What is keyword stuffing and how to optimize your content?
There are several SEO tactics that, implemented correctly, will earn you greater visibility in search engines and traffic to your website. Some SEO tactics, however, are not so good and keyword stuffing is one such example.
The concept of keywords is pretty simple. Search engines, like Google, use keywords to match pages with search queries to show you the most relatable content to the query. So, if Google uses keywords to match search queries, then you should stuff as many keywords into a page as possible, right?
Keyword stuffing, i.e. overloading your page with tonnes of keywords is actually counterproductive and considered a ‘black-hat’ SEO tactic. While you might get some initial success, you’ll end up doing more harm than good in the long run.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at keyword stuffing. We’ll also be covering the following topics:
- what is keyword stuffing and how does it work?
- why is keyword stuffing so problematic?
- what is invisible keyword stuffing?
- how to optimize your content the right way?
Let’s dive in.
What is keyword stuffing and how does it work?
Keyword stuffing is the practice of jamming loads of keywords into your content. The end goal is to trick search engines crawlers by indexing a page higher in search results because it finds the keyword so often on the page.
Here’s an official definition from Google:
Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.
Just to make things clear, keyword optimization is a positive SEO tactic and is considered ‘white hat’. Of course, if you are writing content that is to be optimized for a particular keyword, you do need to include it throughout your page. This includes in the heading (H1), subheadings (H2, H3, H4), and throughout the rest of the paragraphs. Simply overloading or ‘stuffing’ the focus keyword loads of times is now heavily frowned upon by Google.
In day’s past, many marketers and SEO practitioners implemented this tactic to great effect.
These days, however, Google’s algorithms are smarter and savvier than ever, detecting this kind of shady behavior with much greater ease. So what is the end result? Once search engines catch up with you and see that you stuff keywords (and they will eventually see that), your page will be dramatically dropped down in the search results.
Why is keyword stuffing so problematic?
Let’s be clear here, visible keyword stuffing will not help your search rankings. In reality, it is more likely to lower your page in the SERPs because of the impact on the readability of your content and overall user experience. Google, and other search engines, have placed a huge emphasis on linking quality content to search queries. This means the results that pop up on your search are deemed the most appropriate and helpful (and these are certainly not the articles in which keyword stuffing is done).
Google is also really, really good at providing a great user experience for its billions of users worldwide. Over the years, Google’s algorithms have gotten smarter at not only detecting irrelevant content but also determining which content isn’t providing the ultimate experience. It is for this reason that Google places such a great emphasis on the readability and user experience of your page.
Here’s an official quote from Google:
Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s rankings.
Although readability isn’t an official ranking factor for Google, its algorithms are still pretty quick to pick up on a page that doesn’t read well. Let’s imagine you came across a keyword-stuffed article right at the top of your Google search. What would you do? Most likely you would click on the link, start reading, see the keyword stuffing and very quickly exit the page because the content felt read as a robot wrote it. Google would then pick up on this exit (aka bounce rate) and deem the content not worthy to be ranked so highly in the SERPs.
Invisible keyword stuffing
Sometimes with keyword stuffing, there is more than meets the eye, quite literally. Invisible keyword stuffing is a method that some people put to use to trick you from reading spammy and keyword overloaded content. This process works in two ways:
- Hiding text: Some people opt to hide web page copy within the page’s code or even in the meta, alt, or comment tags.
- Camouflaging text: This process works by making the copy the same color as the background so that you don’t see it when you’re reading the page.
Invisible keyword stuffing is a crafty technique that content creators use to fool you, the reader, however, it is not so effective at fooling search engine crawlers. As a reader, you only see what is written on the page. So unless you inspect the page or look into its source code, you will only be able to read what is written on the screen. Web crawlers, on the other hand, are able to read and see everything that appears on the page and underneath. What this means is that they will pick up on the invisible keywords and penalize the page’s search ranking accordingly.
How to optimize your content the right way
If you are new to search engine optimization or you simply haven’t heard of keyword stuffing before, then you might be a little put off about how to use keywords the right way. Keyword optimization is still a very effective method to get your web pages ranking high in the search engine results pages. Here are some tips and best practices for optimizing your content:
Write longer content
One simple trick to avoid keyword stuffing is simply to write more on the page. Search engines love thorough and useful content so writing a lengthy article or web page will actually help boost your page in the rankings. Be careful not to babble on though because it is important to maintain the attention of the reader. Focus on creating useful and interesting content. Implementing nifty content writing techniques like breaking up huge walls of text is a great way to keep readers engaged while still getting your message across. There are plenty of great examples of this form of writing on the Backlinko blog.
One focus keyword per page
When publishing pages or articles you need to ensure that you use one primary keyword. It’s also important that this keyword is the most relevant to the content on the page so that it matches well with search engines queries. You should always aim to use focus keywords that have a high search volume with little difficulty for ranking. SEO tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush are great for helping you find the right keyword.
You need to also remember to assign one keyword to one page on your site. It is no good publishing a page with the same focus keyword twice because you will end up ‘cannibalizing’ your content i.e. you will be fighting for the specific keyword with yourself. One way around this is to find similar keywords that are not a direct match. This is a very popular SEO trick to rank in search engines for several variations of essentially the same thing.
Use the appropriate keyword density
Keyword optimization is about balancing the keyword density without overloading and keyword stuffing. What this means is that you need to include the primary keyword enough to get the message across without sounding spammy. You should aim to include the keywords appropriately in the title of your pages, subheadings, and a proper amount within the body of the text. It’s also important that the focus keyword appears within the opening few sentences of the page.
There are several tools that can help you with finding the right keyword density. Free tools and plugins like Yoast literally tell you how many times you should include the focus keyword on the page. Newer tools like Surfer SEO go a step further by providing an editor, similar to a Google Doc, that gives you content suggestions (also on keyword density). This editor gives you tips on which keywords to use, how often, and even gives you a content score on the overall quality of the copy.
Use secondary keywords and variations
Search engines love secondary keywords, long-tail keywords, and keyword variations. These secondary keywords allow search engine crawlers to better understand your content without overloading the page with the same keyword. This additional context greatly improves your chances of ranking higher in the search engines results.
Long-tail keywords provide even greater context because they can provide answers to questions for search engines, should they appear on your page. This means your content is not only more relevant to the original search query but also other Google features like the “People also ask” section. So it’s definitely a good idea to conduct keyword research and find what’s working.
Add keywords to appropriate page elements
So far it’s clear that you should avoid keyword stuffing. However, there are a couple of important places to include your focus keyword in order to improve the overall rankability of the page. We already alluded to some of the places where you should include relevant keywords within the copy but here is a clear breakdown to better understand:
- within the page title
- in at least one subheading (H2, H3, H4, H5)
- within the opening paragraph
- in the title tag
- in the meta description
- in at least one image alt tag
- at the end of the post
Following this breakdown will dramatically increase your chances of a high page’s ranking in the SERPs.
Keyword stuffing is a black hat SEO tactic that once worked to great effect. In the past, you could simply litter your page with the same keyword and expect pretty instantaneous SEO results. As Google’s algorithms have gotten smarter, you can no longer simply do keyword stuffing and expect results. In reality, you’re much more likely to suffer with your page stumbling down the rankings. Fortunately, there are several positive keyword optimization techniques that, used correctly, will deliver you the results you desire.