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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The "optimal keyword density" story...Part three...Living in a density-free zone...

Here we are...Part three of the multi-part series of posts dismissing the idea of "optimal keyword density." For those joining us late, feel free to read Part one and Part two.

First, a few caveats. There probably are keyword density extremes that make a difference. For instance, the search engines do check local data for keyword spamming. Thus, while there might not be an optimal density, filling a page with keywords won't get you far. Second, although the idea of a perfect keyword percentage is illusory, using the desired keyword phrase at least once is a good idea. I know, two obvious points... But I wanted to make sure we covered all of the bases.

So, if telling your writer to produce articles with a keyword density of 3.5% isn't really helping you, what should you tell them instead? How should content creators and buyers behave in a world without keyword density?

Here are my recommendations...

  • Use desired keywords naturally.
  • Focus on quality instead of keyword quantity.
USING KEYWORDS NATURALLY. The primary gripe you hear about traditional SEO content is that it doesn't read well. It sounds stilted and unnatural. You can sense that the writer was trying to squeeze particular keyword phrases into the text. Now, I don't think that is inevitable. I believe it is possible to use designated keywords within a piece at a predefined frequency while retaining high levels of readability and overall quality. However, it is sort of tricky and there is a great deal of nearly unreadable keyword density-guided content out there.

An alternative to utilizing a proscribed keyword density level is to write quality material on the designated subjects, using the keywords as naturally as possible. This is going to result in better stuff. The author will not be worrked about flipping grammar to get that phrase in there one more time to hit the 5% mark. The author will be able to focus exclusively on producing more entertaining and informative content. Meanwhile the search engines will still find the material.

I have a theory about why most people tend to wrongly believe that there is an optimal keyword density that falls between 3% and 7%. It's because a well-written piece will tend to naturally use essential keywords at a rate in that range. Shhhh... That might be the dirty secret behind the keyword density myth. It isn't really about hitting a number, it is about writign naturally. The problem and "clunkiness" comes into play when a writer starts to try to bend his or her language to hit a percentage.

FOCUS ON QUALITY: You probably don't need to read another essay on the value of good content. Just remember, that good material creates links, which fuel SERPs, and it does so organically. People voluntarily link to good content. It also creates trust, which fuels repeat visitors, longer page views and an increased chance of even more links. It does all sorts of other good things, too. Things like contributing to branding, pre-selling, etc. It's also super-flexible in that it can be used in article marketing campaigns to create direct traffic flow as well as SERP-buttressing backlinks and can be syndicated via RSS to get you more attention. That's just scratching the surface. Content is versatile and good content combines that versatility with effectiveness.

Quality also seems to correlate with SERPs. Joel Walsh and others have noticed that there does seem to be a link between the quality of content on a given page and its rank in the search engines.

But what if your keyword research has turned up a phrase that is going to be tough to use naturally. You know, one of those phrases that seems impossible to use in a quality piece of writing. Something like "monkey pattern using sock," for instance. You don't need to surrender on that keyword.

What you need is material that uses that phrase at least once--just to make sure it's on-page. Although it might be tough to use that phrase well, it is possible. There are ways to make it work. If it appeared in every paragraph, you would have a clear case of the lousy old-school SEO content people hate. Done well, and sparingly, it can be pulled off. It just requires a good writer.

Living in a "density-free zone" means focusing on natural language use and text quality instead of being focused on the percentages. The uptick in quality will improve SERPs and the use of natual language should insure adequate keyword density representation.

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