How Many Keywords Should You Use for SEO: Find Out How Many is Too Many
As more and more website owners and content creators strive to maximize their online visibility, finding the right balance of keywords has become a crucial factor in driving organic traffic and boosting search engine rankings.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The optimal number of keywords for your SEO strategy depends on various factors, including your industry, target audience, content goals, and search engine algorithms. It’s a puzzle that demands careful consideration and a strategic approach.
However, this article will discuss the keyword problem and provide insights into determining the ideal number of keywords for your SEO endeavors.
We’ll explore expert opinions, analyze industry practices, and share practical tips to help you strike the right chord with your keyword usage.
What are Keywords in SEO?
But before we talk about numbers, let’s take one step at a time to explain what a keyword in SEO is.
In SEO, keywords are the words and phrases people use when searching for information, products, or services online (also called “search queries“) on search engines.
You can think of keywords as the “language” that connects the right searchers to your website if your website is well-optimized.
In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the article’s content, it is beneficial to have a brief overview of two straightforward classifications of keywords.
Based on the Search Demand
When considering search demand, keywords can be categorized into three distinct types: fat head keywords (also known as broad or head keywords), chunky middle keywords (or body keywords), and long-tail keywords.
These can be more easily understood using the search demand curve, which you can also see in the image above.
- Fat Head Keywords are short and general keyword terms that have a broad scope and high search volume. They typically consist of one or two words.
- Chunky Middle Keywords are moderately specific keyword phrases that fall between broad and long-tail keywords. They are more targeted than fat head keywords and offer a balance between search volume and competition. They usually contain two to three words.
- Long-Tail Keywords are highly specific keyword phrases that are longer and more detailed. They have a lower search volume but tend to be less competitive, making it easier to rank for them. They often contain three or more words and target niche audiences.
Based on the Relevance and Relationship to the Main Topic
When considering relevance and relationship to the main topic or focus of a webpage or piece of content, keywords can be categorized into primary keywords and secondary keywords.
- Primary Keywords are the main keywords that represent the core topic or focus of a webpage. They carry the most weight in terms of relevance. For example, if the topic is “healthy recipes,” the primary keyword could be “healthy recipes.”
- Secondary Keywords are related keywords that support the primary keyword and provide additional context to the content. They help search engines understand the depth and relevance of the topic. For example, secondary keywords for the topic “healthy recipes” could be “low-carb recipes,” “vegetarian recipes,” or “easy meal prep ideas.”
Why are Keywords Important in SEO?
Keywords are important because they represent the bridge between what people search for and the content you provide. They help connect the right searchers with valuable information or solutions by ensuring your content aligns with their search queries.
What do we mean by the right searchers? Let’s take an example of searching for sneakers, like the “Nike Air Force 1”. You wouldn’t expect to see results for “Adidas Ozweego shoes” or unrelated stuff like “cat food,” right?
But it can happen if the images (you sell Air Force 1, but the picture on the website is named “cat food”), the videos (you use an inappropriate title, like “Ozweego Sneakers and Other Top Sneakers,” in the context that you want to rank on the keyword “Air Force 1”, and in the video any way you talk 1 minute about Ozweego and 5 about Air Force 1) and the content is not adapted or well-optimized for your targeted keyword.
The right searchers want to look for exactly what they searched for without any irrelevant results popping up. So, by using the right keywords on your website, you ensure that it attracts the audience explicitly searching for what you offer because it improves your visibility on the search engine result pages (SERPs), avoiding any confusion or irrelevant results.
Also, keywords are essential, especially because keywords are one of the main elements of SEO.
Isn’t that enough? No problem, because the statistics will help to convince you. For organic content, you need SEO, and for SEO, you must use specific keywords.
We mentioned this because more than half (53%) of the total website traffic comes from organic sources, indicating the significant impact of natural search on driving visitors to a site.
Additionally, most clicks (over 67%) occur within the first five organic search results displayed on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), highlighting the importance of securing a high-ranking position to attract user attention and engagement.
So that’s why keywords are important, and there are many other statistics to back that up.
How Many Keywords Should I Use for SEO?
Now that we have a foundation of the basics let’s get into the question of how many times a keyword should be used in SEO.
With countless opinions and many debate lords that saturate the internet (and in the end, it’s not absurd that it happens this way because Google doesn’t indicate anything specifically), we have curated insights from renowned SEO specialists and incorporated the perspective of a reputable company in the field.
By examining and synthesizing their viewpoints, we aim to present you with a well-rounded understanding of this topic.
After their opinions, drawing from our own experience and expertise, we will provide our perspective and answer the burning question.
