Why keyword density is crap

Wky keyphrase density is crapIt happened again during SES San Jose 2008. In fact, the situation happens so often (actually, every conference for the last 10 years) that I call it “The question.”

“What kind of keyphrase density should I shoot for in my copy?”

I don’t blame the person who asked the question. Heck, I’m not surprised they’re confused. Ever since the dawn of SEO copywriting time, SEO’ers have been trying to game the content part of the algorithm. It’s even a technique that worked years ago. Back in the early days when Google was but a mere blip on Stanford’s server, SEO experts knew that a 5.5 percent keyphrase density would get a top spot in Alta Vista.

We don’t think that way anymore.

The first reason we don’t is that SEO has gotten harder order the years, and the algorithm has gotten more complex. There’s no magical keyphrase density number that “games” Google or the other engines. So, writing towards a particular metric to position higher on search results is unnecessary and ineffectual. This is supported by Matt Cutts of Google who said in a 2006 blog post, “I’d recommend thinking more about words and variants (the “˜long-tail’) and thinking less about keyword density or repeating phrases.”

The second reason is because writing towards a particular density ignores your main target audience — the people you want to read your articles, contract with you for services and buy your products. Artificially targeting a keyphrase density alters the intent of your writing and sacrifices proven direct response principals. Yes, keyphrases in the copy is important. Yes, include them in headlines, subheadlines and throughout the body text. Yes, it does take time to learn how to weave the “right amount” of keyphrases into your copy so it reads seamlessly — yet leverages every keyphrase opportunity you can leverage. But the main focus should always be “how does what I’m writing engage and persuade my readers?”

Does “ignoring” keyphrase density really work? I was talking to a client last week about a site I had written pages for years ago. After six years, the pages are still positioning in Google’s top three — and that’s without measuring keyphrase density. And more importantly, the copy converted well. That’s a definite win-win – without having to worry about meaningless metrics.

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