They searched on Google, gave me a call, and now I have the largest contract that I have ever received.

Joanne Cairney, Aberdeen

Keyword Density

Keywords and similar terms are probably something that you have heard about in relation to search engine optimisation (SEO). Indeed, they are so fundamental, that various methodologies have developed. One of the most prominent has been keyword density.

It is worth spending 1 minute to understand what this is, why it might have worked, and why it is now probably a poor use of your time.

Years ago, the search engines were less sophisticated. How they decided which web pages appeared where in the search results was much simpler than it is today. It was still a complex process, but one that was probably much easier to abuse. A particular case in point related to keyword density.

The logic was sound and persuasive. If a page was about a particular topic (keyword or phrase), then the more often that the phrase appeared on the page, the more relevant that page was to that search, and so the higher it would appear in the results.

Taken to the extreme, this meant that some people created web pages that consisted of little more than the same word or phrase repeated over and over. While that might have got a high position in the search results, it wasn't very satisfactory to anyone visiting that page. Therefore the search engines evolved to disregard such blatant abuses.

This led to a much more sophisticated approach; keyword density. This had an air of scientific credibility, which it probably deserved, for a while. It worked on the principle that if your key word or phrase appeared too often on a page, then the search engines would disregard it as spam. However, if your keyword or phrase didn't appear on the page, then it wouldn't appear in the results. Therefore the solution was to find a sweet spot, the maximum number of times that your keyword or phrase could appear on a page without being banned.

There were different opinions as to what the optimal keyword density was. Software was developed that would calculate a page's keyword density. People spent hours adding or removing words until they hit the magic number. This was simply the percentage calculated as the number of times your key word appeared, divided by the total number of words on the page. So you can see how adding or removing other words would change the answer.

I know of people who have claimed great results as a consequence of doing this. I was never a big fan myself, and was always concerned that their results might actually have been caused by other things that they, their competitors, and / or the search engines were doing. I haven't heard of anyone claiming success using this technique, for quite some time.

And that is the point of this tip. Don't waste time trying to beat the search engines by using such an approach. It might have worked in the past, briefly. No longer. The search engines are much more sophisticated. They expect pages to be written in a more natural way. This means that different words with the same meaning should be used on the same page. For example, red crimson and scarlet, or bike, cycle and bicycle. It means that simple keyword density is no longer relevant.

If everything appears to be OK, then congratulations. But what if you have a problem? If you don't care about your website marketing, then it's not really an issue, apart from the waste of money. However, you wouldn't have read this far, would you?

This is actually a zero-cost solution. If you are doing keyword density work, stop doing it. Indeed, if you are paying someone to do it, or you place some value on the time you spend doing it yourself, then stopping it will actually save you money.

The bigger issue here is that if you are using keyword density, then your online marketing is flawed. If this is wrong, what else is wrong. This could make a conversation with whoever looks after your website, quite tricky. However, you may now realise that website design and website marketing are two different skill sets. That is why web designers pass clients to us. Get in touch and I can tell you how we could help you.

By Kenneth Mackay, 12th May, 2015

This is one of a series of articles that deal with common issues when promoting your business online. We hope that you found it useful. Go to our online marketing tips to see previous pieces of advice. If there are any topics that you would like covered, please let us know.

If you need to promote your business online, then contact us.