Why Keyword Density Matters

Does keyword density matter for SEO?

Conduct any search for “SEO tips” and you’re likely to see mentions of keywords, content, and links. And while many guides will tell you that keyword usage is the foundation of your SEO strategy, this is only true to a certain extent.

In fact, the keywords you use and how often you use them will vary widely from one content piece to another. With this in mind, what many call “keyword density” is less important than the experience you are able to create with your content.

In this guide, we address what keyword density is, whether it matters for SEO, and how to use keywords (correctly) to improve your website content and rankings. 

What is Keyword Density?

Keyword density refers to an SEO concept that counts the number of times a search term (or “keyword”) is used on a web page or within a blog post. This density metric is most often reflected as a ratio of the keywords used to the overall word count of the content.

In essence, keyword density is used to (in theory) better optimize your content for the keyword you are hoping to rank for. 

The logic is that the more often you use the keyword, the more optimized your content is. 

But this is not necessarily the case.

Why does keyword density matter for SEO?

Keyword density matters for SEO in some sense because it encourages website owners and content creators to optimize their content for the search terms they are attempting to rank for in Google and other search engines. 

Using your chosen keyword makes it super clear to search engine algorithms what your page content is about, which encourages the search engine to show your content to users. 

However, adhering to “optimal keyword density” as the primary indication that your content is optimized is unwise. In reality, there are a variety of factors to consider before your content is fully optimized for Search and for users. 

How search engines use keywords density

In the early days of search engines, keyword density was used to determine the relevance of content to a user's search. In fact, it was one of the most important ranking factors. However, today, search engines are far more wary of websites who overuse keywords in order to "trick" the system. With so much keyword spam, keyword density became far less important.

In fact, using your keyword too many time in your content can cause a web page to be penalized by search engines. With this in mind, it is best to focus on Google's named SEO ranking factors and write for the user instead.

Warning: Avoid keyword stuffing your content

The risk of reaching for a high keyword density as a general rule is that you’ll potentially overstuff your content with your target keyword. Using your target keyword, verbatim, too many times can appear spammy to users and search engines.

“Keyword stuffing” refers to essentially shoehorning your keyword into your content in order to increase the page’s optimal keyword density. Keyword stuffing is not the best approach, as it is far better to use related search terms and context to tell users (and algorithms) what your content is about.

In short, you DO want to use your keyword in your content, but be careful to not overuse it to the extent that it creates a poor experience for users. 

Is there an optimal keyword density?

There is no ideal keyword density percentage to hit when it comes to optimizing your content, but many SEO professionals suggest that 1-2% is a reasonable target. This percentage means that you are including your target keyword around one to two times per every 100 words of content.

Again, the goal here is to indicate to search engines what your content is about without overdoing it. So, don’t stress if you don’t hit the 1% mark. 

Search engines like Google are smart enough to read context cues from other variations of terms to understand your content and display it for the right search terms. So, don't worry about trying to land on an ideal keyword density.

What SEO experts say:

“Keyword density is only important to the extent that it encourages content writers to focus on their target keyword, but it should not be used at the end-all-be-all rule for content and keyword optimization. Your goal is to produce the best content to fit what the user is searching for. You should not compromise user experience for maximum keyword usage”. - Jessica Foster, SEO Content Strategist at Keys&Copy

“When it comes to SEO, it’s best to write your content with the user in mind. Ask yourself, how can I satisfy the intent of someone searching for that keyword or phrase? After the page gets indexed, see how it lands in the search engine results pages. Then, you can further optimize the article with tools like Surfer SEO to push it higher on Google. I recommend the Inverted Pyramid model when writing SEO content”. - Jason Hennessey, SEO Strategist at Hennessey Digital

Keyword density formula: How to calculate keyword density

Calculating Keyword Density is simple: just divide the number of times a keyword is used by the total word count on the page. The resulting number is the keyword density of the page. You can multiply the figure times 100 to determine the % keyword density. 

Example:Your article has 2000 words total and you used your target keyword (“digital marketing”) 20 times in the article. Following the formula above, your keyword density would be 1% ( 20 / 2000 = .01 x 1000 = 1% )

How to improve keyword density 

Improving keyword density starts with a genuine assessment of what you are hoping to achieve with your content. 

If your goal is to rank higher in Google, drive traffic, and get users to convert on-page, then you’ll want to employ a variety of tactics to ensure you are optimizing for the right key phrase in the right way.

Here are some strategies you can use to effectively optimize your content for your chosen keywords and improve your Google rankings.

Use keyword density checking tools

Many content optimization tools, like Surfer SEO, use formulas to calculate keyword density and offer recommendations for how to better optimize your content. 

In using a keyword density checking tool, though, you will want to find one that doesn’t exclusively report on specific keyword use but also offers a thorough analysis of your content. This should include your use of H1 and H2 headings, related keywords, internal links, and other on-page factors.

The right tools can help you see the bigger picture of your content, optimize it for a variety of “semantically-related” terms, and provide a better user experience. Again, reaching a 1-2% keyword density score is less important than the overall Content Score of your web page. 

Include related keywords

Google’s algorithm has gotten much better at understanding content even when the exact focus keyword isn’t used; in other words, Google can read your content and interpret its meaning from the other “related” terms you use in your article.

