As an SEO strategy, “keyword stuffing” is dead.
Ask any professional SEO what they think of keyword stuffing as a strategy and they’ll tell you it’s obsolete, useless, or actively harmful for your brand. But just how harmful is it? What are the risks involved?
According to Google’s own definition, keyword stuffing is
…the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.
Google goes on to explain that these instances often appear in a list or group, in a context that makes no sense for them, or repeated an inappropriate number of times.
There is no hard parameter the number of times you use a keyword on a given page to qualify it as keyword stuffing. Because Google’s ranking algorithm works at least partially based on the context of various pages, it’s almost impossible to empirically tell. Instead, you’ll have to use your best judgment. If you read a keyword-containing phrase and it sounds “weird” or “off” to you, that’s a good indication that you’ve “stuffed” it into a place it doesn’t belong.
In order to make sure you’re are not keyword stuffing, we suggest you check out our guide to keyword density in SEO.
To understand why keyword stuffing is harmful in the first place, you have to understand the world of semantic search, which boils down to two important Google updates. The depth of keyword research, length of material, subject of material, detail, wording, and accuracy are all taken into consideration (among other factors). Sites with “fluff” content or content that isn’t relevant or useful are penalized, while sites with more valuable, well-written content are rewarded. Keyword-stuffed content naturally reads as unnatural and non-useful, making it rank lower than its contemporaries.
Now that you know what keyword stuffing is and why it can hurt you, we can take a look at exactly how keyword stuffing can hurt you. I’ve already mentioned that it can lower the rank for the page or site in question, but how much?
When combined, these effects have a cumulatively devastating effect on the ranking of your website. You won’t end up on Google’s blacklist, and a few simple content edits should be enough to reverse your momentum, but keyword stuffing will still stifle your progress almost completely for as long as you continue to abuse it.
With all that said, “keywords” as a concept are still valuable—they’ve just evolved as a form of understanding your users. Rather than selecting a handful of specifically phrased keywords to hammer into your content at every turn, in the modern world, you’ll want to find subjects that your average user might like to read about or search for, and build content topics around those subjects. If you’re sufficiently detailed, and you focus on answering user questions completely, you’ll naturally use the type of language Google wants to see in its evaluative processes, and you’ll naturally rank for those queries.
It’s also important to use keyword identifiers for your brand and company in the page titles of your site, so Google understands who you are—the trick is to avoid too much repetition or any situation that might make a user grimace. Again, if it sounds like something a person would say naturally in a conversation, you’re probably in the clear.
Keyword stuffing is a dead strategy—not just because Google has told webmasters to stop doing it, but because it genuinely detracts from your overall user experience. You’ll lose ranks, audience loyalty, and potential all at once, so don’t think you can cheat the system by stuffing keywords in a smart or clever way. There isn’t one. Instead, focus on writing the best natural, informative, detailed content you can, and focus on user needs instead of the exact phrasing they use in searches.