Optimal Keyword Density, Keyword Stuffing & ‘Irrelevant Keywords’
Keyword density refers to the number of times a keyword-phrase is repeated on a page as a percentage of the total number of words on the page. Keyword stuffing irrelevant keywords refers to the practice of adding irrelevant keywords to a web page to manipulate where a page ranks in Google. Google tells SEO not to do this.
What Is The Best Keyword Density For Search Engines?
Experts have agreed for over a decade;
- There is no single best keyword density to rank high in Google or Bing.
- Optimal keyword density differs from page to page, phrase to phrase
- Write naturally and include the keyword phrase once or twice on-page.
- Avoid demotion in Google by avoiding repeating keyword phrases in text content.
- Focus on creating high-quality engaging content instead.
There is no one-size-fits-all optimal ‘keyword density’ percentage anybody has ever demonstrated had direct positive ranking improvement in a public forum.
While the key to success in many niches is often simple keyword placement, search engines are not that easy to fool, these days.
Google has said so, too:
QUOTE: “Keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn’t focus on. Search engines have kind of moved on from there.” John Mueller, Google 2014
I do think you run the risk of tripping keyword stuffing penalty filters if you, for instance, were to keyword stuff a page and every element on it with your focus terms.
I write naturally and succinctly which is always focused on the key phrases and related key phrases. I never calculate density in order to identify the an optimal keyword density percent as there are way too many other things to work on. I have looked at this, a long time ago.
Normally I will try and get related terms on the page and I might have the keywords I am focused on in just a few elements and on the page text.
It is a myth to think that Google (or Bing or any major modern search engine) will order search engine results pages and reward with higher rankings a page that has a ‘specific’ target keyword density percentage value.
In simple terms – this theory would mean that – if you took TWO WEBSITE PAGES – a page with a keyword density score of say, 2% would OUTRANK a page with a score of 1%. OR – that there is actually a specific keyword percentage that if you score a BULLSEYE on, always results in HIGHER RANKINGS in Google.
We know Google has hundreds of secret search engine ranking factors.
A claim often made is that keyword density is one of these factors.
Many SEO, including myself, don’t think that is the case and there are many other areas of SEO that is far more important than keyword density to focus your efforts on.
Search engines have indeed moved on from keyword stuffing as a positive ranking factor.
How To Calculate Keyword Density?
It is natural to think its important to identify that sweet spot to achieve higher rankings in Google. The question is what is the optimal keyword density? Is it 1%, 2% 3% or 0.3% or 33% ? If you look online you’ll find a lot of conflicting opinion on the ideal keyword density %. It all sounds very scientific, too.
There is, of course, a FORMULA to work out the local keyword density of any page:
- Density = ( Nkr / ( Tkn -( Nkr x ( Nwp-1 ) ) ) ) x 100
- Density = your keyword density
- Nkr = how many times you repeated a specific key-phrase
- Nwp = number of words in your key-phrase
- Tkn = total words in the analysed text
The keyword density score for a key-phrase is calculated by looking at:
- how many times a specific key-phrase is repeated in a document
- the number of words in that key-phrase and
- the total number of words in the analysed text.
There is no best keyword density percent score to rank higher in Google listings. Write naturally, include keywords and avoid keyword stuffing!
What Do Search Engines Say About Keyword Density As A Ranking Signal?
John Mueller of Google stated in 2014:
QUOTE: “Keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn’t focus on. Make sure your content is written in a natural way. Humans, when they view your website, they’re not going to count the number of occurrences of each individual word. And search engines have kind of moved on from there over the years as well. So they’re not going to be swayed by someone who just has the same keyword on their page 20 times because they think that this, kind of, helps search engines understand what this page is about. Essentially, we look at the content. We try to understand it, as we would with normal text. And if we see that things like keyword stuffing are happening on a page, then we’ll try to ignore that, and just focus on the rest of the page that we can find.” John Mueller, Google 2014
Before that, in 2011, Matt Cutts went on record to point out the ideal keyword density is a misconception.
QUOTE: “That’s just not the way it works….. Continue to repeat stuff over and over again then you are in danger of getting into ‘keyword stuffing’.” Matt Cutts, Google 2011
Google Webmaster Guidelines state:
QUOTE: “Keyword Stuffing…. results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.” Google Webmaster Guidelines, 2020
Google gives advice that can have a few different interpretations. It’s useful to know what experienced search marketers say about this, too:
Aaron Wall of SEOBOOK called keyword density an:
QUOTE: “overrated concept”
Jim Boykin noted:
QUOTE: “Using a RATIO of keywords to the total text on a page is not a good metric for SEO.”
