranking well if your copy didn’t convert any visitors?

That’s why I say to stop worrying about keyword density. The search engines don’t care about it; it’s a poor measurement of a page’s relevancy; it breeds poorly written content; and it distracts you from the most important thing—conversion. Instead of trying to find ways to manipulate the search engines, focus on converting your visitors into customers. Write natural copy that connects with them and addresses their needs.

Also, beware of any SEO company that tells you they know the “magical” keyword density to get you top rankings. They’re selling snake oil, and frankly, they have no clue what they’re talking about.

What are your thoughts on keyword density? Do you care about it anymore?

About Eric Brantner

You can follow Eric on Twitter at @Eric_Brantner.

11 Responses to Keyword Density: The SEO Myth that Never Dies

  1. My top affiliates are content writers and would laugh at you if you told them they needed to hit a certain keyword density. They focus on the sales copy and message. Their sites have long term domains and lots of content/pages. Graphics are simple and almost irrelevant. They are in the Top 20 on the top search engines. Bottom line is they write for the reader and are making six figures selling fitness equipment.

  2. Pat Grady says:

    you got this right, keyword density is bunk.

    often, when something can be easily or cleverly measured, there's an inclination to assume it's significant and determinant…

    give it a scientific sounding name and the propensity to instill it with meaning grows…

    shoot, if you can assign it a greek symbol, it's power (but not it's validity) grows further… by the way, the greek letter rho is used for density… see… did you feel it.

    make the environment complex enough and people want to overly simplify with great vigor, experts always telling us things aren't that complicated and to keep things simple – so we assume others have too…

    then there's that whole Occum's Razor thing…

    of course, Ockham never had a megaflop computer in his pocket… further, his actual principle ironically suffers ignominious assault from the exact same mindbend that attributes high meaning to keyword density, people over simplifying his tenant. Six centuries of irony, poor Friar Bill!

  3. Pat–

    You're exactly right. I think the reason keyword density is still pushed so hard in snake oil companies is because it's such an easy concept to explain to customers who don't know any better. It sounds reasonable enough to someone who doesn't know any better, and they assume it really matters.

  4. I have never had any problems with getting indexed with my blog posts.When you don´t overdo the keyword density you will be fine.Having your main keyword for the article in the first few words of the sentence seems to matter.

  5. @Chuck–

    Exactly. It's all about connecting with the reader through your copy. Throw everything else out the window because conversion is the ultimate goal.

  6. Marta Costa says:

    What a relief! Writing is difficult enough for me without having to worry about hitting that special keyword density ratio.

  7. Groove Factory PR says:

    Having no main keyword on a page is like writing a thesis without a subject. You need your page title, url, metadata, incoming links all to match the subject of the page…and what is that subject called, A KEYWORD. So of course keywords matter.

    As for density, if you wrote an article about the New York Yankees – you would naturally use the term New York Yankees 2, 3, 5% of the time…this is without even thinking about it. If you are writing well conceived pages, with good subjects and interesting topics…your keyword density is going to build itself. But to suggest that it is bad to have 3% density is simply wrong….that is just common sense and good writing, and the SEO benefit is simply an add on.

  8. MJH says:

    What you're missing here is that keyword density is one aspect of a larger picture. It's not that it doesn't matter, it's just that there are so many other factors to consider. Of course having copy that reaches readers is important. The reason why pages rank higher with less keyword density is based on all of the other factors that those guys have done well, i.e. linkbuilding, et al. No keywords on a page means no ranking at all. It's one aspect of the whole game, but it is an aspect. Anyone who thinks differently is not paying attention.

  9. vimax says:

    What a shame I had just measured this keyword density to my site and it was time consuming. I don’t have much time to make it back. What should I do now? Let it up or what?

  10. I have to disagree with this article. On page keyword use is the first step in any SEO process. And I know it’s but one of many. As a recent commenter suggested, it is but one aspect of a larger picture. This is not to say writing content for SEO trumps writing content for the visitor, but I also do not believe that writing content for SEO automatically trumps writing content for your visitors. I have had great success doing both, and have repeated it over and over for our clients. I do not however sell keyword density as a magic bullet. Anything but. In fact any SEO firm selling any one thing as a magic bullet, is worth avoiding in my opinion. SEO is work, and is a process. There are lots of steps to achieving top placement in the SERPs, and on page keyword use is only the first step.

  11. Vimax Pills says:

    you’re right. I agree on this, this post is helpful. thanks a lot