You need 23 keywords in a blog post to rank well. Not.
Contributor Jessica Foster debunks keyword density myths and other SEO content misconceptions.
As a search engine optimization (SEO) content writer who participates in many SEO-related Facebook groups, I am frequently asked the same question:
“How many keywords should I use in my posts?”
People seem to be looking for an exact number or percentage that defines an ideal “keyword density” for web pages and blog posts. They feel there is a sweet spot, and if they hit it, the traffic will come pouring in!
Sadly, that’s not exactly the case. In fact, keyword density is a useless metric when it comes to writing content optimized for search engine traffic and conversions.
To help anyone looking for an answer to that question, I want to try and debunk some common misconceptions about keyword density and show there is no magic keyword number. I will also share a handful of strategies I feel are useful for writing SEO-friendly content.
Debunking keyword density
There is no clear correlation between keyword density and how much organic traffic is generated by a post or page. In this case, the lack of evidence may be evidence in and of itself, as no SEO expert has been able to pinpoint the ideal ratio of keywords to content for generating traffic. I’ve tried and failed more times than I care to admit.
That’s not to say keywords don’t matter; they do and will continue to matter for the foreseeable future. However, it’s important to think beyond keywords and understand there are many more important factors coming into play.
I would argue that search engines have started putting less emphasis on keywords used versus the intent or purpose of the keywords within the content. Search engines are smart, and they are ultimately going to show users the best fit for what they are looking for, regardless of the exact terms used.
For example, stuffing your web page with “family law attorney” does little to inform search engines of the focus of your post or help them match your content with a user’s intent. Is the user looking for a family law attorney in a specific area? Are they trying to figure out how to become a family law attorney? Are they wanting information on how to file for divorce? The variations of the terms you use and the overall context of the content matter far more than the density of your target keyword.
You want to make sure your keyword research is on point before you hop into writing any content. Many people, SEO experts included, have a list of target keywords in mind they want to create content around but don’t take the time to support their terms with data or fit them into a holistic content strategy.
You want to be sure the terms you are using are in fact a good match for the purpose of your content, have a reasonable search volume and make sense for your website, niche or brand. Don’t make the mistake of targeting a keyword “on a hunch” or simply because your competitors are ranking for a term.
You want to create a cohesive plan for your content, whether it is being used as a landing page for ads, for generating organic traffic or for some other kind of content marketing campaign. Support your strategy with data and create a clear picture of how you want your content to work for you.
Debunking ‘ideal word count’
Another common question I hear regarding SEO-friendly content is “What is the ideal word count?” The question arises because naturally, people want to know how to budget their time. There’s no use writing a 3,000+ word post if a 500-word post will work.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is, “It depends.” It depends on a variety of factors, and without assessing each case individually, I can’t establish a hard rule to answer this question. However, I can give insight into my process of determining how long a post or page should be. I start with the purpose of a post.
- Purpose. I always assess the purpose of the post. Is it to inform? Is it a sales page? Is it a landing page for an ad? All of these content forms have varying page lengths. For example, it makes sense for a blog post to have 1,500+ words, but few users will want to read through that much copy on a sales page. Readers are looking for different things or could be at different steps in the buyer’s journey. A short and concise sales page may be all someone needs to convert. A blog post or web page may need a little more depth.
- Competition. I look at what a competitor is doing, particularly if they are ranking well. In general, if your competitor is outranking you and is using long-form content, you may want to consider doing the same, just doing it much better! Be sure your content is unique and tailored to your audience.
- SEO. I consider how many different keywords I am wanting to target in the content. To avoid content that reads like spam, you will want your content to flow naturally and thoroughly cover all of the relevant sections. Trying to stuff everything into a short page won’t work, and it will not read well, either.
I feel strongly that SEOs and webmasters should stop writing content solely to enhance their SEO programs and should focus on what really matters: users.
While using content to generate traffic is a goal, the ultimate goal should be driving conversions. This can only be accomplished if your content is written with your target audience in mind.
Know your audience
Understanding who you are writing for will truly make or break your content success. It doesn’t matter how long your content is, what platform you are on or how many keywords you use; if you don’t have the right message for the right audience, your content campaign will not be a success.
Too many businesses and SEO agencies churn out content for SEO purposes without digging into what many call their buyer persona or ideal customer avatar (ICA). Understanding your ideal customer or client can help with:
- Knowing what they want.
- Understanding how to relate to them.
- Knowing what sites and platforms they frequent.
- Knowing what solutions they search for.
Once you understand your customer or client, it will help you write content that’s made to sell. Your audience will get the impression your content is written directly for them and are more likely to convert.
Consider your content purpose
This seems a little silly to say, but it’s important to understand why you are creating content before you begin. Sometimes you are writing simply to generate traffic, but more often you want to use that traffic to boost subscribers, leads or sales. Writing for traffic and writing for subscribers means creating two different types of content. Not only do you need to have SEO in mind, you also need to be thinking about conversion rate optimization (CRO).
What elements should you incorporate in your content to encourage engagement? What messaging will entice a user to buy your products? What bit of content or snazzy title will drive social media shares? Your content purpose will shape how you write and how users will interact with your content.
Be creative and consistent with your content messaging. It is important for three reasons:
- It will help your brand stand out.
- It will help your users understand what your business is all about.
- It will differentiate you from your competitors.
Understanding who you serve and what you provide is an important component of copywriting for your business. Without that knowledge, your content is at risk of sounding generic or not driving conversions.
Of course, optimizing your content for search engines is an important component of SEO content writing, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
Your approach will ultimately depend on what keywords you are targeting, what makes sense for your audience and the purpose of your content. After that, great SEO content is the result of following SEO best practices and testing. I always recommend A/B testing your content to find what works best for your audience and goals.
Write for your users and have an end goal in mind when you create content. If you do, you will be well on your way to more traffic and conversions.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.