Bill Slawski said, after seeing very little mention of keyword density in search engine patents over many years:
QUOTE: “I’ve always considered keyword density to be more likely FOLKLORE than fact.”
Rand Fishkin of Moz said that:
QUOTE: “the TRUTH is simply that modern search engines have never used keyword density”.
Dr. Edel Garcia (one of the few information retrieval SCIENTISTS whose crossed over into seo) made clear back in 2005 that
“QUOTE: (a keyword density ratio) tells us nothing about:
- 1. the relative DISTANCE between keywords in documents (proximity)
- 2. where in a document the terms occur (DISTRIBUTION)
- 3. the co-citation frequency between terms (CO-OCCURRENCE)
- 4. the main theme, TOPIC, and sub-topics (on-topic issues) of the documents
Garcia states this would imply that “KD is divorced from content quality”.”
In his article “The Keyword Density of Nonsense”, Garcia summed up:
QUOTE: “the assumption that keyword density values could be taken for estimates of term weights or that these values could be used for optimization purposes amounts to the Keyword Density of Non-Sense.“
Top SEOs have been saying that there is NO optimal keyword density for a long time before Google confirmed it.
Bing Search Engine is also on record declaring keyword density is a passé topic:
QUOTE: “But as the engines get smarter with and about signals, and as new, trustworthy signals are grown and adopted, the SEO of yore becomes a bit less relevant. No one really cried when we all walked away from <meta keyword> tags after they were inundated with spam. No one cried when keyword density became a passé topic, largely covered up in the then somewhat novel approach of ‘making quality content’. ” Duane Forrester, Bing 2014
Modern search engines have moved on.
Is Keyword Density Of Any Use?
It is useful for a copy editor to be aware of keyword density values of a particular phrase on a page to avoid keyword stuffing text.
Google’s quite possibly, is not using keyword density % values to even identify spam or to apply keyword stuffing filters. Quality raters are asked to examine text for keyword stuffing, though.
What Should Your Keyword Density Be?
Despite what many SEO Tools would indicate there is no “best” keyword density. Write naturally and include the keyword phrase once or twice to rank in Google and avoid demotion. If you find you are repeating keyword phrases you are probably keyword stuffing your text.
And that’s probably going to ‘hurt a little’, at some point, just like Google’s Matt Cutts said it will.
When copy is limited, why repeat a 3-word keyphrase 10 times, and risk keyword stuffing penalties for a bad user experience, when there are possibly 10 variations and synonyms of the same key phrase, that when added to the same page, makes the page more relevant, better quality and rank higher for lots of similar keywords?
SO – the sensible thing to do would be to avoid keyword stuffing your PRIMARY CONTENT text.
Also – it’s probably wise to invest a little time in making your page RELEVANT but all the time keeping it simple:
I focus on keyword stemming opportunities… with a focus on the LONG TAIL of search as well as the HEAD:
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I also focus on the relative prominence of the term in the document, for instance:
- Is the key phrase in the <TITLE> element
- Is the key phrase in <p> tags
- Is the key phrase in the <alt> text
- Is the key phrase in the URL
I focus on introducing more unique words, single and plural, abbreviations, synonyms and co-occurring phrases relevant to the topic of a page.
This is a better use of time than calculating keyword density percents of one keyword phrase.
There is no magic one size fits all SEO tactic. It’s not that easy, out-with black-hat tactics. Not that black hat SEO is always easy, either.
Google’s trending towards rating and ranking your pages based on the quality and reputation of your website, and the quality and reputation of content on individual pages.
Google’s interested in the expertise of the actual PERSON WRITING the text it is rating it and is working out if USERS actually LIKE your page, RELEVANT to COMPETING PAGES on the web.
They are also more interested in detecting if users are actually seeking out your page amongst the competition.
Google’s more interested in user satisfaction signals, and you should be too.
More so than keyword density, for sure.
Keyword Stuffing (Irrelevant Keywords)
QUOTE: “Keyword Stuffed” Main Content Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users. Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish. Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC to help users, should be rated Lowest.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017
Keyword stuffing is simply the process of repeating the same keyword or key phrases over and over in a page. It’s counterproductive. It’s is a signpost of a very low-quality spam site and is something Google clearly recommends you avoid.
QUOTE: ““Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.“ Google Webmaster Guidelines 2020
Keyword stuffing text makes your copy often unreadable and so, a bad user experience. It can get a page demoted in Google but it depends on the intent and the trust and authority of a site. It is sloppy SEO.
It is not a tactic you want to employ in search of long-term rankings.
Just because someone else is successfully doing it do not automatically think you will get away with it.
