Pay Attention to Keyword Focus, Not Keyword Density

Shaun Anderson just published his post interviewing 25 well known SEO people on the topic of Keyword Density (KD). In addition to some well thought out responses, there are a series of valuable resources for those interested in digging deeper into concepts like information retrieval and term – keyword weight.

While discussing these interviews with a colleague and recollecting a previous post I wrote on strategic keyword placement, it’s important to realize the following 3 points:

Keyword Density Is NOT The Same as a Keyword Focus
There is always a need to incorporate keywords into your web pages. Each web page represents an opportunity to be found for different keywords, but there is no magical percentage of keyword usage that triggers successful search engine rankings. However, there are best practices for applying keywords in context that we have had a success with:

  • Usage of the keyword at the beginning of the HTML Title and page heading, unless it’s inappropriate.
  • Usage of the keyword within context as appropriate, usually towards the beginning of the page copy.
  • But above all else, write web page copy with the user in mind, so that human visitors will comprehend the point being conveyed (as effectively as possible).

In addition, we often make recommendations for web page copy that may have nothing to do with a particular keyword focus, but strive to improve click-thru’s or brand awareness, such as incorporating the brand name at the end of an HTML title, or segmenting out long pages of copy with sub-headings and bulleted lists. It makes the web page read more effectively for the user, which should be the end goal for your online marketing strategy.

Keyword Focus Can Be Improved By Removing Useless Copy
One of the more underrated things that can be applied to web page copy is the careful removal of unnecessary descriptors and/or purple prose. This idea has recently been discussed online more for blogging but can be applied to any exercise in improving web copy.

Remember that most web page copy is not meant to be a leisurely read. The online user is looking for something specific and getting to the point quickly can be even more valuable than excessive descriptions, especially for obtaining better quality from the website visits you already receive.

Jakob Nielsen has a step-by-step example measuring the effect of improved copywriting, not only through the trimming of “keyword fat”, but in the practice of better organizational copy structure.

Evaluating Keyword Density Does Not Reveal Relevancy
Finally, Dr. E. Garcia’s article, The Keyword Density of Non-Sense, illustrates how alternative search engine implementations invalidate the notion of keyword density as a measurement for search relevance.

Even at the individual keyword level, multiple pages can have identical KD values but still contain different numbers for keyword usage and total words on the page. More specifically, Garcia goes on to state that KD does nothing to establish an understanding of:

  • Proximity between keywords in document
  • Location of keywords in document
  • Co-citation frequency between keywords
  • The main theme, topic, and sub-topics of the documents

Beyond the notion of keyword density, the article is important for understanding of how search engines do attempt to evaluate page content and establish search relevancy. For those interested in search relevancy, it’s worth reading and I’d love to discuss it with anyone who shares an interest in the topic.

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— Katie Meurin, SEO Manager at Southern New Hampshire University

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