It is important, when you discuss SEO techniques, that you not over-emphasize certain key criteria in ranking systems. For instance, a conversation recently between a colleague and I centered around keyword density. My colleague, as bright a guy as he is, kept stressing the importance of a density somewhere between 3% and 7%, saying that keeping the keyword density of your web pages in that range will increase your chances of ranking well in the search engines. Well, yes and no.
It’s a bit of a cliche and somewhat trite, but that’s a standard response. Keyword density is simply the number of times a specific keyword is used during a body of content versus the number of words in the content itself. That is, you take the keyword that you are using and count how many times you are using it on a particular page then you divide that number by the number of words on that page.
Let’s say your keyword phrase is “orange apples.” You count and “orange apples” appears on your page 15 times. It’s a short page so the number of words used to talk about orange apples on that page is 398. That yields a 3.76% keyword density (15 divided by 398). That’s a good density according to my friend.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that there are other criteria used to judge a web page’s ranking in the search engines. There’s keyword anchor texting, link relevancy, link source reputation, age of the website, and hundreds of other criteria. Not any one criteria is so strong that it will tilt the balance in your favor. The best way to succeed in SEO is to satisfy search engine appetites in many of those criteria – and the more the better.
Some of you will recognize the term “Google bombing.” This is where many websites use a specific keyword phrase to link to the same page that may or may not have anything to do with that topic. Some popular and well known Google bombs have been Stephen Cobert’s prank using the Greatest Living American key phrase and the George W. Bush Google bomb where thousands of webmasters linked to his White House bio using the keyword phrase “miserable failure.” Colbert’s website didn’t use the phrase “Greatest Living American” anywhere on it nor did (or does) the president’s White House bio contain the phrase “miserable failure.” Yet, both websites ranked No. 1 for their respective keyword phrases.
The reason for this, I believe, are twofold. First, there were a large number of websites linking to the web pages, in both cases, using the same keyword phrase. There is strength in numbers. Secondly, many of the websites that used the anchor text in both situations were popular, well-ranked websites, even if they weren’t related to the subject matter of the president’s or Colbert’s websites, or for the keywords used. Google, it must be noted, places importance on the reputation of a website that links to another, so if you have several inbound links to your website from other websites with solid reputations – that is, high Google PageRank scores – then Google will count those links as high value links.
Why is all of this important? Only to illustrate that you can’t put all of your optimization eggs into one basket. Keyword density, link relevance, link popularity, the number of inbound links, meta tags, etc. are all important. In all, there are over 100 different criteria that search engines judge in ranking a website. Some are more important than others but no one is the most important. To rank well for your keywords you have to do several things right and in the right mix of ingredients. Some of those factors (like keyword) you have control over, others (like websites that link to you) you have much less control over.
Just focus on building great content and let the search engines do what they do best. Rankings are not as important as many people make them out to be.