Updated December 20, 2018
One question that we hear quite a bit, especially from people who are fairly new to blogging and keyword research, is: “How many times should I use a keyword per page?”
Keyword Use – A Quick History Lesson
Back in the day, dropping your keyword(s) in your content a whole bunch of times was actually a good thing as far as your search engine rankings were concerned.
The idea was that if my target keyword was “Best Small SUV,” then using the exact phrase “Best Small SUV” countless times in my blog post would tell Google that my post is indeed about the best small SUVs.
This led to cookie-cutter websites filled to the brim with exact-match keywords wherever possible — from the page title to the actual domain name.
The result? Well, let’s just say that search engine users weren’t getting the information that they wanted.
Some top-ranking websites even consisted of spun articles, which were pretty much mass-produced pieces of garbage that are barely readable, let alone useful. There were just too many keywords SEO writers pushed into every paragraph, sentence, and line for the info to be useful.
As a result, the unnatural overuse of a particular keyword has come to be known as “keyword stuffing,” which lead to penalizations, according to Google.
Now that you know what not to do, let’s talk about the proper keyword usage and how to target them in your content.
Identifying the Right Keyword Targets
Before you even think about how often your keywords should appear in your content, you must first answer the question: “What keywords should I use for my website?”
This is where keyword research comes in.
No — I’m not talking about using free platforms like the AdWords Keyword Planner to scrape off a couple of keyword suggestions. What you need is something of a higher caliber, like Long Tail Pro.
Remember, it’s never a good idea to stick to a single target keyword when developing content or running a marketing campaign.
Since broad, high-traffic keywords are usually already saturated, you need to throw in a few “supporting keywords” to maximize the visibility of your content. These should be long-tail keyword variations that are relevant to your main keyword.
With Long Tail Pro, finding these supporting keywords is a walk in the park.
All you need to do is supply at least one “seed keyword,” click the “Retrieve” button, and let Long Tail Pro do the rest.
From there, you should be able to unearth a reasonable amount of long-tail keyword suggestions along with important metrics such as the keyword’s average search volume, bid, and keyword competitiveness.
Here’s a quick tip: If you think you could use more keyword ideas, adjust the “Suggestions per keyword” right next to your seed keywords — not that it’s necessary.
The first page of suggestions alone should provide you with more than enough long tail keyword opportunities.
To help you determine which keyword ideas to target, pay attention to the tips below:
Match keyword competitiveness with your brand’s ranking power
In Long Tail Pro, the average keyword competitiveness or Avg. KC is measured on a scale of 1 to 100 — with the latter being the most competitive.
The sweet spot for small brands is anywhere around 30 or less. But if you want to be sure, simply add your domain URL to your Long Tail Pro project to calculate the recommended Avg. KC for your brand.
You don’t always need the most popular keyword
That’s right — you don’t always have to aim for the keywords that have the highest search volumes, even if it has a low Avg. KC rating.
Trust me, a keyword with a search volume of around 100 is more than enough. It could even be more effective than some popular keywords in terms of generating conversions, which brings us to the third tip you should remember:
Take the user’s intent into account
It’s not a matter of “which keywords should I use,” but a matter of “why should I use these keywords.”
While user intent isn’t exactly an official metric in Long Tail Pro, it’s an important factor when determining the profitability of keywords. Rather than too many keywords, SEO writing should consider the use of the right keywords for their ideal reader.
For example, keywords with commercial terms, like “hire,” “for sale,” or “order,” have a higher chance to convert traffic into customers because they are used for transactional search queries. In other words, users type them into search engines because they have the intent to take action — not just to research information.
How Many Keywords Should You Use Per Page Or Post
For starters, there’s no such thing as a maximum number of keywords for SEO.
How many keywords should I use to have the best success? You’re free to optimize for 3, 4, or even 10 target keywords on a single page.
Just be sure they don’t disrupt the flow and cohesiveness of the piece. As a rule of thumb, every single keyword must make sense to be on the same page as your main keyword.
Look for LSI or latent semantic indexing keywords, which contain different terms but pertain to the same thing.
In its simplest form, latent semantic indexing is the combination of your content, it’s context, and the intent of a user’s search. Complex search algorithms want to find pages that contain keywords that are directly relevant to the user’s search as well as those that are complementary to it.
When you type in any word on Google, you will often see that Google tries to guess what you are going to type. If any of the suggestions are relevant to your page and keyword when you try this, those suggestions would be good starting points for new LSI keywords.
Latent semantic indexing keywords help to confirm that the content of your page is a bolstered take on a specific keyword. Including these keywords in addition to your #1 target keyword helps to ensure that Google identifies your page as a good match.
For example, you might want to try including these LSI keywords with the main keywords:
Baby rompers —> Baby jumpsuits
Affordable bed sheets —> Cheap bed sheets
Whatever you do, avoid using multiple long tail keywords that contain exact matches of your seed keywords. While there is no maximum number of keywords for SEO, it is possible to ruin your page’s chance by using too many overlapping keywords.
For example, if your seed keyword is “affordable wedding photographer,” using supporting keywords, like “affordable wedding photographer Yorkshire,” “affordable wedding photographer services,” and “affordable wedding photographer for hire,” might put you on Google’s radar.
