Keyword Frequency: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?

Whether you work in search engine optimization or you're a part-time AdWords advertiser trying to grow your business, you may have come across the term “keyword frequency.”

So how does keyword frequency work, and how important is it to your online marketing campaigns?

Let's review the role keyword frequency plays in search engine marketing and online advertising.

What Is Keyword Frequency?

Keyword frequency refers to how often a keyword appears on a given webpage or within a piece of content. The more frequently a keyword appears in a given page or piece of content, the higher the keyword frequency.

What is keyword frequency, keyword frequency example

Keyword frequency is closely related to keyword density.

Keyword frequency and SEO

If you're trying to rank for a keyword organically, it's important to be aware of your keyword frequency. If your keyword frequency is too low, you'll have trouble ranking for that keyword unless the competition level is very low. Search engines like Google need to see "proof," in the form of keywords, that your content is truly relevant to the query.

However, if your keyword frequency is too high, that sends a negative signal to the search engines. Avoid the black-hat technique known as "keyword stuffing," where your keyword frequency is unnaturally high and distracting to users.

Keyword frequency and PPC

Keyword frequency matters when it comes to your paid search ads, too. If your keyword doesn't appear in your ads at all, your ad will read as less relevant to both searchers and search engines. That lowers your click-through rate and Quality Score (which can significantly increase your costs).

However, just as in SEO, too high a keyword frequency can hurt you. In a study of top-performing AdWords ads, we found that strong ads typically only repeat the keyword twice, like this:

best ads adwords lexical diversity part 1

Compare this to an ad with much higher keyword frequency:

best ads adwords lexical diversity part 2

Our data shows that users are more likely to click lexically diverse ads than they are to click on ads stuffed with keywords. So aim for balance when considering your ads' keyword frequency levels.

What Is a Good Keyword Frequency?

Newcomers to SEO and paid search often ask what a “good” keyword frequency is, or what guidelines they should follow when it comes to determining the right keyword density. Unfortunately, as with many elements of SEO and online advertising, there are few true “rules” regarding keyword frequency. There are, however, some generally accepted best practices that you may want to follow.

Generally speaking, many SEO professionals agree that a keyword should not appear more than once per 200 words of copy. This means that for every 200 words of copy on a webpage, a given keyword should not appear more than once.

This includes close variants of a keyword. For example, “secondhand cars” is a variant of the keyword “used cars.” Although the two terms are different, they are closely semantically related; their meanings are identical, and only their phrasing sets them apart from one another. This means you should try to space keyword variants as you would with multiple instances of the same keyword.

How Important Is Keyword Frequency?

Although keyword frequency can have an impact on how discoverable a site or webpage may be, it is just one among many such factors.

In the past, many sites got away with “keyword stuffing” – the practice of cramming as many keywords and variants as possible onto a single webpage – in an attempt to manipulate a page’s rankings. Today, however, search algorithms are significantly more sophisticated, making such techniques largely useless, and potentially even harmful.

Keyword Frequency and the User Experience

It may be more effective to think of keyword frequency not in the context of on-page SEO, but rather that of user experience.

No matter what type of content a webpage contains – a product listing, a blog post, a landing page, a thank-you page – always consider the user experience. All copy should read easily and naturally, and including forced, awkward keywords is one of the fastest ways to ruin the experience of your audience.

Keyword Frequency vs. Keyword Density

Keyword frequency and keyword density are essentially two different terms for the same principle. Both terms refer to the frequency with which keywords appear on a given webpage, which can also be called the keyword density of a webpage. As such, both terms mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably.

Keyword frequency or density can be calculated numerically. To do this, simply divide the number of instances in which a keyword appears by the total number of words on the page. For example, a 1,000-word blog post that features 10 unique instances of a keyword would have a keyword frequency or keyword density of 1%.

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