Welcome to the world of Search Engine Optimisation with Keyword Density in one corner and Keyword Proximity in the other. As you are probably aware, search engines such as Google trawl the world wide web, using a ‘spider bot’ which has an algorithm (or software language series of rules and steps) to ‘read’ pages on websites.

Based on the ‘reading’ experience, your web page appears in a users search results page based on words related to your web pages, sometimes higher in the results and sometimes lower. Your users will have a desire to find something on the web, they will type in a word or phrase into the search box. This word or phrase is known as a ‘Keyword’. (OK you probably already knew that, but we are working from the bottom up!)

Keyword Density

Density, simply put, is the quantity of something per unit of measure. So keyword density is a measure of how many keywords are in a block of web text, generally expressed as a percentage. If I write a page of content with 100 words that a search engine would index, and the keyword of interest appears 8 times in this text, then the Keyword Density is 8%.

Keyword Proximity

Proximity is the word that describes how close one object is to another in space, time or relationship. Therefore in search engine terms, keyword proximity is the relative distance between keywords in web pages.

For example, two sentences containing keywords:

How to use marketing surveys to identify keywords to improve search engine rankings
How to use marketing surveys to identify keywords to improve rankings in search engines

If a user was searching for ‘search engine rankings’, the second one would generally appear lower on the page. This is because the keywords are closer together (or have a ‘closer proximity’) in the first sentence.

So… how can these two concepts help me in Search Engine Optimisation?

If you search the web for density and proximity, there are many theories as to what constitutes best practice. For density, you will see advice of keyword density with everything from 1% to 8%. The most important things to think about with regards to keyword density and proximity are:

Remember who is your genuine user

  • Because the answer to the first point is – a human site user, then it is important to remember that no matter how you write your copy, it has to be quality copy and useful for your human reader.
  • Stuffing as many keywords as possible into a page of text is as bad as having too many ice creams at the beach- after so many, any more will just make you sick!
  • When your content is keyword rich and of high quality, not only is it attractive to users, but it also encourages search engines to revisit your site more often and have the opportunity to index content more quickly.

The details

  • We know that the most important thing about putting your web copy in place is to make it useful, timely and well written. This will make your site user and search engine friendly which will gain more visitors, have your site visited often by search engines and gather valid backlinks from reputable sources.
  • Reading your material: When reviewing for keyword density, firstly establish that the copy reads well and doesn’t feel mechanical with an overuse of keywords.
  • Stop words: These are the little filler words in your copy which can separate keywords into phrases with stop words that inhibit you being found in searches. Therefore, you should avoid stop or filler words such as and, we, in, your company name etc between your keywords.
  • Proximity considerations:
    • Having your keyword as your page title will help search engines, and help your users know what your page is about.
    • Keeping keywords sensibly near the start of your page as well as in your H1 heading tag.
    • Ensure there are adequate references to the keyword in alt-text, description tags and other heading tags.
    • Where possible to have inbound and outbound links, ensure keywords are also used in the anchor text.

When you format your page well, you will have sufficient keywords for density to be easy and pleasant to read and be appropriate for understanding. You will also have your keywords with close enough proximity to be obvious what your page is about without being repetitive… and also remember keyword density and keyword proximity are good concepts to master, so long as you remember that quality content is King.