This post follows on from a YouTube video posted on the Google Webmasters channel way back in 2011 where Matt Cutts talks about keyword density and also tries to explain a little bit about keyword stuffing by using "Red Widgets" as an example product a company is trying to rank their website for.
Who is Matt Cutts?
For many years, Cutts was the head of Google's "webspam" team. He joined the company during the first month of 2000 as a software engineer but resigned from Google on the last day of 2016 to go and work for the US Digital Service. For SEOs around the world, he was the face of Google and people hung on his every word. He made a ton of videos on the company's behalf to try and dispel common SEO myths and answer questions about internet spam and ranking in general.
Let's talk about Red Widgets...
If you watch the embedded video, you'll hear what Matt says about red widgets at around the 1:56 mark. If you have neither the time nor inclination to watch it, here's an excerpt of what he says:
If you're one of these guys where all you're doing is "I know you're interested in red widgets because red widgets are one of the best things in the world to have and if you're an expert on red widgets then you'll know that the best source of red widgets is blah blah blah blah blah...."
OK, I hope you get the idea - that's a classic example of keyword stuffing and it's still a common strategy employed throughout the internet. But... can it be successful or will it get you a Google Penalty at some point - We'll go into this in more detail a bit later in this post. First, let's cover the basics.
What is Keyword Stuffing?
As the term implies, keyword stuffing is filling a web page full of the same word or phrase (keywords) again and again in the hope of getting Google to recognize that your page is about that particular word or phrase in the hope that, the more you mention it, the more importantly Google will value it, and bump you up the rankings as a result. In the video, that's "Red Widgets".
Whilst this was certainly true in the early days of the internet, it's definitely not the case today. Google is becoming scarily sophisticated at spotting patterns like this with their dreaded algorithms. In fact, if you mention red widgets too many times, it's likely that you may eventually be penalized for it as Google will see it as "unnatural" or a spammy attempt to manipulate search engine results.
What is Keyword Density?
Again, it's pretty self-explanatory. It's the percentage that certain words or phrases appear on a webpage. For example
- I want to write an article about spam
- I title my article "Spam"
- I type out my content which consists solely of repeating the word "spam" 100 times.
The keyword density for the word spam would then be 100%. Instead, if I type out the two-word phrase "Lovely Spam" 50 times, then my (100-word article) keyword density for the word "spam" would be 50%. The other 50% would, of course, be made up by the word "lovely".
Conversely, if I only mention the word spam once in my 100-word essay, my keyword density for this particular word would be 1%.
Keyword density is often talked about and much experimented with by SEO nerds despite Cutts trying to put it to bed way back in 2011. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of keyword density checkers out there, both free and paid. My personal favourite is on the SEO Review Tools website. Firstly, because it's free. If anyone tries to sell you a keyword density checker, don't buy it!
What I also like about the site I mentioned above is that it has other useful SEO tools you can use, again, all free. I like the fact that the owner simply asks for donations (yep, I have donated) in order to fund the site. So, whether you find it valuable and want to pay for it is entirely your own choice. Anyway, if you want to check the keyword density of one of your pages (or your competitors'), visit this page of his website.
In his video, Cutts suggests that we "stop obsessing" about keyword density and instead suggests either reading your page out loud to yourself or better still, to someone else. This will give you an idea if it's spammy or not. If you read it to a friend and they find it irritating or annoyingly repetitive, it's probably over-optimized for your keywords and you should go back and consider rewriting it.
More About Red Widgets
Earlier on in this article, I talked about exploring whether or not keyword stuffing for things like red widgets actually worked or not, so let's take a closer look now.
According to Cutts in his video, if you use a word or phrase like "red widgets" too many times, it may end up having a negative impact on your website; exactly the opposite of what you want to happen. Whilst he's not entirely clear, he says:
"That's not the way search engine rankings work. So, the way that modern search engines work, or at least Google are built, the first time you mention a word, you know, hey, that's pretty interesting, it's about that word, the next time you mention that word, oh OK, it's still about that word and once you start to mention it a whole lot, it really doesn't help that much more, it's diminishing returns, it's just an incremental benefit but it's really not that large and then what you'll find if you continue to repeat stuff over and over then you're in danger of getting into keyword stuffing, or gibberish and those kinds of things".
Interestingly, when he says "once you start to mention it a whole lot, it really doesn't help that much", the listener may draw the conclusion that taking the whole red widget thing to its limit may actually still benefit to your website. In other words, if you mention red widgets a lot, but just not too much, it may actually help!
Perhaps he didn't mean this, I don't know, but he does go on to say that mentioning keywords like red widgets way too many times will generally be considered keyword stuffing or "gibberish". It's fairly safe to say that this probably won't do you any favors.