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The Beginner’s Guide to Keyword Density

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The Beginner's Guide to Keyword Density

When you’re writing SEO-optimized content, how many keywords are enough? How many are too many? How do you know? And what happens if Google and other search engines determine your site is “stuffed” with keywords?

In our beginner’s guide to keyword density, we’ll cover the basics, dig into why it matters, and offer functional formulas and simple tools that can make sure your keyword strategies are working as intended.

Why Keyword Density Matters

Keywords are a critical part of your SEO strategy .

Along with relevant content and optimized website design, ranking for the right keywords helps your site stand out from the crowd — and get closer to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs).

So it’s no surprise that a substantial amount of SEO advice centers on keywords: Doing your research can help you select and rank for top-performing keywords in your market, in turn boosting user engagement and increasing total sales.

Why? Because keywords drive searches. When users go looking for products or services, they’ll typically use a keyword that reflects their general intent, and expect search engines to serve up relevant results.

While tools like Google now take into account factors such as geographical area and page

authority — defined in part by the number of visitors to your webpage and in part by “dofollow” links from reputable sites that link back to your page — keywords remain a critical factor in website success.

The caveat? You can’t simply “stuff” as many keywords as possible into your content and expect reliable results.

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This practice is called keyword stuffing, and it’s a black-hat SEO practice that can lead to penalization and even full-on removal from the SERPs.

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During the wild west days of the first search engines, brands and SEO firms would write low-value content and cram it with keywords and keyword tags, along with links to similarly-stuffed pages on the same site. Not surprisingly, visitors grew frustrated and search engine providers realized they needed a better approach.

Now, keyword stuffing has the opposite effect — search engines will penalize the page rankings of sites that still choose to keyword stuff.

By the Numbers: The Keyword Density Formula

How do you calculate keyword density? The formula is straightforward: Divide the number of times a keyword is used on your page by the total number of words on the page.

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Here’s an easy example: Your page has 1,000 words and your keyword is used 10 times. This gives:

10 / 1000 = .001

Multiply this by 100 to get a percentage, which in this case is 1%.

There’s also another formula sometimes used to assess keyword usage: TF-IDF, which stands for “term frequency-inverse document frequency”. The idea here is to assess the frequency of a keyword on specific pages (TF) against the number of times this word appears across multiple pages on your site (IDF). The result helps determine how relevant your keyword is for specific pages.

While TF is straightforward, it’s easy to get sidetracked by IDF. Here, the goal is to understand the rarity of your keyword across multiple documents. IDF is measured in values between 0 and 1 — the closer to 0, the more a word appears across your pages. The closer to 1, the more it appears on a single page and no others.

This is the “inverse” nature of the calculation: lower values mean more keyword use.

Consider this formula in practice. Applied to very common words such as “the” or “but”, the TD-IDF score will approach zero. Applied to a specific keyword, the value should be much closer to 1 — if not, you may need to reconsider your keyword strategy.

What is good keyword density?

While there are no hard and fast rules for keyword density beyond always-relevant “don’t keyword stuff” advice, many SEOs recommend using approximately 1-2 keyword for every 100 words of copy. That factors in to about 1-2% keyword density.

Your content may perform similarly with slightly more or slightly less, but general wisdom holds that Google and other search engines respond well to keyword density around 0.5%.

It’s also worth remembering the value of keyword variants — words and phrases that are similar, but not identical, to your primary keyword. Let’s say your website sells outdoor lighting solutions. While your highest-value keyword for SERPs is “outdoor lighting”, stuffing as many uses of this keyword into as many pages as possible will reduce rather than improve overall SEO.

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Instead, consider keyword variants; terms that are close to your primary keyword but not an exact copy. In the case of “outdoor lighting”, variants such as “garden lighting”, “patio lighting”, “deck lighting” or “landscape lighting” can help your page rank higher without running afoul of keyword-stuffing rules.

Not sure what variants make the most sense for your website? Use the “searches related to” section at the bottom of Google’s SERP for your primary keyword. Here’s why: Google has put significant time and effort into understanding intent, so the “searches related to” section will show you similar terms to your primary keyword.

Keyword Density Tools

While you can do the math on keyword density yourself by calculating the total word and keyword counts across every page on your website, this can quickly become time- and resource-intensive as your website expands and page volumes increase.

Keyword density tools help streamline this process. Potential options include:

1. SEO Review Tools Keyword Density Checker

keyword density checker: seo review tools

This free tool is browser-based — simply input your site URL or page text, then complete the “I’m not a robot” captcha to perform a keyword density check. While this tool doesn’t offer the in-depth analytics of other options on the list, it’s a great way to get an overview of current keyword density.

Why We Like It

SEO Review Tool’s keyword density checker includes a color warning for keywords with an abnormally high level of appearance, so you can easily see which ones you need to pare down. It also gives you a breakdown of the keywords by word-number and allows you to exclude certain phrases.

2. SEOBook Keyword Density Analyzer

keyword density checker: seobook

Similar to the tool above, the SEOBook Keyword Density Analyzer is free — but it does require an account to use. Along with basic keyword density reports, this tool also lets you search for your target keyword in Google, pull data for five of the top-ranked pages using the same keyword, then analyze them to see how your keyword stacks up.

Why We Like It

The SEOBook keyword density analyzer allows you to include meta information and exclude “stop words,” which tend to appear often in a text (like “does,” “a,” “the,” and so forth). You can also set a minimum word length. That gives you the ability to only include words that meet a certain character count criteria.