Why? It’s because using them on a single page makes it appear as if you’ve purposefully injected the term “affordable wedding photographer.”
In Google’s book, that’s keyword stuffing right there.
The Correct Keyword Use
Now that you found the keywords you want to target, what’s next?
We know that using the keyword too much is bad, but how much is too much?
In the olden days of blogging (and content marketing in general), there were tools that inspected the keyword density of individual posts.
Keyword density is the percentage of how many times a keyword appears in a single piece of content. If your 1,000-word post about baby products included the word “diapers” 10 times, for example, your rating would come in at a 1% keyword density.
Most people think about keyword density this way:
“What percentage of my article’s words should be my exact keyword? 1%? 3%?”
The truth is, nobody knows the best keyword density percentage for all situations — so it really depends.
Honestly, I’d encourage you to not think about it that way at all — just focus on writing high-quality stuff in a natural way.
If it reads awkwardly, don’t do it.
In our experience, you’ll find that when you do solid keyword research, you’ll end up ranking in Google for many different search phrases. This is exactly what targeting long tail keyword variations will do for you.
Advanced Keyword Targeting
When you have already written a piece of content or you are focusing on revitalizing content that was not written with keywords in mind, you’ll want to do some keyword optimization to help your page reach the top of Google’s search rankings.
To figure out the best way to optimize this type of content, you need to understand a little bit more about how Google decides which pages to show first.
There are two often talked about areas that you can make improvements in. First, there are some things that you need to know about meta keyword tags. Second, learn more about TF-IDFT because Google indexing and search algorithms rely on this to rank pages.
Meta Keyword Tags
Meta keyword tags are an older type of SEO practice that was incredibly important before search algorithms became as smart as they are today. At that time, you would want to use as many of your relevant keywords as possible in the meta tags to help Google understand your page.
Meta keyword tags now, however, are a relic of the past. Search algorithms no longer need or use these tags, and using them could actually flag your content as spam.
Instead, focus on including your main keyword in enticing ways in your title and description. While there are varied reports about how much this will help your ranking, it will help your click-through rate. The title and description are, after all, what is going to help someone decide to visit your page when they see your site listing!
TF-IDF, short for term frequency-inverse document frequency, has one goal: to decide how important a specific keyword is on a specific page.
TF-IDF compares the frequency of a keyword on your page (TF) to the expected frequency of that keyword on the average page (IDF). This comparison helps Google algorithms to quickly identify how important a keyword is on any given page.
The TF-IDF Calculation
Keyword frequency, the first part of this formula, is typically calculated by dividing the number of times you mention a specific keyword divided by the total number of words on your page. This gives a weighted ratio of how often that keyword appears.
Inverse document frequency is a way of calculating how frequently your specific keyword appears at large on the web. By dividing the total number of pages by the number of pages with the keyword in it and taking the log value of that ratio, search algorithms are able to weight the importance of your keyword at large.
To finalize the calculation, the TF is multiplied by the IDF to give a search value number. If your value number if higher than that of your competitors, you’re on the right track to ranking higher.
Mastering the optimization of any pages you already have, then, relies on you improving your TF-IDF score. To do this, you need to improve the ratio of keywords and related keywords (LSI) that your page has in comparison to your top competitors.
Implementing TF-IDF Optimization
There are many tools out there which help you to run a TF-IDF comparison to your top competitors, but using those tools is not always required.
You can also do this manually by reading through the top-ranked content on relevant searches yourself. You’ll quickly see which keywords and related phrases are helping those pages to stand out. Improve your content by adding the relevant keywords in specific and contextual ways to stand out even more!
Remember, however, that you don’t want to simply stuff these keywords into your page. Your goal is not to provide the highest term frequency, but instead to help your page show the strongest context for your keyword and related LSI keywords.
Think about why those relevant phrases and keywords are important. How are they improving the content that is ranking better than yours?
Having a low TF-IDF score or missing certain side-along keywords means that your content is missing coverage potential. Improve your rankings by improving the coverage of those areas in informative, important, and useful ways.
Solid On-Page SEO
On-page SEO is just the process where you make your best effort to ‘optimize’ your blog post or web page for the search engines. If you are targeting a particular keyword, on-page SEO describes all those little things you do to help Google understand that your page is relevant for that keyword.
I love Brian Dean’s infographic showing the perfectly optimized page, shown below. Notice that it talks about using your keyword early in your page title, early on in the content, and in the page URL if possible.
Outside of that, creating thorough content that keeps readers engaged is hugely important if you plan to rank for any somewhat competitive keywords.
Don’t get too hung up on how many times you should be using your keyword or how many keywords you should use – there are way more important things to worry about (Including finding the right keyword in the first place.)
Instead, focus on using strong keywords and related phrases to create a better TF-IDF or similar algorithm-based score for your pages. The better the frequency of relevant words on your pages is compared to your competitors, the better you will do in the long run.
And you can only do that if you have the right keywords!
If you want to try for yourself, click here to take a 7-day free trial of Long Tail Pro.