You’ve likely heard of keyword density if your company has had a presence on the internet for a few years. Keyword density was a core strategy that many webmasters used to build and market their websites shortly after the internet’s inception. Now, though, keyword density is not a priority on a SEO’s checklist and should not be a core component of a website’s strategy.
So what is keyword density? It is a percentage that is calculated by looking at the ratio of how many times a word is used in relationship to the number of words on the entire webpage. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, SEOs would use this percentage as a way to determine how well the website would rank for the term in question. It was believed that using a keyword approximately 20% of the time in the content would get a site ranked, however search engines have effectively put a stop to this myth. Using keyword density as your sole guiding principal after Google implemented the algorithm update Penguin is a quick way to the spam heap.
Search engines weren’t always as sophisticated as they are now. Just as anything that evolves, it took quite some time to get up to the great complex algorithms like Panda and Penguin. The first search engine appeared in 1990 and had only enough storage space to list the URLs for the websites. It wasn’t until late 1993 that there was a search engine capable of indexing both Titles and URLs. Search engines operated on a simple principle when it came to giving site recommendations: the more times keywords were used on a page, the more relevant to that keyword the page must be. As an example, let’s say we were searching for orange in 1992. We’d go to our search engine of choice and type in the word orange into the search field. We’d then get a list back that consisted of page titles like Orange Color Orange urls like www.organgeorangeorange.com.
In mid 1994 a site crawler that indexed entire web pages was released. Some webmasters and SEOs adapted by creating a new level of unabashedness: Keyword Stuffing. A webmaster would add, not one iteration, not two, but 20 iterations of the same keyword at the top of the webpage that had absolutely nothing to do with the page copy. Using our earlier example, a webmaster would have the word Orange repeated twenty times in the site header while the actual body text of the page was about Florida vacation rentals and ads related to it. This frustrated internet users because using search engines was like Russian roulette–you never knew what you were going to get.
The search engines fought these spammers by changing the sorting process and updating the algorithms responsible for it. Even so, the rumor persisted that there was a “sweet spot” for keyword density to achieve optimal ranking prowess for many years. Google finally put an end to both keyword stuffing and keyword density when they released the Panda update in early 2011. Low quality websites (read: lacking meaningful content) were expunged from Google’s SERPs by dropping their rankings into the hundreds or blacklisting the offender’s sites entirely.
But don’t we need keywords, you ask? Of course. But the rub is that you use keywords all the time when you create content for a website. Literally any text can become a keyword. Therefore, you should be concentrating on creating meaningful content that your intended audience will find useful and will want to share with their friends and coworkers. Focus your energy on finding topics first, keywords second, and forego adding Keyword Density to your list of site requirements.