What is keyword stuffing?
Keyword stuffing is a spammy SEO technique that involves using a keyword at a high frequency on a web page in order to rank better for that keyword.
In the early days of the internet, keyword stuffing was quite popular. Nowadays, it is an outdated technique that can actually hurt your rankings.
Here’s an example of what keyword stuffing looks like:
“We sell the safest baby strollers on the market. Are you in need of a safe baby stroller for your newborn? Well, you’re in luck as we sell the #1 safest baby stroller in the world.
In addition to offering you the safest baby strollers, we also have dual baby strollers, baby strollers with car seats, 2-in-1 baby strollers, and more.”
These days, Google’s algorithm employs hundreds of signals in determining a web page’s rank and can’t be fooled by a page that’s overloaded with a keyword.
The focus now is on the overall topic, content quality, and user experience rather than the appearance of specific keywords.
Various kinds of keyword stuffing
Overly stuffed paragraphs aren’t the only tactic used.
Lists of synonymous keywords, lists of locations or numbers, and keywords used out of context are also forms of keyword stuffing. Invisible keyword stuffing, on the other hand, goes unnoticed by visitors. That’s because it appears in places like:
- Title tag
- Meta description
- Meta keyword list
- Image alt text
- Invisible body text
Although visitors can’t read any of this, the search crawlers can and it can lead to serious consequences for the site.
Why is keyword stuffing bad?
Keyword stuffing is an outdated practice that violates the search engines’ rules and all the SEO best practices.
Google is very clear about it in their Quality Guidelines:
“Filling pages with keywords or numbers 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.”
It doesn’t mean Google penalizes the stuffed page directly but they will most probably ignore keyword stuffing completely or consider your page over-optimized and rank something else instead.
And there’s also the UX point of view – when your content becomes unreadable or provides little to no value to visitors, you can expect them to react accordingly and leave the site.
There’s a theory that using enough keywords semantically related to the main keyword (a.k.a. LSI keywords) will improve a page’s ranking.
The problem is – when LSI keywords are used as part of an SEO strategy, writers are forced to include specific words on each page. And like keyword stuffing, this method can make a page unreadable and feel spammy.
So, think of LSI keywords as keyword stuffing lite.
How to avoid keyword stuffing
It may be tempting to force keywords into a page if you desperately want to rank on the first search results page.
But if you keep the following rules in mind, you’ll have more success than if you were to employ the black-hat SEO tactic.
1. Select a focus keyword and use it in the key elements
The first step is proper keyword research. All the important pages on your site should have a focus keyword they revolve around. But the goal isn’t to include the keyword or variations of it as many times as possible.
Instead, your focus keyword should appear only in the key elements of the page:
- Title tag
- Meta description
- Page slug
- Body text (ideally at the beginning)
The point in choosing a focus keyword for each page is to help you sort out what the main topic is. Just naturally weave the focus keyword into the spots where it needs to go and then forget about it.
2. Forget about keyword density
One of the reasons people still get hung up on keyword stuffing is the idea of a “perfect” keyword density – the percentage of times a keyword or phrase “should appear” on a page.
Unfortunately, keyword density is another misleading concept. Google Search Central has a great answer as to why you shouldn’t care about keyword density:
Keyword density isn’t a valid ranking signal (and probably never was). It’s not something you should worry about and there are many SEO experts who agree.
But what about the Yoast SEO keyphrase density?
Yes, in a widely used WordPress SEO plugin – Yoast SEO – you’ll notice the metric very similar to keyword density:
The truth is, while having a green point might make you feel good, how you score here isn’t going to make or break your page’s ability to rank.
It just helps you to stay in a reasonable range and prevents you from keyword stuffing. It won’t hurt you in any way if you ignore it completely.
3. Cover the topic thoroughly
When you’re less focused on keyword count, you’ll be able to unpack a topic more fully and thoroughly.
The truth is, if you cover a topic thoroughly, you’ll include your focus keywords naturally. There’s no need to force it. Google cares more about whether your page provides a high-quality answer to the query and matches the search intent anyway.
So, just write the best piece of content you can.
4. Write naturally
Never force your focus keyword or any other keyword to fit into the content of your page.
How many times can you really use “what is Google Adsense” throughout a 2,000-word post without sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about?
Again, rather than obsess over your keywords, just write the best piece of content you can. Then, if you can naturally integrate the keyword within the page (if it’s not already there), do it.