Keyword stuffing remains a controversial practice in this age of search engine marketing. But does it still have a place in your SEO strategy?
Keyword stuffing: some modern search marketers gasp at the very thought. We all know that focus keywords are the beating heart of any proper SEO strategy, but is it still wise to jam pack your keywords into your online content, or should you limit your use of keywords to avoid repetition, redundancy, and punishment from search engines? And if keyword stuffing is frowned upon, what are the alternatives?
Let’s have a look at this ongoing debate by taking a quick trip into the not-so-distant past.
What is Keyword Stuffing?
Dial back to the late 1990s when Google had to compete with such search engines as Excite, Lycos, and Ask Jeeves. To be picked up by search engines, you still needed to use keywords, but the philosophy back then was “the more, the merrier.” In other words, if you used those keywords as many times as possible, you increased your chances of a high ranking and outdoing your competition in keyword density.
For example, let’s say Susie started a destination wedding planning business. It’s 2001, and she’s looking to take advantage of the relatively new system of search marketing. After determining that “destination wedding planner” was the most effective keyword phrase for her business, she created content that repeated that phrase over and over again. As a result, her content read like this:
“If you’re looking for a destination wedding planner, I am the best destination wedding planner in the area. I have been a destination wedding planner for over five years, and love being a destination wedding planner. I offer my destination wedding planner services in person, but could also be your destination wedding planner over the Internet. When you need a destination wedding planner, call me for my expert destination wedding planner services.”
At the time, this kind of content may have done the trick in terms of search results. But although we get the overall message, the paragraph doesn’t read very well. The content isn’t compelling, nor does it educate or engage.
In short, it doesn’t do what great content should.
To try to outdo her competition even further, Susie also took the sneaky step of packing the keyword phrase into the web page even more and colouring the font to match her website’s background. This renders the keyword invisible to the viewer but still searchable by the search engines.
This practice is what’s known as keyword stuffing. It might have worked back in 2001, but search engines have come a long way since then. So, too, have SEO strategies.
Old Practice, Modern Problems
Now let’s bring Susie’s business up to today. Google is now the “king” of search engines, with Bing/Live Search and DuckDuckGo serving as worthy alternatives. Assuming that Susie hasn’t changed her content since 2001 (which raises a whole host of other issues), she will likely find that their rankings have dropped somewhat.
Actually, “dropped” isn’t the correct word. Let’s replace it with “plummeted”.
So, Susie decides to create new content, but keeps the old practice of keyword stuffing, hoping to repeat that initial success from 2001. Still, no luck, and she wonders why that would be. Don’t search engines still follow that “the more, the merrier” philosophy?
According to Jemma Fong, SEO expert and owner of InSite Creations, search engines today actually look down on websites which practice keyword stuffing.
“Google’s ranking and indexing formula is much more sophisticated and advanced these days,” says Jemma. “Search engines now put more emphasis on the contextual meaning of the content, and can determine what the main topic or theme is behind each of the pages. In other words, relevancy and quality that is worth sharing are key ranking factors.
“But repetitive frequency of a keyword, which is measured by a ratio that depends on the total word count, could cause Google to penalize the website with a low ranking.”
Jemma also states that Susie’s inclusion of invisible keywords is considered a “black hat” practice that could also result in a ranking penalty.
These days, search engines pay more attention to the actual content while simultaneously keeping an eye on keyword frequency. This new way of ranking was developed specifically to deter keyword stuffing, and encourage marketers to create content that informs, educates, and engages their website visitors.
This is also why our wedding planner is not only ranking low, but is also risking today’s customers leaving her site due to poor content, especially when compared to her savvier competitors who might be more in touch with modern SEO practices.
A Better SEO Strategy
Now that we’ve established that keyword stuffing is no longer a wise practice with or without an overall SEO strategy, Jemma recommends taking the below steps to implementing keywords that meet current and proper SEO guidelines:
- Brainstorm for all the various search query keyword phrases that you believe your target audience would use to find your product/service offerings
- Group those words together into like-minded groups
- Choose a couple of key phrases that would be your “focus” keyword and test to see how difficult it would be to rank in comparison to your competitors
- Create a navigation map around each focus/seed keyword, using tab and sub-tabs that will represent a page that supports the top level focus keyword
- Build out your content based on that focus keyword
“When calculating keyword difficulty,” Jemma says. “Be sure to review the number of queries, the number of other sites using that keyword theme, and its bid value. This will help determine whether they are worthy words upon which you can build quality content.”
So let’s bring our destination wedding planner up to speed. “Instead of stuffing her content with that one phrase,” Jemma says. “Susie can use related terms or synonyms that help enhance the overall meaning or semantic sense of what the page and site are about.”
Here are some keyword phrases that Susie can incorporate into her content to help her search results without resorting to keyword stuffing:
- wedding specialist
- wedding themes
- destination weddings
- bridal shower
- wedding destination plan
- wedding budget
- wedding paperwork
- getting married abroad
“At the same time,” Jemma adds. “Choose a few long-tail keyword phrases that you can use for blog articles to support that keyword phrase.”
Long-tail keywords are longer phrases that a customer might use in Google to find a business. Here are some that our wedding planner might use:
- how to choose a destination wedding planner
- tips for getting married abroad
- what you need to know about international weddings
“Keyword stuffing will typically result in lowering your page ranking,” Jemma concludes. “But if you follow the above steps, you will build high-value valuable content that both the search engines and your readers will like. Above all, don’t try to employ “black hat” techniques as they will only lead to being penalized by the search engines.”
By strategically using the above keywords properly, Susie will start ranking better and engaging her website visitors. In the long run, this will lead to more conversions and an increased chance of hitting her business goals.
Richard S. Todd is Content Lead at The Editor’s Desk, creating web copy that attracts, engages, and converts your audience into qualified leads.