Rand Fishkin’s Outlook
Rand Fishkin is a real OG when it comes to dishing out opinions on SEO.
He is the founder of Moz, SparkToro, and an SEO expert with 20 years of experience and is a go-to source for learning about all things SEO. With his insights and expertise, he’s a trusted authority in the industry.
Rand’s voice stands out regarding the number of keywords to use in SEO.
He recommends identifying a primary keyword (with low competition and high traffic) that can be applied in various contexts, then selecting relevant secondary keywords based on factors such as the article’s length, target audience, and specific topic.
According to Rand Fishkin, when it comes to using keywords on web pages, there are some key recommendations to keep in mind. For about 95% of pages, he suggests following these guidelines:
- Include the target keyword (or primary keyword) in the page’s title element to indicate its relevance clearly.
- Incorporate the keyword in the headline, ensuring it appears prominently at the top of the page. This helps provide consistency and reassures searchers they’ve clicked3 on the right result.
- Include the keyword once in the meta description, as it can help make the snippet more appealing and relevant to searchers.
- Aim to include the keyword two to three times within the content unless the page is highly visual or interactive with minimal text.
Also, it’s important to consider secondary aspects such as image optimization, including keywords in image alt attributes and file names.
He also emphasizes using keywords in the URL and subheaders but cautions against going overboard and keyword stuffing.
Rand highlights the search engines’ use of stemming, which reduces the need for repetitive keyword variations.
The key takeaway is to use keywords strategically and avoid excessive repetition that can negatively impact both searchers and search engine algorithms.
Neil Patel’s Position
In my circle, there’s this unwritten rule: if you don’t know who Neil Patel is, you’re not a legit marketer. And let me tell you, there’s some truth to it. When you dive into marketing, especially SEO, you can’t escape Neil Patel. He’s everywhere, dropping knowledge bombs left and right on the internet.
Neil Patel is a total rockstar in the marketing world. This guy has founded businesses like NP Digital, Hello Bar, and Crazy Egg. He’s an entrepreneur, investor, SEO expert, and influencer. Forbes recognizes him as one of the top 10 marketers worldwide, he’s a New York Times bestselling author, and he made it to the list of top 100 entrepreneurs under 30. He knows about SEO, so his opinion is to be taken into consideration.
Based on Neil Patel’s insights from his videos and articles, here’s his take on the ideal number of keywords for SEO in content:
Neil Patel emphasizes using one primary keyword, or a maximum of two that are used equally, and around them, build a network of several other secondary keywords relevant to the topic.
He highlights that while SEO still matters to some extent, the focus should be on keyword placement rather than frequency. It remains crucial for the long-tail keyword to appear in strategic elements such as the page title, URL, subheaders, image descriptions, and meta descriptions.
However, the outdated practice of repeating a keyword at least seven times in the body copy is no longer effective. In fact, it can negatively impact the quality and readability of the content.
The focus should also be on the use of long-tail keywords. Neil points out that, especially with these types of keywords, only 3-4 are enough to create good content that ranks well.
The Point of View of Matt Cutts
Matt Cutts was the administrator of United States Digital Service and former head of Google’s Webspam Team and is an important figure in the field of SEO. He is renowned as an American software engineer for providing valuable SEO tips and tricks.
Analyzing Matt Cutts’ work, we spotted a take from an older video in which he discusses how many keywords you should use in SEO, with direct reference also to keyword density.
According to Matt Cutts, there is no magic number for keyword density that will help you rank higher. The first few times you use a keyword, Google recognizes the topic of your content, but using the keyword excessively doesn’t provide much additional value.
While Cutts’ advice is still relevant, we must consider that Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 expanded how keywords are understood. Instead of solely relying on specific keyword usage, Google now looks at the overall context of the page and user search behavior to determine the topic. This means you can effectively convey your topic through various related words and phrases.
However, even considering Matt Cutts’ insights from 2011, it becomes clear that our emphasis should be on selecting 2-4 keywords relevant to our content, but it’s important to strike the right balance and avoid keyword stuffing, ensuring that the keywords are naturally integrated within the content.
The Standpoint of Ahrefs
In addition to the insights from esteemed individuals in the field, it is crucial to seek the perspective of a highly regarded industry authority – Ahrefs.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO software suite incorporating many tools to enhance businesses’ online presence. It encompasses invaluable resources for link building, keyword research, competitor analysis, rank tracking, and site audits. It is primarily tailored for marketing professionals to help them to provide extensive features to optimize marketing strategies effectively.
Regarding the keyword density emphasis, Ahrefs experts recommend picking just one primary and sufficient secondary keywords to fully cover an assigned topic.
