New study blasts common SEO beliefs out of the water

How do you answer these questions:

  • Are you packing your blogs with keywords or painstakingly trying to get your percentage of keywords exactly right?
  • Are you trying to make sure that the first sentence of your articles contains your keyword?
  • Are you plugging your keyword into your headlines?

If you answer “yes” to one or more of those questions, you’re in good company. Expert copywriters have been employing keywords in those ways for as long as the goal of search engine optimization (SEO) has been on the scene.

However, experts can be wrong.

The evolution of search

Most of you understand that Google and the other search engines are constantly refining their algorithms. This has transformed the way search engines use our “on-page” keyword usage in rankings.

Let’s roll back the clock to the early days of SEO to illustrate this point. In the beginning (hey, there’s a catchy phrase!), websites could essentially trick search engines into thinking their pages were relevant to keyword searches by “stuffing” keywords into the content of their pages. Sometimes they would even do this with tiny type at the bottom of pages that contained hundreds of keywords.

Eventually search engines figured this out. Google realized that most of these pages were garbage and pushed them to the bottom of search results.

This process of search engine algorithm refinement has continued and for a long time, SEO-focused copywriters have felt that a keyword “density” of something like 3-5 percent would be best for ranking on search page results.

For a while now, Google has been saying that it doesn’t use keyword density, yet many in SEO don’t completely trust Google when it makes that claim. However, a very thorough study by SEM Rush seems to prove that keyword density – and even specific keyword usage – has very little impact on how well pages perform within search results.

As you can see from the graph above, if we give the most important ranking factor – number of direct website visits – a value of 100, the keyword-related on-page SEO strategies only rank a six apiece. This is not to say that high ranking pages didn’t include keywords; what SEM Rush found is that this usage has virtually no impact on how those pages ranked.

The right way to write

Businesses – both big and small – are now using long-tail keywords in their SEO because the competition for the short keywords is so intense, it’s almost impossible to achieve a high search engine page ranking (SERP). If that describes your situation, you don’t have to worry about exactly matching your long-tail keyword throughout your content. SEM Rush confirmed something Google has been telling us for quite some time now:

“(If) you plan to rank by long tails, having an exact-match keyword in your on-page SEO elements is not crucial. In fact, it is more important to diversify the semantic core of your text (emphasis mine) and make it relevant to the target keyword rather than copying it.”

In other words, talking about your subject (keyword) and explaining it in a variety of ways using plain language is your best strategy. Imagine you’re trying to teach something to someone and that person isn’t getting it immediately – you try explaining it from a different point of view, or with different language.

I know that old habits are hard to break, and if you’re like me, you never totally believed Google officials when they said they weren’t using keyword frequency in SERPs. However, with this confirmation from SEM Rush, I think we can all relax a bit and concentrate on making our writing flow more naturally.