How Keyword Density is Raising Red Flags

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Remember the good old days when you could add a huge list of keywords at the bottom of a web page and that would actually work? I mean, there was a time when you could actually add unrelated keywords to that block of nonsense (usually adult-themed keywords) and this would drum up traffic. I say “good old days” in jest because even though it was easier to fool search engines, it made the web a pretty feeble place. If there’s one thing that’s true: the search engine’s tighter restrictions on web content have made the quality of websites better, even if it’s made SEO operators’ jobs more difficult.

SEO red flags
photo courtesy of JenWaller

That doesn’t mean you won’t still find website owners trying to game the system by cramming together keywords. Are they new to the SEO biz? Do they think they can game the system? Who knows why some site owners are using outdated SEO methods, but sometimes you shouldn’t party like it’s 1999. It’s 2008, time to make sure that you’re keyword density doesn’t go above 20 percent of content, if that.

Keyword Density Percentages

OK, let’s look at the above paragraph. Let’s say I’m optimizing for the phrase “keyword density.” I used it once, in the last sentence, in a paragraph that’s 69 words long. That comes out to roughly 2 percent density for that one paragraph. That doesn’t mean I can use the phrase 15 times within one 70-word paragraph: for two reasons. One, it’s not the only time that the keyphrase is going to be used in other paragraphs in the site’s content, elevating the density percentage. Two, using the same keyphrase 15 times within a short 70-word paragraph is still pushing it (an understatement) even if that’s only 20 percent of the content. In short, even 20 percent is danger territory.

Really, what you should be looking at is a density of 3-5 percent density. So anyone telling you that you can push it to 20 percent is living in the SEO-land of decades past. Looking at the above paragraph again, 3-5 percent means that I could have used the phrase “keyword density” around three times in that paragraph and gotten away with it.

You’ve also got to factor in where the keyphrase fits into the paragraph. So while you could get away with using the phrase 3 times in 70 words and get away with it, this is not necessarily the case if you don’t spread those words out within the paragraph. Writing the same word three times in a row is potentially going to raise flags, even if those keyphrases are only a small percentage of a page’s content.

This is where some content writers get into trouble: they get more concerned with the number of words on the page, rather than how a keyphrase fits into the page’s content. This is why a keyword density calculator is an important tool for webmasters, as density calculation is a different formulation than determining how many times a keyphrase appears on the page. Remember, that list of keyphrases that used to be at the bottom of a web page was eventually red-flagged because they were pointless and non-grammatical. Cramming together a few keyphrases together – even if they’re surrounded by grammatical content – still poses a problem. Check out SEO Hosting’s Keyword Density calculator.

Raising the Red Flag

Let’s say, for the sake of this discussion, that you’re new to the SEO scene. If you’ve been red-flagged in the past, this could be problematic for a new site, regardless of how closely you follow the rules. This is why being red-flagged should be avoided at all costs. There’s a statute of limitations of about 2 years before that old flag is no longer relevant.

You have to remember there’s more content than just the content you see on the page. Spiders are like the God of the Internet: they see everything. So if you place keyphrases to the boiling point in web content, this means you will have less leeway when putting keyphrases in other “invisible” mediums, such as metatags. Overall, hidden content should be avoided, no matter how well-written and SEO-compliant it is. Meta-tags should never be overstuffed as well. Spiders hate that.

Meta Tags are still important, however, and should be directed towards the overall theme on your page. Not only is keyword density a problem, but so is keyword dilution. I mentioned how in the past site owners would add adult-themed keywords to that long list of gibberish keywords. Well, even if you include those keywords in readable content, it could still be red-flagged by a search engine. Your web content should be on topic for two reasons:

  1. It helps with site branding.
  2. It can increase the weight of relevant keywords (just so long as they’re not overused).

Another thing people to trick search engines is to update old content with high density keywords. The thinking is that being that a page has already been indexed and not red-flagged, it is safe terrain to rewrite content in your favor. No, it’s not. When it comes to SEO, you’ve got to be smart. There’s no great trick that Google hasn’t thought of first. Instead of risking being red-flagged at all, you need to follow the rules of standard SEO because the terms of service for search engines are getting tighter and tighter.

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