A look at the role keyword density plays in signaling to Google that a Web page is about a particular topic or item.
Learning about what page elements are required to optimize a site takes time, patience, and a good understanding about the tools available to help you improve your site's positioning for targeted keywords and keyword phrases. It also pays to have a well-rounded SEO (define) toolbox at your disposal.
I used to have to field a few arcane questions from the upper echelons of management when I was working in-house. It seems like I had to substantiate my existence as the reigning SEO expert on the company's payroll by fielding a wild array of questions from the CEO's third cousin's nephew who happened to know a little something about search engines.
Usually these types of questions arrived in my inbox on Saturday after some sort of family gathering. They would go something like, "What's our keyword density for all of our Web sites about [insert phrase here]" or "Is this site prominent for [insert phrase here]" or "Why does [competitor's site] rank for [insert phrase here] and we don't?"
Naturally I was expected to provide plain-English answers on the spot or, at the very least, highly proximate to the spot. Toward this end, I would turn to my handy SEO toolbox to craft an acceptable, rational response. For any questions regarding keyword density or prominence, I would naturally turn to a keyword density checker.
One of my favorite keyword density tools is RANKS.NL. Sure, there are other tools out there that will help you spot-check factors contributing to a Web page's overall keyword density, but few live up to the hype. RANKS.NL is worth its price for friendship. Especially when you have to answer a question like, "What role does keyword density play in determining the top 10 positions in Google for [insert phrase here]?"
For the sake of timely analysis, let's say the phrase in question is "exercise equipment" and let's put RANKS.NL to work on answering the keyword density question. The tool quickly shows keyword density and placement for nearly any Web page. Among other factors, it features options that show a page's title tag, meta description and keywords, headings, SEO page elements, outgoing links, and the like.
To answer the CEO's question about Google positioning based on keyword density, I ran the top 10 results through RANKS.NL and prepared a simple spreadsheet to exemplify the role keyword density plays in positioning. (Note: for the time being, we need to forget about the role inbound anchor text links play in determining Google's rankings. That will just have to wait for another day.)
Here's what RANKS.NL revealed about the SEO attributes that played a prominent role in contributing to the keyword density and prominence of Google's top 10 results for "exercise equipment":
In a nutshell, the average keyword density for pages ranking in Google's first 10 results on a search query for "exercise equipment" is 4.45 percent. On average, the phrase was repeated 9.8 times on ranked pages. All ranked pages ranked had "exercise equipment" placed in the title tag of the page, making the title tag attribute a key contributor to ranking factors.
As for other SEO attributes:
Less than half of the sites ranked (40 percent) used the phrase in alternative attributes for images. Italicized text was leveraged for emphasis of the keyword phrase in page text for 20 percent of the pages ranked. And 20 percent of the ranked pages displayed the exact phrase in their URLs.
So to answer the CEO's question, keyword density does play a role in signaling Google that the page is about "exercise equipment," but Google uses some 200-plus signals to determine rankings, of which keyword density only plays a proportional role. Otherwise, www.exerciseequipmentexpert.com would be ranked in the top spot, followed by www.fitnessrush.com, and on down the line in order of keyword density percentages.
I should note that two of the pages ranked in Google's top 10 results for "exercise equipment" are actually optimized for "fitness equipment." To Google, the phrases are semantically equivalent. How can you tell? Do a (˜) tilde wild card search in Google: "˜exercise equipment," and you'll see that "fitness equipment" is in bold text just like "exercise equipment," making the phrases semantically akin to each other.
Additional synonyms include "gym equipment," "yoga equipment," and "walking equipment." That's something to think about when you optimize for one phrase but make the content appear unrepetitive and interesting to visitors.
I should also note that www.sportsauthority.com category page is the only top-10 ranking in Google that doesn't go to a top level domain. Certainly "exercise equipment" contributes to the site's overall authority on "sporting equipment."
You can learn a lot about SEO just by performing a simple exercise in observation. RANKS.NL is one of those tools that can quickly add insight to your search engine acumen. But practice makes perfect, and this is only one example of what the online tool could do toward expanding your understanding of SEO.
The next time we meet, we'll run a similar analysis on Yahoo results and eventually MSN results. That way, we can prepare a simple grid of these basic SEO tactics and the roles they play in the major engines. Until then, if you haven't done so already, give RANKS.NL a whirl on your targeted phrases and feel freely to share some of your SEO observations below.
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P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.
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12:00pm ET/9:00am PT