Using related keywords allows you more freedom to write creative content without stuffing the page with your primary keyword. You can use terms that are to some degree related to your focus topic and still reaps the benefits of optimization.

For example, if your primary keyword is “SEO marketing”, some related keywords might include “search engine optimization”, “SEM”, “search engine marketing”, “marketing for SEO”, and so on. Google is still smart enough to understand that the focus of your page is SEO marketing overall. 

To help streamline this process, you can use Surfer's Keyword Research Tool to find relevant topic clusters and create your Content Editor based on the findings! Surfer gives you the search / user intent, the monthly search volume and the keyword difficulty! When you click the icon in the bottom-right corner, it'll open a fresh Content Editor for you!

Write to inform your audience

Your primary goal in SEO content writing should be to create content users will want to read. Further, it should be content that satisfies the user’s search - whether it be an answer to a question, an informative guide, or some other type of valuable content.

With this in mind, write your content to inform your target audience about your chosen topic. Use examples, answer common questions, include expert quotes, and more to provide value to your readers.

In doing so, you will naturally create content that offers the context Google needs to understand the focus of your page or article. After that, it is simply your job to follow SEO best practices to ensure the page is fast, accessible, and user-friendly. 

Compare with your competitors

Looking for some creative yet impactful ways to optimize your content? Just look at what your content competitors are doing! (And we don’t just mean your brand competitors)

If your goal is to rank for a given keyword, do a quick Google search for your keyword to see what content is already ranking. Then, do a manual analysis to see what content sections these competitors have, how they are using their keywords, and any other media they’ve included in the content.

Creating great content isn’t about who uses the keyword the most. The goal is to create content that’s more descriptive, more engaging, and more creative than what’s already ranking. So, look at what your competitors are doing well and try to make your content even better.

Avoid keyword stuffing

As stated previously, keyword stuffing refers to the overuse of your focus keywords throughout your content. If you are going to optimize for a particular keyword, you should attempt to use it naturally throughout the page.

Keyword frequency is important in the sense that you want to use your keyword a few times in your page or article, but keyword stuffing to the max just makes your content read as spammy. You should attempt to use your key phrase in your page title tag, meta description, body content, and maybe a few headings, but make sure your keyword appears only where it makes sense to the reader.

Using Surfer SEO to optimize your content

Surfer SEO uses the concept of keyword density as one factor in our content optimization tools, but there are many more elements to consider if you want to create fully optimized content. Below, we reveal a process for creating better SEO content from start to finish. 

1. Open Keyword Research Tool

Use Surfer's Keyword Research Tool (formerly: Content Planner) to find relevant topic clusters of keywords that often rank together. You have the option to open a Content Editor (and start writing) and include all or only some of the suggested relevant keywords.

2. Open Content Editor

Open Content Editor to create a draft of what will be your new page or blog post. Here, you will see recommendations for how (and how often) to use your exact keyword and related search terms.

The Content Editor allows you to write, analyze, and optimize your content all in real-time. This can be helpful in creating optimized content before you upload it to your site. You can even create a link to your document to share with others (for example, writers, clients, or marketing managers)

Content editor will help you make sure your keyword appears in the right sections of your content the right amount of times.

3. Write or paste in your content

You may choose to write your content directly in the Content Editor or you can paste it in from a different document. Often, content writers prefer to write the content in Content Editor so they can optimize as they go along. This leads to better, more descriptive content. You can share your work via a link or Google Docs.

If you want to open your content in a third-party app like Wordpress, Jasper (prev. Jarvis) or Webflow, that's also possible! Learn how to use Surfer with Wordpress and Google Docs here!

4. Review your Content Score

The Content Score will show you how your content measures up in terms of SEO. This score includes both keyword density and other formulas to produce an overall rating of how well your content is optimized.

To improve your Content Score, follow the recommendations to the right of the Content Editor document. These may include adding H1 or H2 headings, using fewer external links, optimizing for additional keywords, or increasing the number of words on the page.

5. Optimize with suggested keywords

The Content Editor will offer a variety of related keywords to improve the quality of your content. Not all of these need to be used, but they serve as a guide for reaching your content's optimal keyword density.

Surfer SEO analyzes the top pages in the search results to reveal the related terms your content competitors are using most often. Using these terms will help Google “read” your content and determine whether it is a good fit for the user’s search. 

High keyword density is not the gold standard for SEO

While keyword density does matter for SEO, getting a high keyword density score is not the primary goal of content optimization. Instead, your objective should be to create content that satisfies the user’s search, provides value to the reader, and follows SEO best practices to ensure it is “readable” and indexable by Google.

In using a content optimization tool for your content, choose a tool that not only uses keyword density but provides an overall Content Score. Surfer SEO takes a holistic approach by offering various recommendations for improving your content, not just sprinkling your keyword throughout the page.

What else do you want to know about keyword density for SEO? Wondering how long SEO takes to see results? Check out our article here!

Further reading:


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Screenshot of Surfer SEO Content Editor interface, displaying the 'Essential Content Marketing Metrics' article with a content score of 82/100. The editor highlights sections like 'Key Takeaways' and offers SEO suggestions for terms such as 'content marketing metrics