First there was keyword stuffing.
When I first started writing SEO copy, more than 10 years ago, some websites were trying some pretty dodgy stuff to get ahead in the rankings.
Keyword stuffing was a prime example. They would overload their copy with the same SEO keyword over and over again until it looked something like this:
“When you practise keyword stuffing, you find that keyword stuffing involves stuffing your content with the same keyword over and over again. But the problem with keyword stuffing is that keyword stuffing was designed for search engines and not for humans. That’s why keyword stuffing makes your copy sound unnatural and ridiculous.”
The copy was horrible to read, but keyword-stuffed websites ranked higher in the search engines — which is what SEOs were aiming for.
The search engines took action.
The major search engines determined that keyword stuffing gave a poor user experience and an unfair advantage. They developed new algorithms to identify it and penalised the websites that used it.
Keyword density was the alternative.
Some saw keyword density as the antidote to keyword stuffing.
Rather than overusing the same keyword to the point of irritation, SEOs would work out a formula for the optimum number of times an SEO keyword could appear in a piece of text, depending on the number of words overall.
Experts decided the optimum keyword density was 1 to 3 percent. So, in every 100 words, you could use your keyword between one and three times.
Keyword density is about limits and targets.
When I was commissioned to write SEO content for agencies, I was sometimes given keywords with a target number.
“This is the length of the piece we want you to write, here are the keywords we want you to include and this is how many times we want you to use them.”
But, when I started writing, I realised this wasn’t always workable.
Any experienced content writer knows about keyword stuffing and will never overstuff your content to the point where it stops reading naturally.
But writing to limits and targets creates its own set of problems.
Some keywords are too easy.
Some keywords fit so naturally into the copy, I could use the full quota by half way through the piece.
And if I ran out, then what should I do?
Start implying the thing instead of calling it by its name?
Confuse everyone by calling it something else?
Insert a lot of pointless waffle to balance it all out?
Some keywords are impossible.
Some of the keywords I was given sounded so unnatural, you would never use them in normal prose — let alone 10 times in a 1,000-word article.
What should I do with those?
Shoehorn them in, disrupt the flow of the piece and distract everyone from the point I was trying to make?
Keyword density is for search engines.
I stopped taking work from agencies that gave me limits and targets. They were too concerned with numbers to think about what their clients’ audiences really needed.
Instead, I focused on creating good content, for a human audience. I included relevant keywords where they appeared naturally, without fixating on them or keeping count. I wrote in a way that read well and made good sense. And I still achieved the results my clients wanted.
Humans first, always.
The search engines are now giving preference to human-first content too. Google’s Hummingbird update was the first step towards search engines that focus on intent, rather than just matching keywords.
When I still hear people talking about keyword density as a strategy, it seems so dated and contrived.
So can we stop now, please?
Do you need help to create high quality content for your human audience?
I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance copywriter and content writer who creates quality SEO content for human consumption.
Your content will be keyword-rich, but not keyword-led. It will also be on-brand, well-researched and intelligently written.
For more information and details of my blog writing bundles, please visit my website or get in touch.