How Many Times Should You Exact Match the Keyphrase?

Here’s a quiz for you…

How many times should you exact match the keyphrase in your web copy?

a. Five times

b. At least once every 100 words

c. At least once per paragraph

d. At least seven times, but no more than 15 for a 700-word article

The answer?

None of the above.

OK, I know that was a trick question. But, I phrased it like that to showcase the weird rules some SEO writers follow. There is no reason to tie yourself (and your copy) up in knots anymore.

In short: You can throw the “exact match” rule out the window!

(It’s time to do a little happy dance!) :)

Google has grown up (a little bit)

“But Heather,” you say. “I thought you had to exact match a keyphrase multiple times. Otherwise the page won’t position well.”

In fact, one man from the SEO Copywriting LinkedIn group complained that one client forced him to exact match multiple long-tail search terms in the content. Imagine stumbling over [Dallas TX carpet cleaning emergency 24 hours] in a sentence.

Yeah. That’s not good.

This thinking is closely related to that old “keyword density” concept which WILL NOT DIE.

What’s keyword density? 

Count the number of keywords/keyphrases on a given page, then divide it by the total word count.  Voila:  keyword density.  For example, a 500-word page with 10 keywords/keyphrases =  a keyword density of 2-percent.

Keyword density hasn’t been a “thing” for over 15 years. Matt Cutts from Google debunked this back in 2011:

And I talked about it, too:

Here’s the thing: Once upon a time, when Google was young and dumb, you had to exact match the keyphrase multiple times to make Google “notice” your page.

Plus, some writers would optimize pages for just one keyword. One page would be about [running shoes], and another page would be about [running shoe], while yet another would discuss [shoes for running.]

Yes, it was that bad.

via GIPHY

Unfortunately, that’s where SEO writing got its bad rap. Companies — even major ones — kicked out content that read like an AdWords keyword list. The keyword was repeated so many times, it ruined the content’s readability.

What’s happening today?

The Panda algorithm shakeup in 2011 was Google’s first major swipe at keyphrase-stuffed content.

Since then, Google’s algorithm refinements and the advent of RankBrain means Google will return relevant results where the search term isn’t even on the page.

Newsflash: We’re optimizing for entities now. Yes, keyphrases are still important. But, that doesn’t mean you repeat the keyphrase over and over.

You can (and should) use synonyms and related words in your web content.

You should fully answer your readers’ questions without worrying about a following false writing formula.

In short, focus on writing solid copy.

Need more help? Here’s a great article by Ann Smarty discussing four tools you can use to discover and optimize for related keyphrases. Even Ann says, “SEO moved beyond exact keyword matching long ago.”

 

In today’s world, as long as the individual words in the long-tail keyphrase appear somewhere on the page — and the page is relevant to the searcher’s query —  you’re good.

What’s more, Google considers unnatural-sounding copy “poor content.” Here’s an exact quote from Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines:

“Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users….Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful main content to help users, should be rated Lowest.”

Still not convinced? Here are some common questions I hear about exact matching the keyphrase:

My client insists I exact match the keyphrase ten times in a 500-word blog post. What can I do?

I feel your pain. I still receive emails that say, “I would like you to write a 1,500-word blog post, and include the keyphrase every 100-words.” Ugh.

You can try to educate your client, by showing her this post and Google’s guidelines. However, there are some clients who won’t “get it,” no matter how much you try. In that case, you can either do what your client wants — or, you can walk away and find another gig.

Help! We’ve exact-matched the keyword too many times! How can we fix our web copy?

Does your copy sound like a laundry list of exact matched keyphrases? You’ll want to track those pages down and de-optimize them. This may mean rewriting the page, or it could mean pulling out some keyphrases until your copy sounds normal again.

Our copywriter/agency/web designer says we have to exact match the keyword multiple times “for Google.” Are you saying they’re wrong?

Yes. They’re operating on outdated information, and that can cost you search traffic. Consider finding another vendor who can help.

A competitor’s site is way over-optimized, and they’re out-positioning our site. Does that mean we should add more keywords to our web content?

Possibly, but proceed with caution. Your content may have some tasty optimization opportunities, and tweaking your content and Title could mean some big wins.

However, if you’re adding keyphrases just because — and they’re messing with the readability — you need to back away from the keyboard. There are other ways to drive search volume without resorting to spammy techniques.

What do you think? Have you had a client (or boss) insist on exact matching the keyphrase multiple times? Leave your comment below!

8 replies
  1. Taylor Lockard says:

    Hi Heather! Thanks for clearing this up! It’s probably impossible to overestimate the benefits of writing good, solid copy. I’m learning more and more about SEO and how to properly incorporate it into my writing, but I’ve found that it ultimately comes down to the actual content and readability. Thanks again!

    Reply
  2. Lee Nourse says:

    Hi Heather,
    Thanks for clarifying this. I’ve been a wee bit unsure if I was using key phrases optimally since Panda arrived.

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      You are very welcome, Lee! Please let me know if you have any other questions about SEO writing — I’m happy to help!

      Have a great day!
      :)

      Reply
  3. Farooq says:

    Thanks a lot for this article. I was worked up doing exact keyword phrase match. it get hard sometimes to use it in the exact manner. I did an article on 2019 Top Cannabis Trends to Watch Out For . My kw was “cannabis top 2019 trends” . Through your article I now know I could have used it in different ways like “top 2019 cannabis trends”

    One important query I have for u. Will google rank my article or will it display in the SERP even if someone were to put “Marijuana top 2019 trends”? because cannabis and marijuana are the same terms almost.

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Good question, Farooq!

      The answer is “it depends.” Try searching Google for “top 2019 marijuana trends” and see what kind of results come up. If you see “cannabis” in the title, it’s entirely possible that Google sees cannabis/marijuana as synonyms…at least in that case. :)

      Thanks!

      Reply

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