We know that optimizing for keywords will help our blog posts, Facebook updates, Tweets, and site content show up in relevant searches. This presents a big opportunity, and it’s naturally tempting to try to fit as many keywords into your content online as possible. Why not really hammer in the point to make sure that Google gets it, right?
While this logic is sound in its reasoning, it doesn’t actually work out that while. You do need some keywords in your content to improve its rank in searches, but if you go too far in the other direction and rely on keyword stuffing, you could actually face negative consequences that could hurt the impact of your campaigns.
Not sure where the line is? In this post, we’re going to answer the question of “how many keywords are too many,” taking a close look at the ideal ratios for keyword density and how this affects your content.
How Is It Possible to Have Too Many Keywords?
It sounds almost counterintuitive, but it is actually possible to have too many keywords.
And if you think on it, I guarantee you can come up with a few examples. We’ve all read content where we see different iterations of the same phrase repeated entirely too many times, often in ways that feel clunky or out of place. Ultimately, this will make the post less enjoyable to read, and it can actually even strip the content of its value.
Think of it like you’re making a salad, which is your content, and your croutons are the keywords. Your salad is full of all sorts of healthy ingredients– spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. A few croutons will help enhance the flavor, but if you add too many, it ruins the nutritional value of the salad and the meal goes from refreshing and light to tasting like stale bread.
Using too many keywords is often referred to as “keyword stuffing,” which is the practice of just jamming as many keywords as possible as many times over into a single post.
The Consequences of Keyword Stuffing
It can be tempted to use as many keywords as possible as many times as possible in hopes of showing Google that your article or infographic or ebook is perfect for those search results and should definitely be ranked first.
In reality, the opposite effect is likely to happen.
As we discussed above, users are likely to spot keyword stuffing and be frustrated by it, even if they don’t consciously know exactly what you’re doing. The content will likely be difficult and clunky to read, and in many cases, it comes off reading like a weird sales pitch but you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be buying.
All in all, not a good strategy. It doesn’t matter if users can find the content, after all, if it annoys them so much they won’t come back to read any more.
Here’s the thing though: if you go about keyword stuffing aggressively, they likely won’t find the content. It’s actually considered a “black-hat” strategy, and Google has learned to recognize it.
Now, Google doesn’t want to see overly-optimized sites that focus more on SEO tricks than creating the types of content users want to see. This can actually result in your ranking decreasing as a result of using too many keywords instead of seeing a boost.
What Counts as “Too Many Keywords?”
When you’re trying to decide whether your content is optimized enough or too much, keyword density will be the metric you want to watch. You never want your keyword density to go above 5%, and keeping it in the 2-4% rangeis typically the sweet spot that Google and readers like to see.
There are tools available to help you assess your keyword density and overall SEO potential for on-site content. SEO Yoast is a great one for WordPress sites, and it will give you feedback on what else you can do to potentially improve your ranking, too.
When it comes to how many keywords you should be targeting, it really depends on the length of the content. Trying to fit fifteen keywords into a 400-word press release isn’t going to go over so well, but adding the same number to a 2,000 word blog post would be fine.
Keyword Density for SEO: Best Practices To Actually Get You Results
We’ve already discussed the most valuable practice for keyword density: keep it at no more than 5%. This is an important starting and ending place, but you can get more strategic within your content to get the most out of those limited number of keywords that you’ve got.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to maximize the impact of your keywords:
- Don’t target non-relevant keywords. It doesn’t matter if it gets 10,000 searches a month; if the keyword isn’t directly relevant to the content at hand, don’t optimize for it. If your chocolate chip pancakes don’t have banana, for example, don’t use that as a keyword just because it’s popular. People will still just click away, and Google doesn’t want to see high bounce rates. Instead, if necessary, create separate content for those keywords.
- Place the keywords strategically. Keywords will often have the most impact when placed correctly. Having your main target keyword in the title and at least one subheading, for example, will have a bigger impact than just leaving it in the text alone.
- Remember the image alt text. Image alt texts are a great place to drop keywords that you know are relevant and important to your post, but that you’re having a hard time placing naturally within the text itself. Use this to your advantage.
- Do all your keyword research up front. By conducting all research before you start optimizing, you’ll know exactly what you want to write and why. It’s easier to fit the keywords into your content naturally when you take them into consideration in the beginning instead of trying to plop them in later like an afterthought.
Keyword stuffing will never do you any favors, and instead will frustrate both readers and Google alike. By ensuring that your keyword density doesn’t go above 4% at the absolute maximum, you’ll be able to focus more on creating actionable, valuable content that your audience actually wants to see, giving you more results in the long run.
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