When it comes to keywords, more isn’t necessarily better. Using too many is called keyword stuffing – a practice that can hurt your search rankings.

keyword stuffing

Marketing your business online can be a constant battle to rank high enough in Google’s search results for customers to find you.

Keywords can be a powerful search engine optimization (SEO) tool to help you gain critical visibility in your market. However, it’s essential to learn how to avoid keyword stuffing, a practice that could hurt your rankings.

Using keywords in the text on your website is an effective way to help search engines understand what your site content is about. It’s an effective way to attract the right audiences to a website, driving traffic and potential customers to a business.

Just be sure you understand how to use keywords effectively. SEO is about creating content that will attract and keep a reader on your site, rather than bouncing or clicking away quickly.

What is keyword stuffing?

Keywords are words or short phrases that help Google understand your content, so including a few is helpful to search rankings. Keeping the reader in mind, you should limit keywords to the title of your article or page, and a few mentions in relevant spots throughout the text.

Google rewards content that answers users’ questions and matches their search intent (what they were looking for when they enter text in the search field). Ideally, this means Google is prioritizing websites full of helpful, well-written content that is relevant to whatever keywords drew a user to your site.

It sounds simple, but there’s a catch that has made keyword use a little confusing over time. Once marketers figured out they help with search rankings, some began adding more keywords to fool search engines.

This practice is called keyword stuffing, which is not good for your site or traffic. Using keywords effectively benefits readers, while keyword stuffing is simply intended to skew search rankings. If it’s the latter, it’s likely too spammy for Google and your reader.

When you see a website that repeats a phrase over and over, especially in ways that don’t make sense or are confusing, it’s keyword stuffing. It typically lowers the quality of the user experience and can drive potential customers away from your business.

Another poor practice is hiding additional keywords on a website page using text the same colour as the page background. Entire paragraphs of a repeated keyword or phrase invisible to the reader can be crammed onto a web page this way.

Why is keyword stuffing so bad for SEO?

While keywords are typically good in small doses, adding too many can dramatically decrease the quality of your page copy – and the user experience.

Google began updating its algorithm to counteract efforts to game SEO and move toward rewarding sites created to serve the reader. As these updates rolled out, sites that had artificially raised their rankings through poor SEO practices, like keyword stuffing, began to fall in the search rankings.

These Google algorithm updates were well known to marketers at the time, with names like Florida, Panda and Hummingbird. Each had a unique impact on search rankings and, over time, it became clear that keyword stuffing would result in Google demoting certain pages or sites.

After the Hummingbird update, there was a shift toward more natural sounding content on website pages, with Google’s algorithm able to understand variations of keywords and more conversational writing.

Google still doesn’t explain how it ranks website pages, but it is now abundantly clear that keyword stuffing no longer helps improve search rankings. Instead, it can cause a site to be harshly penalized by Google.

Google publishes a list of spam policies, and you’ll find keyword stuffing on the policy-violating content and behaviours list.

How to avoid keyword stuffing

Let’s look at how you can confidently use keywords on your website to create content that both Google and your readers can easily understand.

1.     Write for humans first

Write for your ideal reader or customer. Consider what they need to know, questions they might ask and important details they might find helpful. Organize your website so potential customers can find all the information they need to decide if your website is a useful resource that answers their search query.

Include your desired keyword in places a reader might need to spot it to help them ensure they’ve found the information they need. If you know they’ll need more information, link to relevant pages with other useful terms that help them navigate your website and find other details they need.

2.     Target keywords carefully

Try targeting one primary keyword on each website page. When you focus on just one keyword, you can ensure you create a page rich with relevant content about that keyword. You can add links to other helpful topics, but organizing your website so there is one main page for each keyword (sometimes called a pillar page or content hub) can help your pages rank higher.

These strategies help you create deep, insightful pages of content that both Google and your target audience can understand.

3.     Follow established SEO practices

Follow best practices for where to include your keyword to help a search engine crawl, understand and categorize your content, so it knows when to show it to a user who needs the information you’re offering. These locations include the page title, a subheading or two, and the first paragraph of the content.

When you publish your content, you can add your keyword to a few other locations in your backend, such as the title tag, meta description and image alt tags.

4.     Learn about keyword density

Learn about ideal keyword density — the right number of keywords for the length of the written text on your page. This guide will help keep your content enjoyable to read.

Pro tip: Keyword density is the number you get when you divide the number of times the keyword appears on the page by the total number of words in your text. Most sources advise keeping maximum keyword density in the range of one to two per cent.

5.     Write longer content

Creating rich content with more than 300 words on each page ensures you provide plenty of useful information about the topic you’re targeting. Websites with too many pages of little text aren’t likely to rank well, as there won’t be enough information for Google to consider it a valuable resource for someone searching for a keyword.

While there are differing opinions on exactly what length delivers the best results, having pages with fewer than 300 words is widely discouraged.

It pays to understand how Google ranks your website when marketing online, especially compared to your competitors. Your website could be working for you, pulling in potential customers interested in what you sell, or it could be working against you.

With help, you can ensure each page of your website helps to lift your ranking and attracts the audiences you want to reach. Why not book a free consultation with a Postmedia expert to ensure you’re on the right track?