Does keyword density matter in 2019?

You did your keyword research. You’ve written your new blog post. And you even got all the green lights on your favorite SEO plugin.

...but there’s still something you might be doing wrong.

That is: writing for keyword density. Keyword density used to be an important metric, but you don’t need to worry about it anymore. Writing for keyword density might actually harm your content’s performance on the SERPs. Instead, let’s talk about a new, better strategy for including relevant keywords in your content.

What is keyword density?

Keyword density is exactly what it sounds like — the percentage of text that contains your keyword. So if you have a blog post that’s 1,000 words and your keyword appears 10 times, you have a 1% keyword density.

More specifically, the formula for keyword density is:

Kw_density = (keyword_frequency ÷ total_number_of_words) * 100

But is keyword density important? Why does your SEO plugin report on it?

The answer is: it used to be important, but you don’t need to worry about it anymore. In fact, many well-meaning writers and SEOs, in an effort to hit certain keyword density benchmarks, are actually guilty of a major SEO sin: keyword stuffing.

Keyword density and keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is the repetition of an exact-match keyword to the point where it causes the text to sound unnatural. You might have seen some blatantly obvious examples like:

"Looking for cheap flights to Stockholm for your next vacation? Our cheap flights to Stockholm travel agents specialize in finding cheap flights to Stockholm. Contact our travel agency for cheap flights to Stockholm today!"

The keyword the above text is “optimized” for is “cheap flights to Stockholm.” But the keyword appears 4 times in a paragraph with only 34 words. That’s an 11.76% keyword density—much, much too high.

Or some more well-meaning, but still offensive, text:

"Looking for a Pittsburgh design agency to fulfill all your design needs in 2019? Look no further! We are the premier boutique Pittsburgh design agency. Our Pittsburgh design agency specializes in web, print, video, advertising, and bulletin board design. Contact us today for your free quote."

Even with a keyword density of 6.52%, the phrase “Pittsburgh design agency” sticks out and feels unnatural. But it’s not a far cry from the “standard” 5% keyword density recommendation that many SEO plugins make.

Why is keyword stuffing bad?

The biggest issue with keyword stuffing is that it leads to text optimized for search engines, not people.

So while keyword stuffing used to be an easy way to engineer the SERPs and ensure you got a lot of page views, it’s not a good way to ensure you get a lot of meaningful traffic that translates into additional email list subscribers or customers for your business.

This is especially an issue for longer posts, where many people will stop reading the post altogether because keyword stuffing creates bad writing. Fortunately, there’s a way to get all the benefits of keyword stuffing without annihilating any chance you have at not making your reader rage quit your site.

Use relevant keywords to boost SERPs rankings

Relevant keywords, sometimes called “LSI keywords,” help Google understand what your page is about much better than keyword stuffing.

Think of it this way:

Google learns by association. And over time, Google has learned that some keywords resemble each other—sometimes even to the point of near equivalence. This makes sense—different combinations of words can mean the exact same thing. Even though “foods that burn fat” and “fat-burning foods” are different keywords, they mean the exact same thing. The SERPs for these keywords should be nearly identical. ...but there are also some keywords that could have multiple meanings.

For example, "Jaguar." Do I want the car brand? Maybe I'm looking for information about the Jacksonville NFL team. Perhaps I want information about the animal. Google understands the difference based on the other keywords I include on my page.

For example, if I’m writing about the animal, I wouldn’t include words like “Florida,” “stadium,” or “record” on my page. Therefore, Google understands that my page is not about the Jacksonville NFL team.

Likewise, I wouldn’t include keywords like “car,” “engine,” or “gas mileage” because none of those words make sense to include on a page about the animal. And Google would understand that my page is not related to the Jaguar car brand. But if I include words like “habitat,” “cat,” and “species” on my page, those are pretty obvious signals to Google that it should rank my page for searches related to jaguars.

...now, you might be thinking: how do I even find these keywords? Keep reading.

How to find relevant keywords

You can, of course, brainstorm your own list of relevant keywords. If you write naturally (that is, write without any particular keywords in mind), you’ll organically include some LSI keywords.

But there’s nothing wrong with making it extra clear to Google what your page is about.

There are 2 major methods for finding LSI keywords. The first is to use a dedicated tool. The second is to read the information off of the SERPs themselves. Both techniques are valuable and neither takes much time.

Use an LSI keyword research tool

Just like how there are keyword research tools for your everyday generic keywords, there are also LSI keyword research tools.

keyword research tool

And LSI graph is one of the best ones. It’s super simple to use.

Just plug in your target keyword, solve the captcha, and boom: there’s a huge list of relevant keywords.

wincher

(This is also a really good way to validate that Google understands your keyword the same way you do. If you search “jaguar” in LSI graph, you’ll get a bunch of keywords related to the Jacksonville football team and the car brand...that’s a signal that, if you’re writing about cats, you should pick a different keyword.) If you’d rather not use another tool… There’s a simpler way.

Mine the SERPs for related keywords

First, plug your target keyword into Google. Then scroll all the way to the bottom—to the “Searches related to…” section. Google’s suggestions are all LSI keywords.

Screen Shot 2018 12 06 at 1.27.50 PM 1

Nothing good there? Scroll back up and look for some bolded text. This is what we got when we searched “high carb foods to avoid”:

Screen Shot 2018 12 26 at 2 37 24 PM

Notice how some keywords are bolded that aren’t the search term? Bread. Fruit. Starchy. Pasta. Cereal. Sweetened Yogurt. Google understands that these words relate to the search term, so it highlighted them. In other words, these are your LSI keywords.

In fact, this page that ranks in position #1 for the keyword “high card foods to avoid” isn’t even optimized for that keyword. That’s the power of including LSI keywords in your content.

Where to include keywords (to avoid keyword stuffing)

But this begs the question… ...where exactly do you include these keywords? And the answer is: anywhere you’d include your regular keyword. In the title tag, the URL slug, the meta description, the subheadings, the introduction and conclusion, and throughout the body copy. Use these LSI keywords where they make sense.

For example, if you’re writing a post about high-carb foods, you could give a list of some foods to avoid and list those keywords we saw earlier. Pasta, bread, sweetened yogurt, etc.

But remember: the goal is to create text that sounds natural. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Conclusion

Keyword density doesn’t really matter too much anymore. But what does matter is the ease at which Google can tell what your content is about. Including relevant phrases—called LSI keywords—can dramatically boost Google’s confidence in its understanding of your post’s topic. By the way, we’d love to know…

What did you think of this post? Let us know in the comments.