Don’t do it – there are better ways of ranking in Google without resorting to it.
John said in a 2015 hangout “if we see that things like keyword stuffing are happening on a page, then we’ll try to ignore that, and just focus on the rest of the page”.
Does that imply what we call a keyword stuffing “penalty” for a page, Google calls ‘ignoring that‘.
From what I’ve observed, pages can seem to perform bad for sloppy keyword phrase stuffing, although they still can rank for long tail variations of it.
QUOTE: “The bottom line is using more relevant keyword variations = more traffic”. Aaron Wall, 2009
He goes further with still excellent piece of advice, today:
QUOTE: Each piece of duplication in your on-page SEO strategy is ***at best*** wasted opportunity. Worse yet, if you are aggressive with aligning your on page heading, your page title, and your internal + external link anchor text the page becomes more likely to get filtered out of the search results (which is quite common in some aggressive spaces). Aaron Wall, 2009
… with the caveat being a high-quality site rarely needs to be worried about being filtered out of search.
Google’s advice in the past about keyword stuffing was to:
QUOTE: “Just find the hidden text or the keyword stuffing and remove it.” Matt Cutts, Nelson, Google 2013
As Google says in their manifesto:
QUOTE: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” Google, 2020
It is time to focus on the user when it comes to content marketing, and the bottom line is you need to publish unique content free from any low-quality signals if expect some sort of traction in Google SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
QUOTE: “High quality content is something I’d focus on. I see lots and lots of SEO blogs talking about user experience, which I think is a great thing to focus on as well. Because that essentially kind of focuses on what we are trying to look at as well. We want to rank content that is useful for (Google users) and if your content is really useful for them, then we want to rank it.” John Mueller, Google 2015
Those in every organisation with the responsibility of adding content to a website should understand these fundamental aspects about satisfying web content because the door is firmly closing on unsatisfying web content.
Low-quality content can severely impact the success of SEO.
SEO copy-writing is a bit of a dirty word – but the text on a page still requires optimised, using familiar methods, albeit published in a markedly different way than we, as SEO, used to get away with.
EXAMPLE: Beware Keyword Stuffing E-commerce Website Category Pages
Google’s John Meuller just helped someone out in this week’s Google Webmaster Hangout, and his answer was very interesting:
QUOTE: “The site was ranking the first page for the keyword (widget) and(widgets) in Australia since two weeks we moved all the way down to page five. Technical changes haven’t been made to the site the only modification was we added more category landing text to rank for various other (keywords)“
QUOTE: “the modification that you mentioned (above) that you put more category landing text on the page that might also be something that’s playing a role there. What I see a lot with e-commerce sites is that they take a category page that’s actually pretty good and they stuff a whole bunch of text on the bottom and that’s essentially just kind of roughly related to that content which is essentially like bigger than the Wikipedia page on that topic and from our point of view when we look at things like that our algorithms kind of quickly kind of back off and say whoa it looks like someone is just trying to use keyword stuffing to include a bunch of kind of unrelated content into the same page and then our algorithms might be a bit more critical and kind of like be cautious with regards to the content that we find on this page so that’s one thing to kind of watch out for.
I think it’s good to / help provide more context to things that you have on your website but kind of be reasonable and think about what users would actually use and focus on that kind of content so for example if if the bottom of these pages is just a collection of keywords and a collection of sentences where those keywords are artificially used then probably users aren’t going to scroll to the bottom and read all of that tiny text and actually use that content in a useful way and then probably search engines are also going to back off and say well this page is is doing some crazy stuff here we don’t really know how much we can trust the content on the page.”
If you are keyword stuffing e-commerce category pages, watch out. Google tells us these things for a reason. Adding optimised text to e-commerce category pages ‘just for the sake of it’ is probably going to work against you (and might be working against you today).
Keyword stuffing has been against the rules for a long time.
John previously stated back during 2016:
QUOTE: “if we see that things like keyword stuffing are happening on a page, then we’ll try to ignore that, and just focus on the rest of the page”.
Google has algorithms AND human reviewers looking out for it when the maths miss it:
7.4.2 “Keyword Stuffed” Main Content
QUOTE: ‘Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users. Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish. Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC to help users, should be rated Lowest.’ Search Quality Raters Guidelines March 14, 2017
While there is obviously a balance to be had in this area, Google classes keyword stuffing as adding ‘irrelevant keywords‘ to your site. There are warnings also about this age-old SEO technique in the general webmaster guidelines:
General Guidelines: Irrelevant Keywords
QUOTE: “Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers 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.
Examples of keyword stuffing include:
- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
- Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for
- Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example:We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at email@example.com.