You’re wondering why stick to just one primary keyword, right? Well, the Ahrefs experts got some solid reasons for us:
- Every page needs a clear-cut topic.
- Google has excellent skills at catching similar variations and spelling slip-ups.
- Optimizing for one keyword can help you rank for many other keywords.
But hold up because it’s not just about the primary keywords. It would be best to have those secondary keywords to cover a topic like a boss.
According to the Ahrefs experts, diving into related subtopics is key to fully exploring a subject, and secondary keywords help you do just that.
Here’s an example they throw down: Picture Google as a massive bookstore. So, imagine you stroll in, looking for the ultimate beginner’s guide to gardening. Now, wouldn’t it be dope if the store assistant hooks you up with a guide that breaks down the basics in simple terms and satisfies other peeps? You wouldn’t even need to think about checking out other guides.
That’s how Google rolls, in a nutshell. The search engine tries to understand what you’re after and delivers the most helpful results while keeping some options low.
The subject of how many keywords to use for SEO is indeed controversial, with varying opinions from experts in the field. While there are no set rules or magic numbers, it’s important to approach keyword usage with flexibility and adaptability.
Google’s official guidelines do not require a specific keyword limit or density. Instead, they emphasize the need for high-quality, relevant, and user-focused content. Rather than obsessing over keyword frequency, the focus should be on creating valuable content that meets users’ search intent.
Now, here’s the deal regarding nailing down an exact number of keywords to use in SEO. While it’s a tough nut to crack, we’ve got a recommendation that might just hit the sweet spot for you.
Here it is: we suggest focusing on 1 to 2 primary keywords that ideally double up as long-tail keywords.
Also, to round things off nicely, sprinkle in 2 to 3 secondary keywords that complement and support your primary keywords. Incorporating relevant secondary keywords and synonyms can help provide more comprehensive coverage of your topic.
By striking this balance, you’ll have a strong keyword foundation that covers all the bases and sets you up for success.
Again, we emphasize that it’s crucial to balance using keywords naturally and integrating them into the different elements of your web page, such as titles, headings, meta descriptions, and content. Keyword placement should feel organic and serve the purpose of enhancing the user experience.
This approach aligns with Google’s evolving algorithms, which now consider contextual relevance and semantic understanding to determine the content’s topic.
However, don’t just get caught up in the keywords part. It’s also essential to address other technical aspects of SEO beyond keywords. This includes optimizing site speed, improving mobile-friendliness, enhancing user engagement, and ensuring a strong overall website structure.
Last but not least, the best strategy is to be data-driven and monitor the performance of your content. Test different variations of keyword usage and analyze the results to understand what works best for your specific audience and industry.
How Many Keywords Are Needed for a Page to Rank?
A single page has the potential to rank multiple keywords, spanning thousands of search queries. The number of keywords a page can rank for depends on the level of SEO optimization and the overall search volume related to the topic.
Typically, the top-ranking page tends to secure rankings for around 1,000 relevant keywords, whereas lower-ranking pages may rank for fewer keywords.
Our answer is based on three important studies.
First, the Ahrefs study shows that, on average, a top-ranking page not only secures the #1 position for its target keyword but also appears in the top 10 search results for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords. In comparison, the median value for additional keywords is approximately 400, more than twice as small as the average.
In another SEO case study conducted by Shane Barker, they successfully achieved first-page rankings on Google for over 1,800 keywords within only six months. This study highlights the effectiveness of optimizing and utilizing the TF-IDF formula (but not only). This formula allows us to assess the frequency of a keyword’s appearance in an article compared to its average usage across other web articles.
Also, another study found that the key factor influencing higher rankings is not just keyword density but rather the relevance of highly searched terms. In other words, search engines prioritize the alignment between user search queries and the content’s relevance rather than focusing solely on the frequency of keywords.
Based on our analysis of these studies, we have drawn the following conclusions that align with what you would likely discover when reviewing them:
The ability to rank for over 1,000 keywords with just a single page comes from a well-optimized page attracting hundreds to thousands of related keywords, often referred to as long-tail keywords. This remarkable breadth of rankings hinges on how the content is crafted and how effectively the page is optimized for other relevant keywords.
The potential to capture a wide range of keyword rankings is within reach, provided the content is carefully written and the page is optimized to target and resonate with numerous related search queries.
Should I Use the Same Keywords on Each Page?
No, targeting the same keyword across multiple website pages does not convince search engines that your site is more relevant for that specific term. In fact, when multiple web pages appear too similar, it can send negative signals.
Why is this the case? The answer is straightforward – keyword cannibalization. When you have multiple pages targeting the same keyword, you essentially pit your own pages against each other in competition. This internal competition can have detrimental effects on your search engine optimization efforts.
