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To Stuff or Not to Stuff: The Dangers of Irrelevant Keywords

We hear it all the time: keywords are the end-all, be-all of strong SEO. Some (or dare we say most) people still think the key to a high-ranking website involves an outdated and obsolete keyword strategy from the Internet’s earlier times.

But that’s not the case at all. Search engines like Google have smartened up to what’s commonly known as “keyword stuffing”. These days, it’s way more important to prove that your content has value than to repeat the same phrases over and over again.

You might be thinking to yourself, what’s the harm? If my company sells sweaters for cute hipster dogs, then it’s totally fine to mention “sweaters for cute hipster dogs” in every paragraph of my website. But not only does this provide next to no benefit to your SEO – it can actually wreck your efforts to win over Google, and hurt your website’s rank – as well as sound off-putting to your human visitors.

What is Keyword Stuffing?

Google’s own guidelines define keyword stuffing as “the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google’s search results.” There are several ways to do this. Certain content writers might just repeat the same keywords throughout their webpages, hoping this will show Google they know what they’re talking about. Others take it to the extreme – by listing keywords, completely out of context, at the top of a page, in white on white near the bottom, or in the page’s metadata.

These are things you’ll want to avoid, because if Google’s algorithm thinks you’re keyword stuffing, they’re going to dock you in the rankings. Sometimes, it can be a tricky line to walk. Keywords are actually at the core of any site’s SEO and content strategy, so you do need to use them intelligently throughout your pages. Without relevant keywords, visitors won’t be able to find your site when they go to search for a question or problem they have.

Here are a few things not to do when writing content, so that you can avoid the problem of keyword stuffing:

  • Don’t repeat the same phrase throughout a paragraph or webpage: If every sentence on your site includes the phrase “sweaters for cute hipsters dogs”, it’s going to be really clunky for your visitors to read. This hurts user experience, which is also an important part of SEO, and doesn’t help visitors find information or answers to their questions.
  • Don’t use “invisible” keywords: To get around the problem of user experience, some websites will make their keyword stuffing invisible. They might stuff phrases in the page’s metadata or alt tags, but the keywords meta data on a page has no value to Google anyway. Some even go as far as listing keywords over and over again in the content, but changing the text color to match the background color so viewers can’t see it. Either way, Google will know what you’re trying to do, and you’ll probably find your site freefalling down the rankings.
  • Don’t write vague headers or load up titles with the same keywords: You might think that a vague-sounding title is going to hook more readers to click to your site, but really, it’s just going to confuse search engines and users. The same is true when every page has a very similar title or headers. It’s better to be straightforward, especially with header content, and differentiate each page’s title based on the content that appears on that page.

How to Effectively Boost SEO

So, what should you do then? A solid SEO keyword strategy is more about identifying relevant topics than specific or arbitrary keywords. These topics should direct your overall website structure and your content strategy. Pretty much all of your web content is going to fall under the broader umbrella of your industry or area of expertise, whether that’s cozy sweaters for dogs or restaurant equipment. That means that selecting the right topics will, by default, have you using the right keywords to explain that topic in your content. But you’ll see the best results if individual pages focus on one unique topic, then crosslink back to other sections of your site to connect the dots.

Part of that involves using what are commonly known as long-tail keywords. For example, instead of just using generic keywords like “restaurant equipment,” you can focus on more specific variations like “ice cream sundae machines for fast food restaurants”. More specific phrases will appeal to a more targeted audience, so while there may be less search volume, you’ll become a top choice for Google to serve up for those search terms.

But long-tail keywords won’t do enough on their own to totally shore up your site’s SEO. Search engines like Google are focusing more and more on the searcher’s intent, rather than matching keywords and phrases. Even if you can avoid keyword stuffing, thinking only in terms of keywords instead of topics that your target personas care about is not going to do much for your SEO.

The best way to do this is to think about what your audience is really trying to search for, based on the common challenges that your buyer personas are faced with. Write content-rich, informative pages that help to answer their questions, even if they have no idea coming in that your product or service is a worthwhile solution. And don’t just put this content on product pages or similar decision-level pages of your site. Providing this info in regular blog posts or a central pillar page has a lot of SEO value.

If you’re still unsure of how your website is performing in terms of SEO, we can help you evaluate it with an SEO audit.

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