When optimizing web pages for search engines like Google, you may want to take the easy way out by using various manipulation tactics to quickly get higher rankings.
You may even be thinking: “If search engines use keywords to match pages with search queries, why not ‘stuff’ as many of them as possible onto a single page to get it ranked for several highly-searchable keywords?”
Let me stop you there.
While stuffing does go great with a Thanksgiving turkey, it doesn’t do the same magic for keywords. As a matter of fact, black hat SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing will actually do you more bad (a lot more) than good. Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the black hat tactic of keyword stuffing in SEO.
Keyword stuffing: a naughty word that’ll get you in trouble
According to Google’s guidelines, the definition of keyword stuffing is, in simple terms, the practice of excessively filling a web page with keywords with the ultimate goal of gaming the search giant’s ranking system.
Additionally, a similar guideline on keyword stuffing is provided by Bing.
Back in the day, this practice was actually a rather successful way of boosting a web page’s search visibility. However, search engines eventually became smarter, and as a result, started issuing keyword stuffing penalties – but more on that later.
Keyword stuffing examples
Now, many people engaged in the field of content creation and SEO may still be keyword stuffing their pages without even knowing, and, ultimately, suffer unexpected consequences.
Below, you’ll find examples of keyword stuffing that will help you better understand what it is. That way, you’ll be able to tell if you’re doing it on your web pages.
Keyword stuffing can be broken down into two distinct groups: visible and invisible. Let’s take a closer look at each type.
Examples of visible keyword stuffing
If you’re unnaturally repeating a specific keyword or number multiple times out of context in a piece of content and your readers can see it, you’re practicing visible keyword stuffing.
For example, a home appliance e-store is looking to get a web page quickly ranked high for the search term ‘best vacuum cleaner’. In this case, an example of keyword stuffing in the copy would be:
“Looking for the best vacuum cleaner? You’ve come to the right place for the best vacuum cleaner. Our brand offers the best vacuum cleaner that you could want. Lightweight, yet powerful, this is the best vacuum cleaner for all your cleaning needs. Best vacuum cleaner.”
As you can see, the term ‘best vacuum cleaner’ is used an uncalled-for number of times here, and is sometimes out of context or completely irrelevant to the main topic of the content. At the end of the day, no one will see this text and say ‘wow’.
Here’s another example of a web page that uses several closely-related keywords in its copy to get search engines to rank it high in search. Now, although it isn’t as blatant as the example above, it’s still keyword stuffing.
Other examples of visible keyword stuffing include inserting text blocks that just repeat a keyword, and link spamming, as shown in the screenshot below (which is, of course, just an example):
The latter is also known as spamdexing, and even though it may not be a direct keyword stuffing example, the idea behind it is the same. You’re looking to fill your content with various links, which is interpreted as keyword spamming by search engines and can lead to a penalty.
Examples of invisible keyword stuffing
Other content creators are smart enough to know not to mess with people’s user experience. So, instead of pushing keywords right in front of their eyes, consequently creating spammy, unreadable text, they simply hide the text.
There are several ways you can hide keywords from readers, but not from search engine crawlers. You could, for example, make the color of the text and background the same (as shown above), but web page text, no matter what its color, style, or size is, is still HTML. This means that it will, in fact, be spotted by search engines when they crawl and index your web page.
Additionally, you can stuff the keyword within the web page’s HTML code, like in the comment, meta, and/or alt tag, where they will also be found by search bots.
The bottom line is that when content creators practice keyword stuffing, they’re consciously optimizing a web page only for search engines, and not for the intended audience — people. And since search engines are designed to serve human readers, they see these manipulation efforts, and in response, can even penalize a web page’s rankings. But let’s focus on that last part in greater detail.
Can keyword stuffing help your website?
As a rule of thumb, stuffing your web pages with keywords won’t help your search rankings. In fact, it can do the opposite and harm your SERP standings because keyword-stuffed content is simply unreadable to users. For this reason, search engines tend to favor pages that create a great experience for users. But it’s not as black and white as that and a lot more comes into play.
Google officially states that “filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s rankings.”
As you can see straight from the horse’s mouth, if you’re just repeating the same keyword or number over and over on a page, there’s a very good chance Google and other search engines will penalize the web page at hand by decreasing its rankings.
On top of that, besides being able to understand textual content, search engines also pay a great deal of attention to how searchers interact with a web page and, therefore, its content.
For example, say a newly-published, keyword-stuffed page does briefly get featured among the top search results because of its use of visible black hat manipulation tactics. At the end of the day, people will leave it as soon as they see the mess inside. This will, ultimately, result in a high bounce rate that will signal to search engines that this page isn’t giving the people what they thought they’d get.
Now, you may object and say that you’ve come across keyword-stuffed pages ranking high on SERPs, but don’t go running off to do the same thing just yet. According to a John Mueller tweet:
So, the main conclusion we can draw from this discussion is that the use of keyword stuffing won’t actually hurt your web page that much when it comes to SERP rankings, because a complex of factors is analyzed.
If you see a keyword-stuffed web page ranking high in search, don’t jump to any conclusions thinking that keyword stuffing helped it get there. More likely, the page managed to get to the top of the search results despite the fact that it is keyword-stuffed — and because it’s of high value to users.
