Keyword Analysis Exercise: Comparing Google, Yahoo, and MSN

You can learn a lot about SEO (define) fundamentals by observation. But practice makes perfect — or at the very least practice will broaden your understanding of how search engines interpret some of the signals that Web pages send to determine relevance.

Keyword density isn’t a magical equation that you can build into your content and expect to attain high rankings. Yet keyword analysis can provide some insight into the competitive landscape, which happens to be search results. Toward this end, we’ve been putting RANKS.NL through its paces to help interpret which keyword density elements help optimize a Web page for the major engines.

Last time, we looked at a RANKS.NL toolset to determine keyword density in Yahoo and MSN. We also looked at how and potentially why certain Web pages rank for the phrase “exercise equipment” in Google. As you may recall, we ran the top 10 results through RANKS.NL and prepared a simple spreadsheet to exemplify the role keyword density could play in positioning. Now it’s time to review the results for all three engines. But we should proceed with caution, since some of the details matter more than others.

Here’s what RANKS.NL revealed about the SEO attributes that played a prominent role in contributing to the keyword density and prominence of the top 10 results for “exercise equipment” in Google, Yahoo, and MSN:

Keyword density using RANKS.NL
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The keyword density of top-performing pages for “exercise equipment” is 4.3 percent on average, with Yahoo serving up the lowest keyword density threshold and MSN presenting the highest.

Yahoo presented the tightest keyword density range in its first 10 results for “exercise equipment,” with a variance of 2.16 percent ranging from 1.64 percent to 3.80 percent. MSN presented the widest range, with a variance of 13.99 percent ranging from 1.9 percent to 15.89 percent. Google results swung 6.53 percent, with a keyword density range of 2.0 percent to 8.53 percent.

What do these observations tell us? The data reveals a bit of insight into what our keyword density target could be. If you want a Web page to rank for “exercise equipment,” you could consider targeting the average keyword density of 4.3 percent. The data also shows that what might play in MSN — nearly 16 percent density — probably wouldn’t work in Yahoo. And the data also shows us that there must be other factors influencing the rankings beyond mere keyword density rates, such as inbound links. Most important, the data shows that if you want to rank for “exercise equipment” you need to put the words or the semantic equivalent of the words on the page.

Now that we’ve looked at the obvious, let’s review the use of SEO elements leveraged to make keyword phrases more prominent, namely the title tags. Every single page ranking in all three engines uses the keyword phrase in the title tag. Since the title tag sends a very strong signal to the search engines, you’ll want to make certain your targeted phase is prominently used in your title tag.

A more obscure observation emanates from the results of using “exercise equipment” in Web pages meta keywords. With all of the first 10 results in MSN containing the keyword phrase and 80 percent of results in Google and Yahoo offering up the same information, one would think that placing your targeted keyword phrase in your meta keywords is a deal breaker for top results. Yet time and experience have proven meta keywords provide a nominal signal to the search engines at best. In 1995 meta keywords would have mattered; not so much today.

Link text actually provides greater lift for keyword visibility than meta keywords. While link text provides a louder contextual signal to the engines, link text alone is not enough to optimize a Web page for page-one results. The link text needs to match up with the context of its destination, and that’s something that this particular keyword density tool doesn’t provide.

Heading tags provide a great way to accentuate keyword themes on the page when working in unison with title tags behind the page. Yet bold text and italics can be used to provide similar emphasis. How important are these SEO attributes for achieving top-10 results? With about half of the pages analyzed leveraging heading tags and bold text to make certain phrases more prominent, these tactics are either underutilized or overrated. It’s been my experience that these types of SEO attributes should be leveraged to complement a theme rather than overstate it.

Similar observations can be made for using keyword phrases in URLs and alternative attributes for images. While keyword phrases in the URL might improve click-through rates from search engine result pages, presenting a keyword-rich URL isn’t a deal breaker for achieving top results. If there are many words on the page or just a few words with many images, alternative attributes can help send another signal to the search engines as to what the page is all about.

Overall, RANKS.NL provides a great process for quickly analyzing keyword density details. I should note that RANKS.NL isn’t the only keyword density tool on the market; there are many others. SEO Chat,, SEO Tools, Evrsoft, iWEBTOOL,, and even offer some variation of keyword density analyzers. Most of the tools can provide similar details, but none of them gives you definitive data as to why some pages rank well and others don’t. For that, we have to broaden our analysis and take a look at inbound links. We’ll do just that when we next meet.

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