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SEO Myth Busting: Personalized Search, Keyword Density & More

There are numerous SEO myths out there which have been around since the dawn of html, but we have been getting more than a few question focusing around these four topic areas: personalized search, keyword density, external links and content.


Do these issues affect search engine rankings?

The answers may not be what you expect.

Does Google’s Personal Search Affect Rankings?

The answer is yes and no, it really depends on what type of search is being conducted.

Where there are generic searches being made, then we tend to see no difference in search engine rankings when personalized search is on or off.  You can check this yourself by turning Google’s personal search preference off and then seeing what the difference in the returned results is.

Where personal search does have an impact on rankings is in the more detailed, specific searches and on topics for which there is already a substantial volume of search queries being made.

An example might be when initially looking at buying a guitar – the initial “guitar” search is likely to be largely unaffected by personal search, but “guitar beginner acoustic” is much more likely to deliver different results depending upon whether you turn personal search off or on.

Is there really such a thing as Keyword Density?

The strict, technical answer is “No!”

“Keyword density” is a simplified name given to a complex calculation developed by information retrieval specialists seeking to establish how important particular words or phrases are within a document which is part of a collection of documents (known as a “corpus”).

The formula is generically referred to as TF-IDF which stands for “Term Frequency – Inverse Document Frequency”.

The bottom line is TF-IDF was adapted by the search engines for use in delivering results based on the search term string input by the user.

While the technical answer is that there is no such thing as keyword density, in practice for non-technical people, yes there certainly is.

It stands to reason that if you are seeking rankings for a specific keyword, then you are at least going to have to mention that keyword in your website at some point!  More than this, if you overuse a keyword, so called “keyword stuffing”, then you are going to be penalized.

Ignore the techno babble and be clear, keyword density is a simplified term for something much more complicated, but it is very relevant to search engine rankings.

Does Linking to Other Sites Help your Ranking?

Yes and no.

The impact of your website linking out to external sites is probably negligible, but that said if you have no external, outbound links then this is going to look weird to Google and other search engines.   It probably does not help to link to a few, high profile websites either.

There is some empirical evidence that linking to very specifically relevant external sites from within your own website helps user experience.  Your website becomes viewed as a more relevant resource in the eyes of human users and by ensuring you are linking to very specifically relevant external websites, you are more likely to reduce traffic from navigating beyond that external link and completely away from your website.

Best practice is to include some relevant external links, however do not expect this to increase your search engine rankings by much if at all, it really acts to stop you earning any penalty by hoarding your link juice.

Is Content Really Worthwhile?

The most important is last.


There are some high ranking, static content websites which have not had a refresh since the Dark Ages, but they are very few and very far between.  On the other hand, some websites engage in actively refreshing the home page content on a daily basis to attract a Google lift in the rankings, and for some it works.

The caveat at work here is that content must be relevant or both search engines and human traffic will find it isn’t worth the vicarious virtual ink it is printed with.

Good quality, engaging and relevant content is worth gold, because your content acts as the ultimate payoff for your traffic no matter how they have gotten to your website.  All of your investment in search engine ranking and SEO, viral campaigns, PPC, offline marketing – all of the money, time and effort is utterly worthless unless you have content which converts traffic to paying customers.


Some aspects of SEO are more important than others, e.g. content versus external links, but some aspects of SEO work must be conducted because it may avoid search engine penalties, e.g. external outbound link building.  SEO work is also likely to butt up against the needs of human traffic and not just the search engines, e.g. relevant content, and then your SEO strategy must serve two-masters which is never an easy task to accomplish.

Clients should also be aware that while some jargon may be employed, and indeed some terms such as “keyword density” or “personalized search”, they should remember that these are simplified terms encompassing some very complex concepts.

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