Why Keyword Density Is a Bunch of Hooey

Thinking keyword density is your ticket to SEO success? Think again. Check out this post from our Marketing SEO Manager, Nathan Joynt, to see why it’s not worth the hype.


Regardless of SEO expertise, we all know that keywords count for something. That’s why we conduct painstakingly thorough research, carefully select which pages we want to optimize and spend countless hours in Google Analytics to see if our keyword efforts are making a difference.

For many SEO specialists, trying to achieve the perfect keyword density is a big step in optimization achievement. And while I understand and acknowledge that density is indeed a factor in search rankings, I happen to find the debate about this topic a bit shortsighted in seeing the bigger optimization picture.

My point of view? Think about SEO, yes. But rather than focus on an exact keyword ratio for your pages, I’d advise that you always create content that’s focused on solving the problems of your target market and notice how certain keywords show themselves naturally within your content. Think of it as natural semantics, perhaps.

Oftentimes, online business owners and SEO professionals are focused on several technical elements to boost organic rankings, such as overthinking keyword density. But let’s not forget the fact that most successful ecommerce sites rank well organically because of two reasons: 1) they’re selling products that fulfill (or at least claim to fulfill) problems and 2) because they have enough unique, supporting and optimized content to convince prospects, and therefore search engines, that they’re the best website to fulfill a search query.

In other words, your content is an important extension of your products, which means that it should have priority within your overall business plan.

This idea is best demonstrated by looking at an example, so let’s do just that:

If you’re trying to sell tents and expect your product pages to rank well organically, it’s probably not enough to just list the specifics of a particular tent (i.e. the fact that it’s light-weight, made of nylon, comes in red and yellow, sleeps 4 comfortably and is equipped with a rain fly). All of this is great content to include, yes. These are all features of the tent that help influence a purchase decision and you can certainly find room to include your focus keyword(s) within this copy.

However if this is the extent of the content on your product page, you may find it difficult to rank highly in organic search. Why? Because your prospects, and therefore search engines, want to see the specific benefits of your tents – how they’re made, why they’re the best, how they provide the perfect solution to an outdoor adventure, etc. More importantly, shoppers want to know a couple of things: first, how your tent will actually enhance their camping experience to make it even more enjoyable, and secondly, how the perceived life value of the tent will make it more than worth the one-time purchase price.

How is this accomplished, you ask? It’s simple: by creating emotionally driven and well-optimized content, not by perfectly placing keywords at some magical ratio. Just take a look at REI.com – their content achieves this quite well, and your content must do the same in order to compete with the likes of REI for tent organic rankings.

What I’m doing here is moving beyond the basic concepts of keyword research and content development where keyword density is the primary focus. Instead, I’m endorsing the concept of having a direct conversation with your prospects by stepping into their shoes to create supporting content that accomplishes much more than just gains in organic rankings.

To get started, give this a try:

  1. Step back and take a long, hard look at your website through the lens of a potential prospect.
  2. As you take this point of view, ask yourself, “Do I have enough supporting content, in one format or another, to convince myself to make a purchase?” Be honest.
  3. Then ask, “Why or why not?”
  4. Next, begin creating supporting content for your products based on those answers, no matter if your current performance is good or bad.
  5. If it’s good, reinforce your work with supporting content that focuses on emotional-based benefits, and you’ll likely notice an uptick in long-tail keyword rankings.
  6. If it’s bad, now’s your chance to prove your expertise and authority through quality content development. You must find a way to connect with your prospects by speaking intelligently and emotionally about your products.

This one exercise can forever change the way you write content for your ecommerce site. When you stop worrying about keyword density and start writing with this mindset, not only will you see improvements in organic rankings and traffic, you’ll also:

  • Earn more incoming links to your site as prospects begin sharing your products important (far more important than keyword density)
  • Increase mentions of your products through social media (also more important than density)
  • See a lift in organic sales because you’re giving people what they want (the true holy grail of SEO)

If you feel overwhelmed by having too many products and pages to tackle, start with your most important products/pages. You can use your analytics data to see which perform the best, then identify the reasons behind their success and duplicate those efforts across your site.

To sum things up, make sure you optimize for keywords, totally – but don’t worry too much about keyword density. Always focus on quality content that adds value and therefore has a purpose to earn organic rankings, naturally.

So next time your SEO guru starts talking your ear off about keyword density and ratios, don’t be afraid to tell them that all their “expertise” is just a bunch of hooey.

Happy selling!
-Nathan Joynt, Volusion


Nathan Joynt is the Marketing SEO Manager at Volusion, with over 8 years of professional search engine optimization, content marketing and website information architecture experience. He has helped many large and small ecommerce businesses maximize their organic search potential including several Internet Retailer top 500 companies. Nathan has a degree in music, likes to make up songs and thinks he could be a rock star, but most people agree - he's better at his day job. Have an SEO question for Nathan? Reach out on Twitter with #VolusionSEO

One Response to “Why Keyword Density Is a Bunch of Hooey”

  1. Alex

    Years ago I made my keyword density too high and I have been working ever since then to lower it. It’s tough when you have over 1000 pages but I am slowly getting it back down to a reasonable level. On my site it does not seem to matter if a page is overstuffed or under-stuffed they all seem to rank well though.


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