Keywords: How Much Is Too Much?
7 Minute Read
Keywords have long been crucial elements of effective SEO strategies. They are the words and phrases that users type into search boxes to find what they’re looking for. They help search engines sift through billions of potential pages, posts, and websites to find the most relevant content.
In today’s digital marketing world, keywords still play an important role in SEO, but they aren’t the end-all-be-all. They are tools in a toolkit. Since search engines have become better at matching content with a user’s intent, SEO has become more complex than just plugging keywords into a page.
But when it comes to keywords, how much is too much? When does a content creator drift away from successful keyword usage toward detrimental keyword stuffing? To answer that, it’s important to first understand the idea of keyword stuffing.
What Is Keyword Stuffing?
Keyword stuffing is the practice of jamming as many keywords into a website’s page or blog as possible. It’s an outdated SEO strategy that is intended to game SERP (Search Engine Results page) rankings with Google and other search engines.
Keyword stuffing gained momentum in the late 1990s and early 2000s when major search engines relied heavily on keywords to rank websites based on search results. People would try to improve their website’s rankings by cramming their pages, blogs, and meta tags with an excessive amount of keywords. The goal of keyword stuffing wasn’t to provide value to the website’s visitors, the objective was simply to rank high in SERP. It didn’t matter if the content didn’t make sense or read like spam as long as every possible keyword made it into the page.
What Are Examples of Keyword Stuffing?
Over the years, keyword stuffing has manifested in several ways, including:
This is when a keyword is used repeatedly in web copy, despite not reading well or looking natural. For example:
“If you are looking for the best drip coffee maker to make drip coffee, order our brand’s drip coffee maker today. For a limited time, we are offering a 10% discount on every drip coffee maker purchase. But don’t delay, because this drip coffee maker deal won’t last forever. Visit our store page now to order your own drip coffee maker – the best drip coffee maker money can buy.”
Not only is this style of keyword use awkward to read and damaging to your SEO, but it can also reflect poorly on your business in the eyes of readers. If someone can easily recognize that you are trying to hit a keyword quota instead of communicating honestly, you may be seen as more interested in manipulating the system than standing behind your ideas, products, or services.
The lines of text that appear in SERP is called metadata. Rather than using metadata for its intended purpose – to briefly summarize the basic information about the content for potential visitors – people would fill this space with keywords to attempt to boost their ranking.
Ramming keywords into image alt text was another way some would try to game the system. Alt text is meant to succinctly describe an image in the event that the image cannot be seen for some reason. It was originally intended to assist the visually impaired. But keyword stuffing doesn’t achieve this goal; it’s written to attract robots, not to help people – which is why it is ultimately a poor SEO strategy.
The more thoughtful and helpful you are in content descriptions, the easier it is for search engine robots to understand as well.
In an attempt to be spammy without looking spammy, some web developers would match the color of the text with the color of the website, concealing keyword stuffing to the naked eye of the user. This digital game of smoke and mirrors was implemented to capitalize on repetitive keyword use without alerting readers to the nefarious SEO tactic.
What Is a Good Keyword Density?
So, how much is too much when it comes to keywords? Generally speaking, the maximum threshold should be around 1.5% – 2%. Even half a percent may seem low, but only using a keyword in the heading, and once at the top, middle, and conclusion of content reads naturally and doesn’t come off as spammy.
The fact is, there is not a rigid keyword percentage that guarantees high rankings. Ideal keyword density can vary depending on the area, other pages that are ranking on a topic, and more. There is no hard and fast rule.
Google wants to give searchers helpful content that answers their questions. Keywords are a tool to help achieve that goal. However, today’s algorithms rely less on matching exact phrases; it is much more important to match intent. Search engines are getting more sophisticated at understanding the meaning of a search and matching results to that meaning.
When writing content, keep quality writing and user intent as your main objectives, then proofread the copy to ensure it is clear, useful, and error-free. Look at it from a keyword perspective. Ensure that the word or phrase you are targeting is mentioned adequately in the copy, but not so much that it diminishes the quality of your work through excessive repetition.
Does Google Penalize for Keyword Stuffing?
Yes. Your page can be demoted in rank or even removed by Google if it determines you are stuffing keywords into your content. Once you’ve been penalized by Google, it can be a long, arduous slog to try to climb back up in SERP. The best strategy is to write solid content and avoid keyword stuffing in the first place.
How to Avoid Keyword Stuffing
Google algorithms come and go, but good writing is forever. Avoiding keyword stuffing is easy, just focus on the quality of your writing, not SEO gimmicks. Write content for people, not robots. Make your copy interesting, engaging, and informative.
If you take the time to write high-quality content around a specific topic, you will likely mention your focus keyword naturally, without having to force or stuff it. Once you’ve written a piece, proofread it to identify errors, assess its readability, and evaluate keyword usage. In other words: Write for people; optimize for search engines.
Remember that your content should appeal to humans, not robots. Give your audience clear and valuable content that answers their questions and builds your authority.
How Many Keywords Should I Try to Rank For in Content?
For every piece of content you write, whether it is a page or blog post, try to target one primary keyword. You can still identify three or more words or phrases that could apply to a single page, but choose one to be the primary.
Secondary keywords can be used to help shape your copy. You can utilize secondary keywords in subheads and their subsequent paragraphs to create helpful sections that improve your content’s clarity and usefulness.
Every page or blog will end up ranking for several words and phrases besides the one primary keyword you targeted. However, by concentrating on just one, it will help you keep your page focused on a specific topic.
How Many Keywords Should I Try to Rank For In My Overall SEO Strategy?
When developing your SEO game plan, it’s best to start by identifying general, high-ranking keywords, then dig down to more specific ones. By doing this, you can keep your keyword list short and tight while still coming up with content that is relevant, associated, contemporaneous, and within proximity to context.
When performing keyword research, look for the queries and keywords that compliment the primary keyword. This way, you know the context will be pertinent under the main concept. But don’t make illogical leaps in an attempt to rank highly for the general term. Be sure that the context for the word or query you’re targeting is within comprehendible proximity to the primary keyword.
As Twelve Three Media’s SEO specialist Cary Haun explained to nozzle.io:
“The Name of the Game is Generalized Contingency. When performing keyword research for a client, I will customarily track approximately 50 keywords per targeted location. If I were to run more, it would be because the focus of the business demands it. The more products and/or services, the more keywords (obviously). But, the limit of keywords per product/service is kept very small and the keywords themselves are very generalized. A tight budget of generalized keywords per client will also leave plenty of room for outliers, seasonal attention, etc.
The intention behind initial, stringent research of these seemingly basic terms is in order to encompass any/all myriad topics and subject matter that could be addressed with them. Also, when tracking across multiple client sites that are using the same or similarly chosen keywords, the general landscape of the vertical itself can be monitored.
The main reason for limiting the number of tracked keywords in this way is a relatively simple ‘less is more’ strategy. The more research that goes into the boilerplate keyword list now, the less I will need to worry about contingencies later. Selecting high-level, generalized keywords/queries is not an easy grab bag. What it will allow for, however, is a broad spectrum of potential content.”
Keyword usage is a balancing act. When writing web copy, use keywords selectively and focus on creating user-centric content that answers intent. This approach will benefit you and those who visit your site.
Are you having trouble writing effective content that drives leads? Do you struggle with finding the right balance of quality copy and best SEO practices? Contact Twelve Three Media today to learn about our comprehensive services.
At Twelve Three Media, we believe there is a common way to do things and a right way. We are passionate about doing things the right way. We don’t believe in gimmicks and we don’t take shortcuts. We customize SEO strategies on a client-by-client basis to ensure you get the best results possible.