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How dense are my words?


You need text on a web page. Having a page that is constructed purely in flash, java-script or of images is next to worthless. Sure, sites as popular as Facebook can get away with this, but you are not them. Real words rule the roost!

In my time, I’ve seen some truly awful attempts at getting keyword density spot on. Everything had been sacrificed to get exactly 5% and 300 words. The developer was all smiles, yet when I read the page it was like Yoda reciting Haiku. Every sentence was utter nonsense. If I didn’t have my ‘evaluation hat’ on I’d click instantly click away. By doing all that hard work, the developer had shot himself in the foot.

I’m a big advocate of getting professional copywriters to write web pages. The pages are interesting, they keep me entertained and they tell me what I want to know in a language that I can understand. My dictionary can stay in the bottom drawer and I might even bookmark the site for future reference.

Thats the beauty (and also danger) of CMS web sites. The copy is generated by those that are best informed. Providing copywriters are fed the write keyword info well in advance, everybody should be happy.

My advice with any website is planning and control. For a website to be successful, content not only has to be good, it has to be ‘On Theme’. For instance, placing an article about ‘Formula One Racing’ on a site about ‘Traditional Cakes’ dilutes the ‘theme’ of the website. Weakly themed websites, that do not have a strong pyramid structure, are at a major disadvantage. You wouldn’t get a recipe book out to get racing results would you? The same applies when Google indexes a site.

So, get a big sheet of paper, identify your vertical markets (themes) and generate content to strengthen those vertical and horizontals.

How many words should I place within the <body> tag?

Don’t get too hung up about this one. You’ll need 100 to 300 words minimum, with at least 250 being a good goal to keep in mind when creating content. Don’t spend hours counting every word. Quickly look at a web page, multiply the rough line count by the average words per line. If the web page has 1,000 words do not get in a sweat – every sentence may be very interesting.

The goal of any body text is to keep a user on-page for at least 10 seconds; less could contribute to a bounce by search engines.

Keep in mind how a search engine will categorise a page; if the page has less than 100 words or is made up mostly of part numbers and unknown brand names then there will be no obvious ‘theme’ for the search engine to store results. If it is important to display these brand names or part numbers, then do not add them into your total word count.

When creating content bear in mind the other pages within that branch of the website. The idea being, if several pages discuss related but not identical subjects, the ‘theme’ of that website branch is strengthened. Imagine if you walked into a bookshop looking for a specific recipe. First you’d look for the Cookery department, then the shelf with the cake books, you’d pick the biggest book and flick to the relevant section. If that bookshop only had one cookery book with 1 cake recipe, you’d always shop elsewhere after that.

Overall keyword density

  • 5 − 20% − (all keywords and phrases/ total words)

Some ‘Hot Topics’ have been reported to have different keyword spamming densities, but as a general guideline this figure is correct. It is recommended that a page have 250 – 300 words, although too many can make a page lack focus.

Using 300 words, you should have 15 − 60 keyword occurrences.
With 300 words on page and 3 target keywords or phrases, each keyword should appear 5 − 20 times.

If you have 1,000 words and you have 3 key-phrases on the page, then you really need to review the content as it could lack focus.

Take your copy and paste it into a MsWord document. Do a search for each phrase, deleting all instances. Now do a search for each distinct word. For instance, the tag below contains: cherry, pie, recipe and for. Delete them.

<meta name=”keywords” content=”cherry pie, cherry pie recipe, recipe for cherry pie”>

How many words are left?

If you started with 300 words and have 250 left – 50 words were keyword related.
100% x 50 / 300 = 17% overall density.

Keyword prominence and proximity

A keyword or key-phrase should be as close to the tag as possible. The keyword needs to be visible on a small screen monitor or phone without the need to scroll. If your key-phrase only appears within the site footer, you need to start again. If two keywords appear adjacent to each other they will gain a higher ranking bonus than if they were 20 words apart. Punctuation between words is ‘ok’ and is still given ranking preference.

Placement of the first paragraph

Many web developers ignore this rule and as a result are heavily penalised. Imagine a website that has a huge scrolling java-script banner, followed by a series of drop down menus containing hundreds of links. After which the very first phrase within the HTML is ‘Home Page’. They score a big fat zero in optimisation terms!

Page layout is important not just from a visual standpoint, but from an invisible coding perspective. An automated web spider cannot interpret java-script, read text hidden within images etc. It will start at the top of your code and read logically through it line by line. If the first 100 lines are non-descriptive links such as ‘home page’, ‘contact us’, ‘products’, like the rest of us it will get bored. A spider has a finite window of time to index a site, if it has to read through the same 100 links on every page before it gets to anything worth reading, the game is lost.

Many web designers place the index page on the left. Although this has become an expected location by many human visitors, especially as they read from left to right, it doesn’t mean that the HTML has to be constructed in this order. CSS can be used to float elements left or right giving the web-coder greater flexibility.

How many sites have you seen where every page has a massive banner and only 2 lines of text showing? Annoying isn’t it? Having to scroll down before content is visible can be very frustrating. You are trying to keep people on your site not leave them with tired fingers! You only have to look at your analytics to see that some visitors spend less than 2 second on a page. If you have a high bounce rate, this page needs serious attention. Swallow your pride, lose the big useless banners, drop the javascript and go back to basic printed text. Take forum sites, they often have tiny generic banners with only a couple of ‘smilie’ images on page, yet dominate search results. Why? Words, words and more words, plus, a lot of sentences are very descriptive and relevant to the page subject.

Paragraph placement guidelines

Basically, you have around 1 second to grab attention, some say a decent image can get you 2, but words rule the roost. Those words need to be visible, readable by spiders, easy to read and very descriptive. Capture the audience and get them to read other pages on your site. If a visitor spends 2 seconds on your page then instantly goes back to Google to see the next result, they haven’t found the answer they were looking for. Try to make your content understandable by a ‘newbie’, if you need a dictionary or a degree to read anything, go back to basics.

The first sentence on any page should ideally contain around 15 – 30 words and be highly relevant to the ‘theme’ of that page.

Common paragraph placement mistakes

Some web pages only display content when you expand a certain section or select a tab. Target content is hidden to both the visitor and trawling spider. The most significant problem can be canonicalisation.
When you click on tabs they can append variables to the url

  •  www.domain-name/folder/page.html
  •  www.domain-name/folder/page.html?show-hidden=true

Search engines will see these two urls as duplicates of each other (canonicalised). A duplicate penalty will be given and there is no guarantee that the correct url of the two is listed. Even worse, if a particular url has a user ID appended; with ‘My Shopping Cart’ tab being prime offenders; only that user can see that tab. The search engine has still listed it. A visitor clicking on that link will get a 404 error or be re-directed to a page with different content. This will get you duplicate errors, dynamic content errors, and 404 missing page errors. You don’t want any one of these on your site!


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