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3. Copywritely Keyword Density Checker

keyword density checker: copywritely

Copywritely’s keyword density checker shows your top keywords by density, and color codes terms that come up often. This tool is a bit more limited than the others in that it doesn’t give you an option to exclude stop words, not does it give you an option to include meta descriptions. But it is a great starter tool.

Why We Like It

Copywritely’s simplicity and user-friendliness makes it a good option if you’re looking for a quick, at-a-glance keyword density check. You then have the option of signing up for a Copywritely account to check and correct errors.

4. Semrush’s On-Page SEO Checker

keyword density checker: semrush

Semrush’s powerful on-page SEO checker includes a keyword density checker, named “keyword phrase usage” within the tool. Along with keyword density assessment, the tool includes automated SEO checkups and reports, assessments for titles and metadata, backlink prospecting tools, and in-depth site crawls, scans, and reports. It also helps you compare your keyword density with your competition’s. It does come at a premium price, starting at $119.95/month.

Why We Like It

Semrush isn’t just a keyword density checker, but a powerful SEO tool that can help you with all aspects of on-page SEO, including competitive comparison. You can learn how many times competitors user certain keywords. You can then get closer to their performance levels by adhering to the industry standard.

Key(words) to the Kingdom

Want to improve your SERP position and boost site impact? Start with strong keywords.

The caveat? Keyword balance is key to search success. By finding — and regularly assessing — the keyword density of both specific pages and your site at scale, it’s possible to boost relevant SEO impact and avoid the ranking pitfalls of overly-dense keyword distribution.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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MARKETING

Closing your team’s technical gap without hiring

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Closing your team's technical gap without hiring

It’s no comfort knowing you’re not the only one having trouble finding tech talent. Demand is high, supply is low. And everyone has teams and projects stuck in limbo.

What would be comforting is a solution. Well, here you go.

I’ve helped many marketing teams close the gap in their technical capabilities without writing a single job description. The reality is you have many more options than you can envision right now. All you need to do is expand your frame.

Expand Your Frame

When making a decision, framing helps you focus on the proper outcomes. The hard part may be setting the frame to the right size. Make it too small and you miss big chunks of the panorama. Too large and you lose the details. 

It’s also a fantastic way to think more strategically. While others are getting up in tactics, e.g., hiring, you can think of the outcome you’re hoping to achieve and determine the fastest way to get there. 


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The frame here is not that you need to hire someone, it’s that you need a certain set of tasks completed. Instead of hiring you should consider two other options: automation, i.e. no-code, and adjusting your team’s priorities. Looked at that way, you may already have all the skills you need.

No-Code & the New Engineers

The rise of no-code software tools is one of the most significant developments in the marketing world. No-code tools are meant to be used by non-technical folks. They have drag-and-drop interfaces and tend to be highly user-friendly. Examples include Zapier, Tray.io, and countless others.

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A huge problem for marketing teams is their technology is too complex. Doing anything significant means getting an engineer. Even sending emails requires technical help. With multiple no-code options in every category, there’s no need for this.

Instead of hiring someone to support marketing automation, find a software solution anyone can use. In practical terms, it means avoiding options like Salesforce, which requires in-house expertise, hundreds of pages of documentation and the proper alignment of the moon to make it work. Other solutions are drastically easier to use, though they may have less functionality. 

I tell my clients to prioritize the ability to connect their tools rather than just their raw capabilities. You may have the best email marketing solution, but it’s not as valuable if you can’t easily export data to a CRM. Be biased towards no-code, and you can avoid hiring.

I recently helped clients connect their Hubspot, Google Sheets, and a website using only no-code tools like Zapier. We were able to get everything done in a matter of weeks with no involvement from their engineers. In addition, the marketing team could send better-targeted emails and measure their performance better. All they needed were the right tools.

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Adjust Your Priorities

Think over how your team spent their time over the past week. Were they working on the highest impact tasks? Unfortunately, there’s a good chance the answer is no. It’s easy to fall prey to “busy work” or get stuck doing jobs that should be automated.

Bill Gates once said there’s no point hiring someone to do an inefficient process. You’re just scaling bad habits. Instead, clean up your processes before adding more bodies. You may discover plenty of time to research software tools and tackle new tasks.

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Read next: Broaden your marketing ops talent perspective

The fastest way to adjust your priorities is to run a time audit of your team. Ask each member to record how they spent their time over an average week. You can then work with them to figure out how to remove tasks from their plates. Low-hanging fruit includes manual input, work that no one sees or failure work—where tasks are redone multiple times. 

After running an audit for one team we found they spent way more time cleaning up data rather than using it. We figured out what was causing the errors and duplication, solving them through formulas and other measures. They were able to shift around 20 hours to other tasks. Many teams have similar hidden opportunities.

Digital-First Means Being Lean

Being digitally savvy isn’t about hiring as many people as possible. Digital channels offer the ability to be lean as you scale. Think of influencers who run channels with millions of views out of their parent’s basement. They have a lean but effective production. Years ago, the Instagram team had less than 100 people before being acquired by Facebook.

As you shift into digital, you have the opportunity to restructure your marketing teams and take advantage of trends like no-code. The first step is to expand your frame. After that, you might see more opportunities.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Ruben Ugarte is the global expert in Decisions, Strategy, and Data and author of the Data Mirage and Bulletproof Decisions. He helps executives at the most innovative medium and large enterprises find their hidden treasures and use them to dramatically boost performance, increase profitability, and make their teams world-class. He has done this across five continents and in three languages. His ideas have helped hundreds of thousands of people make better decisions.

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