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Keyword Density, Frequency, Prominence and Proximity: Complete Guide

The Keyword Density is one of the oldest and discussed concepts of SEO, between reality and fiction. Reality because actually many years ago repeating the keyword several times often meant positioning on the front page. Science fiction because even today there are subjects who are committed to calculating it and giving numbers, in the sense of hypothetical ideal density values.

The concepts of density, proximity and prominence are basic to fully understand how to optimize the pages of a site in relation to the keywords selected as the goal of our positioning on Google .

Although not all SEO experts agree in attributing to these on-site metrics the same importance in the scale of factors that determine the “success” of a page on search engines, it is good to know them and try to apply them in the most useful way possible. during the SEO optimization work.

In this complete guide we will deepen the concepts of:

  1. Keyword Density
  2. Keyword Frequency
  3. Keyword Prominence
  4. Keyword Proximity

1. Keyword Density

The Keyword Density (keyword density) is the percentage concentration of the keyword within a given web page.

The percentage calculation of the density of a keyword is based on the total number of words of the text: it means that if you determine a keyword with a density of 1% on a text of 1000 words, this must necessarily occur 10 times within the text.

Similarly, if the total number of words were to increase or decrease, the necessary number of occurrences of each keyword will also increase or decrease proportionally to maintain the same density.

Problems related to a High Density

If on the one hand a high density can help search engines understand what is the topic covered in the page, on the other hand a too high value could be interpreted as an excess keyword use and identify our page as spam.

So keyword density can become counter productive if used roughly: condensing too many keywords into a sentence, drains it of content and makes the only promotional purpose evident.

Promoting a product or service through pages lacking adequate textual information support often has a boomerang effect and could push users to leave our site after a few seconds of browsing, to the advantage of sites considered more complete.

On the contrary, dealing with the topics comprehensively means both considering the importance of positioning through keywords, but also focusing on creative writing, thus avoiding sterile promotional strategies and ends in themselves.

Given the counterproductive effect that could occur in the case of too high keyword density values, finding the right balance is essential.

It could therefore be useful to understand which is an optimal value to achieve.

How to calculate the Keyword Density

The keyword density of a given keyword can be calculated based on the “frequency” of the keyword, ie the number of times it appears on the page. More precisely:

Keyword Density = (number of words that make up the keyphrase * keyword frequency) / total number of words on the page

In reality, there are several tools that through various formulas, mainly based on Gerard Salton’s mathematical model of semantic analysis, try to correlate the density of a keyword on a content with its relevance in the context of that page.

The goal of these tools is to automatically calculate importance and rank various documents against different words.

It looks like Google’s work, but the actual results don’t even come close.

There is an optimal keyword density

Absolutely identifying the optimal value for the keyword density is of course not possible, but in reality it is also not very useful.

There are several articles online where you try to define the ideal value, perhaps based on experience, where there are those who say 3%, who 6% and who 10%.

Of course they are all random percentages and they don’t make any logical or scientific sense.

Search engines do not use the keyword density value to determine the ranking of pages with respect to certain search queries, as it is too simplistic a concept.

The algorithms of search engines are based on “Information Retrieval” and complex functions such as “Okapi BM25” to determine the relevance of a given web page compared to a given search query.

It would therefore be naive to think that a simple ideal keyword density value can significantly affect the relevance of a content.

The fundamental rule is to write content that is pleasant and smooth to read, thus avoiding repeating the sentence for which you are optimizing the page too many times.

2. Keyword Frequency

With Keyword Frequency refers to the number of occurrences of a word within a web page.

The difference between the concept of density and frequency is that this absolute value indicates how many times a keyword appears regardless of the number of words that make up the text.

The theory is that the more times a keyword appears within a page, the more relevance a search engine places on the page for a search with those keywords.

Through this concept we should answer the million dollar question : “How many times do we have to repeat the keyword we want to position in the content of the page?”

Also in this case the same considerations made previously apply, since even the frequency of the keyword is not used by Google to establish the positioning.

However, it remains true that repeating the keyword on which we aim several times can help understanding the topic of the page, just as we must be careful not to fall into Keyword Stuffing.

Please note : attendance must not penalize the fluency of the text, which must also be pleasant as well as informative.

3. Keyword Prominence

Of the concepts we are addressing in this article, Keyword Prominence is perhaps the most important in terms of ideal optimization for search engines.

Search engines have always given more importance to what is first perceived by the user and therefore working on the prominence of keywords is fundamental.

With Keyword Prominence we mean the position of the keyword with respect to the beginning of a certain “portion of the page” taken into consideration.

The term “portion of page” indicates any area of ​​the page containing text.

So we are talking about paragraphs but also for example menu items, the alt attribute for image tags and also the URL of the page itself.

In essence, it is a question of structuring the page in such a way as to “highlight” the keywords, both for users and for search engines.

While any area that contains text becomes a candidate to work on Keyword Prominence, we can summarize the most important areas of a page in:

  • Title Tag ;
  • Meta Description ;
  • URL of the page ;
  • Header tag (H1, H2, H3);
  • Paragraphs that make up the body of the document;
  • Names and alt attributes of images ;

The closer a keyword is to the beginning of these areas, the greater its visibility for users and, consequently, the greater its prominence and consideration by search engines.

Practical example of Keyword Prominence

For example in the following title tag:

<title> Competence: a key factor for SEO </title>

We can say that the term “competence” enjoys an excellent Keyword Prominence as it is the first word that appears in the tag.

A similar speech should be made clearly for the other areas of the page previously mentioned.

4. Keyword Proximity

With Keyword Proximity refers to the proximity of several keywords together. This value is related to the possible search queries that a user could make.

It is based on the concept that a page in which the words that make up the “key phrase” are close, is more likely to get a good ranking than another in which the words are further away from each other.

By carrying out a search on Google and entering more than one term, we note that the first results shown will be those in which there is a greater keyword proximity or those in which the searched words will be closest to each other.

As you go down the results page, the results will be shown in which the words entered are more distant from each other, up to results in which only some of the words entered appear.

It is therefore immediately obvious how the keyword proximity takes on a certain importance for  positioning on search engines.

If the words used in a user’s search query always appear distant from each other in the content of our page, then proximity will not take on much value for the terms in this query.

Practical example of Keyword Proximity

For example, if the query used is “SEO services” a phrase such as “SEO: find out the best optimization services for your site” will have a very low keyword proximity compared to “SEO services: find out the best optimization services”.

So once you have identified the queries that bring more access to our site (through tools such as Google Search Console) it is certainly a good idea to optimize the texts to get a better keyword proximity on these queries.

Please note : following the release of Rank Brain, the concept of proximity has lost a lot of importance from an SEO point of view.

Conclusions

The Keyword Density is not a ranking factor: the keyword must of course be present, recur naturally for an appropriate number of times, but the density is not important (source Matt Cutts).

So it makes little sense to dwell on the optimal keyword density value as this means practically nothing. The same goes for the Keyword Frequency, an equally obsolete concept.

The fact that there are very few pages on the web containing a single keyword or keyphrase should also make us realize that there is something else that needs to be considered.

The concepts of Keyword Prominence and Proximity are, on the other hand, two valid concepts to be considered when optimizing content.

When a user types a query, he knows the meaning well and is looking for specific, new information that can take that intermediate step between interest in the topic and a position (or purchase).

The strength of SEO lies in intercepting the right audience of users with the right keywords and winning them over with highly relevant content.

For doubts or questions, do not hesitate to use the comments!