The idea behind keyword stuffing actually stems back to the days when you simply had to add keywords to your content to let search engines know what the text is about. However, after multiple algorithm updates, including the release of the Hummingbird update, the search colossal started understanding texts even better. Now it understands synonyms, typos, and what the user wanted to find upon entering a search query — that is to say, the intent of the user.
What this means is that content creators should forget about using exact-match keywords and focus on producing naturally-written text. So, as tempting as it is, don’t force keywords into your content. Rather, optimize it the way both search engines and people want you to, which leads me to my final point.
How to do proper keyword optimization
So far we’ve settled that keyword stuffing isn’t going to have the decisive say in your web page’s search rankings, but keyword optimization will. So, let’s once again see what advice Google has to offer on the topic: “Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.”
Evidently, keywords still need to be used, so don’t let all this talk scare you to the point that you decide not to use enough keywords in your content. They need to be used but moderately. As a rule of thumb, write for people, not robots! I can’t stress this enough.
The recent BERT algorithm update saw the search giant once again shift its focus to content created for human readers, not search bots. So, if you’re thinking that Google will eventually go back to its old ways, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Now, on to the main point. If you want to get a page to rank high for a specific keyword, optimize the page for that keyword instead of ‘stuffing’ it into your copy. The trick is using the keyword where it matters most for search engines, while keeping the text natural and valuable to readers.
Without further ado, here are the steps you need to take to properly optimize a web page for a keyword:
1. One web page, one search intent
Once you know what a web page is about, define its main intent and select a single target keyword that best represents the main topic of the page along with several closely-related search terms.
And I want to point out straight away that you cannot devote any two of your web pages to a single issue, a single search intent. Always go for a new, unique search intent, and, hence, a new, unique target search term. Doing so will prevent your pages from battling for a single spot in the SERPs — something known as keyword cannibalization — and will help search engines clearly understand the page’s main topic.
2. Create longer content
Content is more likely to get attention from search engines if it covers a topic in detail. And if it doesn’t have a lot of text, that can be difficult to do.
As a rule of thumb, the longer a piece of content is, the more room there is to sprinkle it with various relevant keywords and the fewer room to overspam the text. According to best practices, try to write at least 300 words in your content to get Google to notice it and give it proper SERP treatment.
3. Maintain a good keyword density
During content creation, try sprinkling the text with the target keyword, but do not go overboard. Aim to insert the keyword only where and when it feels natural to the general flow of the text. But how many keywords is too many in a single piece of content?
Now, although the guidelines are flexible on this issue, best practices suggest you to stick to an optimal keyword density of around 2% to maintain a health target keyword to total number of keywords ratio.
Pro Tip: If you’re using WordPress as your CMS, make use of the Yoast SEO plugin to keep tabs on your keyword density rate, as shown below.
4. Use secondary keywords, synonyms, and long-tail keywords
You can actually help search engines be sure that your page is about the target keyword by using secondary keywords, synonyms and long-tail variations in your content. The use of such words gives search engines additional context that provides more proof on the main topic of a web page.
Not only do long-tail keywords give more context but they can also let search engines know if your content contains any answers to questions. If it does, then there’s a chance that your content might get features in Google’s “People also ask” section.
On top of that, the use of synonyms helps the search giant be sure that it’s relevant, and as a result, it can rank sites that use synonyms in the content higher in search. Moreover, the use of synonyms confirms that you are writing content for people, not machines.
Pro Tip: The Keyword Suggestion Tool can come in handy here as well, as it allows you to enter any keyword and get a list of similar, related and long-tail keywords.
5. Add the target keyword to page elements
Another useful thing to do (very useful in the eyes of search engines) to optimize a page for a keyword is to add the target keyword to all the right places across page elements, such as page title, title tag, meta description, beginning and ending of text, a subheading, and an image alt tag.
As opposed to keyword stuffing, when you optimize page elements, you tell search engines what the page is about in all the places they look to understand the content’s topic.
And if the target keyword is present in the main body of the content as well as in all of the metadata fields, this sends out a very strong, consistent signal to search engines about the main topic of the content. This can result in the page getting ranked for the right target search term in the SERPs.
Bonus: Double-check your on-page SEO
And last but not least, even when you know how to avoid keyword stuffing and how to properly send positive signals to search engines about the page’s topic, you can still forget to take everything into account to get your page ranked high on SERPs for the target keyword.
So, once you publish a new web page, make sure it’s completely optimized for the selected target keyword by using our On-Page SEO Checker. Just enter the URL of the page you’re analyzing and indicate its target keyword to get a report along with tips on how the page can be further optimized to get drive more traffic from search.
The tool has separate sections that focus on specific page elements, and lets you know how well each one is optimized for the target keyword.
Now over to you
Unlike keyword-stuffed pages that simply repeat an arbitrary keyword over and over with the ultimate goal of cheating and gaming ranking systems, keyword-optimized ones give search engines clarity about the page’s content and what search term it should be displayed in search for. This, in turn, helps your pages get higher rankings, and, ultimately, more traffic that will keep coming back to your site.
So, take your time to do proper keyword research and focus on writing quality materials for human readers. Google will never go back to a time when you could fill a page with keywords and enjoy high rankings as soon as tomorrow. It’s all about giving people exactly what they want.
I hope the tips provided in this blog post will help you produce keyword-optimized, not keyword-stuffed content! Be sure to give SE Ranking a free 14-day try and try out our keyword research and on-page SEO checking tools!