As a result, having multiple pages targeting the same keyword leads to lower click-through rates (CTRs), reduced authority, and decreased conversion rates compared to what a single consolidated page would achieve.
How to Optimize Your Content for Keywords
Optimizing your content for keywords can be quite challenging. It might all seem a bit hazy at first, like trying to navigate through a foggy maze.
However, gradually taking each step outlined below in the optimization process will make it much more straightforward (and easier).
Before introducing your first step, to effectively target SEO keywords, you must know how to wield your primary and secondary keywords in relation to the specific search terms people are using (see again the search demand curve to understand better what we mean). It’s all about understanding the search intent, a key piece of the SEO puzzle.
Once you have a primary keyword (preferably also a long-tail keyword) in your head, the next step is to check the SERP results.
1. Analyze the SERP for Your Primary Keyword
The simplest and most accessible method to check the competition in order to nail down the search intent is to take your primary keyword and pop it into Google. Now, check out those top-ranking pages and pay attention to a few key things:
- Dominating content type – Get a feel for what types of content are ruling the game. You’ll notice popular formats like videos, articles, landing pages, and product pages taking the spotlight.
- Dominating content format – Look closely at the content formats rocking the charts. You’ll see reviews, comparisons, listicles, how-to guides, and opinion-based articles stealing the show – that is generally evergreen content.
- Relevant content angles – Take note of the unique selling points showcased by those top-ranking pages. They might flaunt enticing angles like “best,” “free,” “all you need to know,” “in 2023,” and other attention-grabbing hooks.
You can make SERP analysis easier with tools like Ahrefs.
With Ahrefs, you can quickly gather valuable information about your competitors for a specific keyword. You can see the length of their articles, assess the competition level on the SERP, check the number of backlinks they have, evaluate their domain rating, and more.
In simpler terms, this analysis helps you determine whether it’s worth creating a new article on a particular topic. Alternatively, if there is already an existing article, you can assess if it’s worth optimizing it. If the competition is high and authoritative sites dominate the top rankings, reaching the first page might be challenging, but it’s not an impossible feat.
While analyzing the SERP and the competition, you can also identify certain secondary keywords and subtopics that you can address in your article.
2. Optimize Your Content
Once you’ve compiled your list of keywords and subtopics, here are some valuable tips to enhance the optimization of your content pages using those targeted keywords:
To maximize the impact of your SEO efforts, optimizing each page for a select few primary keywords is essential. Limiting it to 1-2 primary keywords per page ensures your content remains focused and targeted.
When optimizing your content, strategically include your primary keyword in essential elements (such as title tags, meta tags, alt-image tags, H1 tags, some of the H2 tags, and URL) as well as secondary keywords in your subtopic titles (H2-H6). However, exercising caution and avoiding excessive repetition (keyword stuffing) of your primary keyword is crucial. There’s no need to forcefully mention keywords multiple times or chase after a specific keyword density. Instead, focus on creating high-quality, valuable content that naturally incorporates relevant keywords to enhance its overall optimization.
Also, feel free to incorporate synonyms and variations of your keywords into your content, but don’t push inserting these synonyms or closely related keywords. Using more words to describe the same thing won’t automatically boost your content’s ranking.
Aim to maintain a maximum keyword repetition of 2-3 times per page, striking the right balance between optimization and natural flow.
Additionally, keep in mind that Google has a preference for long-form content. Long-form content tends to provide users with more comprehensive and detailed information, which aligns with Google’s goal of delivering valuable results.
Backlinko conducted a study that led them to a significant conclusion: long-form content tends to yield better results compared to short-form content.
As a general guideline, aim for around 1,500 words per page, allowing ample space to cover the topic thoroughly and engage your readers effectively.
Remember, quality should always take precedence over word count alone.
So, until Google lays down the law and gives us a concrete answer about the precise number of keywords we should use, we’re left with relying on the experts and focusing on the tangible aspects we already know are crucial. That means creating high-quality, relevant, and user-focused content that hits the sweet spot.
Now, if you’re itching for a number, we have a recommendation. We suggest focusing 1-2 primary keywords and 2-3 secondary keywords in your content. This combo packs enough punch to land you that coveted first position in search results as long as you meet all the other criteria.
But don’t go overboard with those chosen keywords. We’re talking about avoiding the dreaded keyword stuffing at all costs. Keep it natural, keep it classy, and let your content shine beyond just the keywords.
Remember, SEO is not a one-trick pony. It’s a multi-dimensional game. While keywords play a vital role, don’t neglect other aspects of your content. Improve it holistically, from engaging visuals to compelling storytelling and user-friendly experiences.