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Think Keyword Density is Still a Factor? Prove It!

As I read her email I could literally feel my blood pressure rising. She’d heard me speak at a webinar I did for Wordtracker about ecommerce copywriting where I said keyword density hadn’t been a factor in SEO copywriting for years. The lump in my throat got bigger as Zoe (not her real name) explained why she thought the myth about keyword density simply wouldn’t die.

“Keyword density is going to remain a hot (contentious) topic. I just read an article in the “New Yorker” yesterday about the new AOL CEO: “Can Tim Armstrong save AOL?” Apparently AOL is going to put greater focus on being content providers. Here’s an excerpt from page 36:

‘The writing, too, is often designed to appeal more to search engines than to readers. In the list of “contributor resources” for Seed, the most prominent category is for “search engine optimization”–S.E.O.–the process of packing stories with words that will make them appear higher in the list of results that Google and Bing display when users search for terms related to the subject. Seed links to guidelines that instruct writers to pay attention to what is called “keyword density”: the number of times that certain phrases appear in a story as a percentage of total words in a piece. If you’re writing a story on herbal tea, you should use that phrase early and often.’

“So, while I’ve read articles by plenty of respected SEO experts who insist they’ve tested various keyword density models and it doesn’t correlate with returns, I have to say I’ve read at least as many articles like this that still bang the keyword density drum. Well you can see how the mixed messages can be frustrating.”

“Writing often designed to appeal more to search engines?” “Packing stories with words?” Arrgg! Give me a break! Talk about old school. Keyword density has not been a valid measure of SEO copywriting success in probably 8-10 years now.

• Do you need to include keyphrases in your copy? Yes.

• Do you need to “pack” your copy with keywords? No.

• Does your content need to appeal more to search engines than people. Absolutely not!

Yet, dreadfully, Zoe is right about one thing. There are still plenty of so-called experts out there that will swear to you copy must be written to a certain keyword density percentage. They’ll vow that this is the only way to write search engine optimized copy. To those who believe this, I say:

Oh Yeah? Prove It!

Have you ever tested it? Or are you just blindly following this outdated myth that refuses to die?

I can prove that keyword density is not an issue. Can you prove – quantifiably show me in a measurable form – that copy must have a certain keyword density to rank high? I’m sure you’ve written pages that have a 2%, 5% or even 10% keyword density ratio, but what happens if you drop some of those phrases from the copy? Does the ranking drop? Not in my experience.

In fact, clients have hired me to rewrite their previously awful-sounding copy to be more natural. While the former copy was not keyword stuffed, it did not flow very well at all. Rewriting it without so many keyphrase mentions not only improved conversions, but also *increased* rankings.

When writing SEO copy for my clients, I don’t ever calculate keyword density and the pages rank consistently well.

>From as far back as 2006, Matt Cutts (Google’s Antispam Chief) and other officials have stated that keyword density is a non-issue. Here are just a few quotes from Matt and Google.

2006: “I’d recommend thinking more about words and variants (the “long-tail”) and thinking less about keyword density or repeating phrases.” — Matt Cutts

2008: “Keyword Density: Not really a factor. Yes keyword should be present but density is not important. Include the keyword but make writing sound natural.” — Matt Cutts

2009: “As long as I’ve been at Google, keyword density has not been a core factor in either the main site text, title tag or any of the other associated tags.” — Adam Lasnik speaking at Search Masters ’09 (About 3:00 mins into the video)

2010: “‘Keyword stuffing’ refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google’s search results. Filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.” — Google Webmaster Central

Please, PLEASE don’t just follow along with what the majority of people online are repeating. If you read interviews from AOL saying they instruct writers to use keyword density and you also read blog posts from reliable sources telling you not to subscribe to keyword density ratios, test it yourself. Find out for yourself who’s telling the truth.

Remember what your mother used to ask you: “If your best friend jumped off a 100-foot cliff, would you do it, too?” Honestly, whether we’re talking about SEO copywriting or not, following the crowd is usually the kiss of death. Keyword density is no exception.

About The Author
When you’re ready to write expert-level website & SEO copy that doesn’t rely on myths and misconceptions, get Karon’s Step-by-Step Copywriting Course (5th edition) and learn to do it right.