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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The "optimal keyword density" story...Part one...Nobody knows...

As a content writer, I am often called upon to generate written materials that utilize client-chosen keywords at a predefined level.

Someone might ask for articles about "sock monkeys." They will give me a list of several keyword phrases like "making a sock monkey," "sock monkey patterns," and "giant sock monkeys." They will want a series of articles, each "optimized" for one or more of the provided keyword phrases. They might want 500 word articles, each targeting a specific keyword phrase, utilizing the keyword at a density level of 5%.

I will then dutifully write the articles, using the keywords at the requested level of frequency.

Unlike many writers, I don't mind doing it. I don't feel constrained by keyword requirements and actually approach the matter as a challenge, because I am committed to creating written materials that meet "nuts and bolts" requirements while simultaneoulsy producing something meaningful that will inform and entertain the end reader. That's a guiding principle behind Content Done Better.

However, I don't believe the adherence to keyword density percentages is necessary. I meet client expectations because I believe in delivering what my clients order. However, I am convinced that the concept of "keyword density," a basic notion that everyone in the content writing and SEO business knows about, is damn near meaningless.

This is the first post of a multiple-post look at the concept of keyword density and why it should not have too much influence on content creation decisions.

You'd think that after several years of study and consideration, there would at least be a consensus about keyword density, wouldn't you? Let's find out. Let's ask a few other people for their opinions. I quickly Googled "optimal keyword density" and found the following opinions on the first few pages of results:

Try to aim for a keyword density of 1% to 7%. To achieve 1% you would need to insert your keyword or keyword phrase once for every hundred words. If you only used your keyword once in one thousand words, this would result in diluting your keyword density.
--Herman Drost.

We aim for 6-8%, but a lot depends on how competative a term is and anything up to 20% can get good results and not be picked up as spam if it reads well.
--Spiky (Webmasterworld forum member)

So what is optimal keyword density? Believe it or not, but most agree on about 2-7%. I've done some analysis on Google and generally found that 3-4% is about normal for the main keyword phrase.

It is generally accepted that a keyword density of between 2 and 5 percent is optimum. This may vary between search engines but it is a good rule to follow. It is also a good idea to include the keyword within the title as most search engines consider a keyword title more relevant. However, be careful with the use of your keyword since the search engines will penalize you if you overuse it, so its a good idea not to exceed the 5% density level.
--Desmond Mantor

Each page should contain between two and five targeted keywords with a 2% density rate per keyword. Search engines vary in their opinions about the proper density of keywords within a page, ranging from 2% to 10% density per keyword. Having the strictest standard, Google recommends an ideal keyword density of 2%.
--Idea Lab

Who do you believe and why?

Yes, there does seem to be a trend developing. Almost everyone seems to think you'd be safe running with a standard keyword density of around 4%, so there is some sort of "loose consensus." However, if you look at those answers, the acceptable range varies considerably. Depending on who you ask, you might be safe between 1% all the way up to 20%.

Why do you think that range is so large? Why hasn't a true, tighter consensus emerged? Very smart people spend every single day trying to unravel the secrets of search engine results... Why don't we know more than "somewhere between 1% and 20%" (which is a HUGE range).

That's going to be the next post in this series. I think I know why there is no magic keyword density number and the reason for the lack of a true consensus stems from a few fatal flaws in the very theory of keyword density.

So, stay tuned for why there is no perfect number when it comes to keyword density. Until then, be suspicious of anyone who has determined the "magic number." They may believe they have. I am sure all of the varying perspectives noted in this post belong to people who believed they had the right mark, too. Someone, or everyone, is wrong.
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