What Is TF-IDF for SEO and How Can You Use It?

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Craig Smith  |  Founder & CEO

tfidf for SEO

Our team works with marketing professionals with varying levels of SEO  knowledge and expertise. Some clients just need help with the basics, while others are ready for more advanced tactics. One strategy that more search professionals are turning to is TF-IDF for SEO.

TF-IDF, which stands for Term Frequency with Inverse Document Frequency, has been popular in Germany for more than four years and is just now gaining traction in the United States. Keep reading to learn more about this strategy and how you can apply it to your SEO efforts.

What is TF-IDF for SEO?

In layman’s terms, TF-IDF helps marketers determine what topics they should cover if they want to rank well in the SERPs.

If your eyes glazed over when you read the full name of this term in the intro paragraph, then you’re not alone.

Understanding TF-IDF is easier when you break apart the acronym and learn about each piece individually — and then how they interact.

TF: Term Frequency

This is the easy one. Term frequency is simply the number of times a word or phrase shows up in your content. Oftentimes marketers try to follow SEO best practices related to the number of times they put a keyword in the content — usually at least a minimum of four. If you wanted to write about a high-protein diet, and the keyword “plant-based protein” appeared four times, then your term frequency would be four.

A.J. Ghergich at SEMrush explains that term frequency on its own doesn’t really improve your SEO or provide insight into your chances of success. Successful SEOs will take the frequency and divide it by the word count to understand the keyword density. (You often see this keyword density metric in SEO tools like Yoast.)

If your “plant-based protein” appears four times in a 300-word article, then your keyword density is 1.33%. However, if it appears four times over a 3,000-word white paper, then your density is 0.13%. The keyword is much more prominent in one piece of content than the other, even though the frequency is the same.  

IDF: Inverse Document Frequency

Simply put, the inverse document frequency lowers the value of highly-common words while increasing the value of unique phrases and lesser-used terms.

If you assembled a word cloud of the top words within any page (it could be for this post, or a page on your website, or even a page from the most respected minds on SEO), the top results would be common, meaningless stop-words that would never provide actual insight into the page. These are words like “at, for, you, is, the, or,” and so on.

Along with devaluing these terms, the IDF devalues these stop terms while assigning more value to unique terms so you can get an idea for which terms carry the most weight.

Continuing with the “plant-based protein,” example, a blogger might highlight other keywords and phrases like soy, almonds, diet, vegetarian, and meal planning. These words form a useful cloud in relation to the original keyword and topic.

How Can You Use TF-IDF?

Now that you know what TF-IDF is used for, you can take steps to apply it to your SEO strategy. Depending on your comfort with this concept and your existing content strategy, there are a variety of ways you can add TF-IDF for your writing and publishing process.

1. Explore New Concepts as Content Ideas

Some teams use TF-IDF to break out of their bubbles and come up with new content plans. They might run a TF-IDF analysis on the websites of their competitors to discover concepts they have never used before, or scan their own pages to find gaps in their content.

The health and fitness blog mentioned earlier might take keywords from their TF-IDF analysis and create three more blog posts related to plant-based protein:

  • Why almonds are a protein-packed superfood
  • How vegetarians can easily meet their daily protein recommendations
  • Which lean proteins are best for a low-calorie diet

From there, these marketers can link back to the plant-based protein piece, turning it into cornerstone content that users can return to as a hub for information. With this, marketers can develop a whole promotions plan based off on one highly-ranking blog post to increase its odds of success.

2. Improve Your Existing Content With Better Information

TF-IDF can also help you improve the content that already ranks well (or should be ranking well but isn’t). Look at the pages that drive the most traffic to your website. Are they the best pages that they could be, or are they missing content, lacking useful links, and in need of an update?

Use TF-IDF to address other topics and ideas that could be useful for the reader. This might mean adding links or creating a resource section to keep people on your website, or it could mean adding additional sections and updates to the bottom of the page.

Rand Fishkin encourages marketers to create “10x Content” or content that is 10 times better than anything else out there. If you want your well-ranking content to move up even further in the SERPs, you need to consider what you’re sharing and find ways to improve it so it blows the competition away.

3. Strategically Add Internal and External Links to Your Pages

While content is a great place to start when it comes to TF-IDF analysis, you also can use this process to strategically link to pages that will provide resources for your readers while boosting your SEO.

You will likely identify topics of value that you can’t cover in a piece of content. These ideas will either be too off-topic for the piece or won’t need a whole section of their own to be successful.

The plant-based protein article might include a link to a post with “25+ recipes that incorporate almonds,” instead of actually including recipes itself. The link won’t cannibalize the traffic because the topic is different enough from the content while providing value to readers.

You can also use TF-IDF to identify internal links that you can use to increase the stickiness of your pages and improve your overall site metrics and lead generation efforts.

What Tools Can You Use for TF-IDF Analysis?

There are multiple tools out there that you can use to analyze your pages and build your content strategy instead of trying to manually identify keywords or search specific URLs on your own. A few options to check out include:

  • Link-Assist.com uses TF-IDF analysis in its SEO Audit tool
  • SEObility has a free TF-IDF tool if you just want to test this optimization option
  • TF-IDF tool, like the name sounds, helps you optimize your page content

Test these different tools to see which ones work best for your needs and which results provide the best insight for your brand.

If you want a more comprehensive SEO review, contact us for a full SEO Diagnostic Audit from Trinity Insight. We will review your pages thoroughly and create a plan for success to grow your presence online and help you rank higher in the SERPs.

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