The Mystery of the Magical Keyword Density Formula

Keyword density. When it comes to SEO copywriting, this has to be one of the most talked about subjects. Why? Because keywords are the very foundation of search engine copywriting. Without keywords we wouldn't even have SEO copywriting. Because keywords (or more accurately, keyphrases) play such an important role in search engine copywriting, it might make sense that there are certain rules and regulations - certain formulas - that should be followed. It might make sense, but, I'm sorry to say, the mystery? the magic? is more like a myth.

I have a guess as to where these magic formulas come from. Someone brags to their friend that they got #1 ranking for a particular keyphrase. The friend studiously looks over the site and starts taking notes. "He used this phrase eight times in a 500-word piece of copy. He put the keywords in here and there and over here, too. That means you have to put keyphrases in these places and reach a keyword density of 1.6% in order to get a #1 ranking." Not so! Let me explain why keyword density formulas don't fly.

Copywriting Is One Piece of the Search Engine Optimization Formula

Copywriting, in my opinion and the opinions of respected search engine optimizers, is 1/3 of the puzzle; but there are other pieces to the puzzle, too. What about coding and linking? Those are two extremely important factors that also come into play.

*IF* copywriting were the sole factor, then maybe - just maybe - keyword density formulas might be a reality instead of a fable. But alas? it isn't.

Keyword Density Formulas Are Unproven

Go to any search engine. Type in your primary keyphrase. Look at the results that fall into the number one through five slots. Do they all have the same keyword density? No. Some have higher levels, some have lower levels.

If keyword density formulas were carved in stone, every single site in the top 10 would have the same keyword saturation levels. But alas? they don't.

All Keyphrases Aren't Created Equal

Think about the competitiveness of the various keyphrases on the Internet. You have some like "search engine marketing" that are exceptionally competitive. Then there are others like "sushi restaurant in Charlotte, NC" that aren't. You have to account for how many other sites you'll be battling with when you write search engine copy.

Positioning of Keyphrases

In addition to the number of times a keyphrase is used, you need to pay attention to *where* your keyphrases are used. While it has not been proven to my knowledge, it is strongly suspected that keyphrases that have special formatting carry additional weight. By special formatting I mean bold, italics, in bulleted lists, in tags, etc. As I said, this has not been proven. Again, go to your favorite search engine and type in a keyphrase. If formatting and positioning were a carved-in-stone rule, all the sites in the top 10 would be using these tactics. But alas? they aren't.

Why the Myths?

I understand why people want formulas. Having hard and fast rules to follow means, if you apply the formula, you know you've done the job right and you can't fail. The problem is there isn't just one right way to create search engine copy. There are as many ways to write SEO copy as there are sites on the Web.

Am I holding back? Am I trying to protect my highly classified industry copywriting secrets? Not at all. In fact, go to my site at http://www.marketingwords.com. Visit the portfolio section. If I had a fiercely protected secret that I was holding out on, all the sites with SEO copy in my portfolio would have the same keyword density. But alas? they don't.

What DOES Work?

So after I've dashed your dreams, the least I can do is give you some insight into how *I* write SEO copy. I don't do any or all of these in any particular order. I don't do them all every time I write. I am NOT saying that you should do all of these things every time you write.

1) If possible, I try to include keyphrase(s) in the headline and sub-headlines. If it doesn't make sense, if it sounds odd, I don't include them.

2) When it flows, I include keyphrases roughly once or twice per paragraph. Do I count words? Do I run keyword density ratios? Never! I just eyeball the page to see if it looks right.

3) This I do EVERY time I write? I focus on natural language. If the copy sounds forced or stiff after including keyphrases, I scrap it and start over. Read your copy out loud. If it sounds stupid or redundant to you, it will sound stupid and redundant to your site visitor. Don't compromise the flow of natural language for the sake of search engines. What good will number one rankings do if - as soon as visitors get to your home page - they click away because the copy is so awful? All the number one spots in the world won't pay your grocery bill. You ultimately have to have sales and that means winning over your human visitors.

4) If possible, I try to include keyphrase(s) in bold, italic, bulleted lists, or in other text that is specially formatted. If it doesn't make sense, if it looks funny or sounds odd, I don't include them.

