Keyword Stuffing: Don’t Do It!20 January 2013
In the past, dubious efforts were made to get your site to the top of search engines and as search engines refine and hone the processes used to identify relevant content, these rules have changed and for the better. One of these is the infamous art of keyword stuffing or spamdexing.
What is Keyword Stuffing?
Keyword stuffing is the repeating of terms within the content of a page. So, for example, if you were a butcher, you might repeat the phrase rib-eye steak over and over again as many times as possible in the hope that the more times this phrase appeared, the higher the page would be ranked for that phrase. Many sites used to hide this content from view although it was still on the page as far as the search engines were concerned. So even if the page appeared to be absent of overused words or phrases, a look behind the scenes at the HTML would show lists of words which would not usually be apparent in the normal flow of text. There were a number of ways this was achieved. One way was to make the colour of the text the same as that of the background thus rendering it invisible. Other methods include putting text outside the bounds of the visible page, placing text behind images or setting the visibility of the text so that it was invisible. Many pages just simply listed words in different areas of the page without any attempt at concealing them. In each case, the goal was to insert as many terms as possible. This was in the hope that because a word or phrase is mentioned a lot, the page must be a useful resource for that term or phrase. However, search engines have caught up and can, in the vast majority of cases, identify when keyword stuffing is being utilized.
If repeating the same terms ad-infinitum wasn’t bad enough, really bad practices involved just listing a lot of unrelated terms in the hope that traffic will come through to the page regardless. The shotgun effect in essence. The goal here was to get users to the page without any regard about what users will do when they got there. You want visitor retention, right? But think about it. If a user searches for red shoes and ends up on a page selling hi-fi systems, how long do you think they will stay on the page? Are they likely to buy a hi-fi system?
These methods were effective when the web was shiny and new, but haven’t been useful (and in fact can be detrimental) for a while now. Despite this, some webmasters will insist on using this as a method to rank highly and it will work initially but you will soon see your site slip down the rankings. Google certainly frowns on sites that use this approach so avoid at all costs as it can and will result in a loss of position and possibly a removal of your site from the index. The algorithms used to detect content relevance on a page are getting smarter with every change so it is highly likely that such practices will be detected. Even an inspection from a human can result in manual amendments to a sites ranking if you are found out. If you are serious about ranking high and ranking high for a considerable amount of time, the natural or organic approach yields greater returns.
“Keyword stuffing had been used in the past to obtain maximum search engine ranking and visibility for particular phrases. This method is completely outdated and adds no value to rankings today. In particular, Google no longer gives good rankings to pages employing this technique.”
The Big Three’s Stance On Keyword Stuffing
“Filling pages with keywords . . . results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.”
Bing tackle the method of keyword stuffing in a webmaster blog:
- Excessive repetitions of keywords. The number of repetitions relative to the amount of content on the page is a key indicator of web spam. The practice of repetitive keyword stuffing is often relative to the amount of content in a page. For example, a very long page of text dedicated to a single topic may naturally repeat its primary theme keyword several times, but a page with less content using the same number of repetitions of the same word may be indicative of keyword stuffing.
- Stuffing words unrelated to the page or site theme. Stuffing the page with words that are known to be heavily searched on the Web when they are irrelevant to the theme of a site can be an indicator of web spam. Relevance is an important factor for evaluating whether keywords are indicators of web spam.
- Stuffing on-page text. Littering the text of a page with repeated keywords that render the text meaningless and unreadable to humans is a clear problem. When such content on the page is not useful to people, the content is often suspect as web spam.
- Stuffing in less visible areas of the page. Placing repeated keywords in less visible areas of a page, such as at the bottom of the page, in links, in Alt text, and in the title tag, can be indicative of web spam.
Yahoo’s information was a bit “fluffy” in this regard as it didn’t mention that keyword stuffing was not wanted:
“Some, but not all, examples of the types of content that Yahoo! does not want included:
. . .
- Pages using methods to artificially inflate search engine ranking
- Pages that give the search engine different content than what the end user sees (cloaking)
- Pages built primarily for the search engines or pages with excessive or off-topic keywords
Yahoo has actually been powered by Bing since 2009 so it would be Bings opinion that really matters.
Effective Keyword Usage
That said – do add relevant keywords. I have seen a number of sites that don’t actually explain what they do from the outset, They may go onto to welcoming the visitor to the site and then go on to explain who they are and what qualifications they have. It’s important that you use your headings to put forward what it is you do as these are have more weight than regular text. You may assume that your visitors know why they are there but it’s the search engines that ultimately use your content to rank you so make it clear to them.
What about Keyword Density?
Many people talk about that magic ratio of the number of times you include a keyword in your content against the number of words in your post or article. So, if I mention the word clog 15 times and the length of my article is 100 words then the keyword density is 1.5% (15/100 x 100). So what is the ratio you should be aiming for? It doesn’t matter. There is no magic percentage that you should be striving for. Thinking that there is will only result in either not mentioning your keyword enough or overusing it. That said, obvious attempts at spamdexing yield a keyword density of 90 or 100%. Even a ratio of 50% indicates that a word has been mentioned once every two words.
Matt Cutts from Google provides a great explanation of how often a keyword should appear in a page and why “keyword stuffing” is bad practice.
Don’t just concentrate on the one term however. Many words can have multiple meanings and Google is striving to provide users with more relevant content so making sure that your terms are unambiguous will help in making your page more relevant for search terms. This also has the added benefit of targeting other terms that you may not have originally thought of. If you were searching for speakers, would you be meaning that you wanted some people to talk at a dinner you were hosting or did you want some 1000kW Mega-Woofers for your car stereo? Using different terms for your your chosen keyword will help search engines understand what type of speaker you are referring to and helps in populating your page with other relevant keywords.
Even if your keyword cannot be mistaken for meaning something else you should try and incorporate other similar terms to vary the content and ensure that it can be picked up with the different terms. For example, if you were selling photos you may want to also add the word pictures in there also as these words can be interchangeable When a user searches for “pictures for sale”, then Google should pick up on the fact that you sell photos which are also know as pictures and so present these in results to the user. Adding synonyms helps Google to understand the relevance of your site.
Strike a balance
Be clear about what terms you want to target and include those in the page as and when you can but don’t go overboard and flood your page with the same words and phrases over and over again. If you write knowledgeable articles and comments and concentrate on the reader of the article rather than what a search engine would make of it, the relevance of your article will come naturally. It wouldn’t hurt to look over your content before making it live to ensure that your content does use keywords or synonyms where they can but avoid over-usage. Read over what you have written and make sure it reads naturally. If you hear the same words cropping up to the point where it sounds unnatural, look again and amend as necessary.