So that's it. Are those feelings you had when you learned there wasn't a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny coming back? Sorry. I truly am. But it's for your own good. If you're going to be an effective search engine copywriter, you have to learn the truth. Relying on myths will only hold you back. Now pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get moving on that next number-one-ranking page.

Karon Thackston © 2004

About The Author

Copy not getting results? Learn to write SEO copy that impresses the engines and your visitors at http://www.copywritingcourse.com. Be sure to check out Karon's latest e-report "How To Increase Keyword Saturation (Without Destroying the Flow of Your Copy)" at http://www.copywritingcourse.com/keyword.

In The News:

Can SEO Be Made Predictable?  Search Engine Journal
What Does It Mean to ‘Do SEO’?  Search Engine Journal
SEO Hamilton  Search Engine People
My experience with SEO  Practical Ecommerce
Can SEO Have a Negative Effect?  Search Engine Journal
7 Coding Barriers to SEO Success  Practical Ecommerce
What Is Forensic SEO?  Search Engine Journal
Ruth Everett  Search Engine Journal
Christine Zirnheld  Search Engine Journal
What Is a Google Penalty in SEO?  Search Engine Journal
Google Shares Top 3 SEO Factors  Search Engine Journal
The High Cost of Ignoring SEO  Practical Ecommerce
What's the Value of SEO?  Practical Ecommerce

Search Engine Optimization and Submission Tips

Bringing visitors to your site from the main Search engines... Read More

Advanced Uses for the Google Algorithm

Previously...In our article on Understanding Google's Algorithm, a... Read More

Without Conversion Rates You Don’t Know If You’re Mickey Mouse Or Mickey Mantle

I couldn’t agree more with the headline of this article... Read More

Search Engine Copywriting: Focus on One Topic

Perhaps the simplest of all the lessons I have learned... Read More

An SEO Checklist

Search engine optimization is on every webmaster's mind these days.... Read More

Google Sitemaps: 7 Benefits You Cant Ignore

Google Sitemaps enables Webmasters to Directly Alert Google to Changes... Read More

Google Page Rank Is Dead - Or Is It? - Part I

For a long time now, marketing gurus all over the... Read More

What You Did Wrong With Your Domain Names!

Trying to improve search engine rankings is just like a... Read More

Organic SEO: Patience For Long Term Ranking Results

When does long term SEO show ranking results? It takes... Read More

How To Measure Search Engine Marketing ROI

According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), advertisers... Read More

Keywords: The First Step To Recognition

Open Wordtracker [ http://www.wordtracker.com/ ] and you'll see... Read More

The Best and Easiest Google-Friendly Change to Your Web Site

No matter who you are or how much you pay... Read More

How To Find Good Keywords

Good keywords are frequently searched for (high demand) but not... Read More

When to Hire a Professional SEO Firm?

In efforts to increase sales and profitability, more and more... Read More

SEO Tips for Google

Getting a high ranking on Google is a big achievement.... Read More

SEO Basics - 8 Key Strategies For Online Business Success

The world of search engine optimization (SEO) can be a... Read More

Is a High Search Engine Ranking Important for YOU?

In the process of designing a website for clients the... Read More

Internet 2005: The Ten Billions Pages Search Engines

To see each and every page during 10 seconds would... Read More

Search Engine Optimization for Everyone

There are many facets to SEO and the search engines... Read More

Search Engine Optimization - Enhancing Web Site Visibility

I've had several prospects and clients say to me "I... Read More

Is Reciprocal Link Exchange Dead?

The sun seems to be setting on the world of... Read More

How MSN and Yahoo Sells Your Traffic

Yes, it really happens. Now you might find it hard... Read More

SEO Quickstart - 3 Things You can Do to Improve Search Engine Rankings Right Now

Increasing your search engine rankings should certainly be one of... Read More

Seecrets on Website Promotion: Search Engine Wars ? a Different Perspective

The objective of all search engine providers is epitomized by... Read More

Link Popularity: Why Its The Best Investment You Can Do For Your Business

More and more search engines rank your web pages based... Read More