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Anyone who has ever worked in SEO will know that there are plenty of myths about how Google Search works, and one of those myths surrounds so-called keyword stuffing. Many people believe that Google will issue penalties if URLs are stuffed with keywords, yet, in fact, this is unlikely to happen. So, let’s take a closer look at the basics.
The term “keyword stuffing” has long been used to refer to a key phrase or keyword being overused on a web page to try to manipulate the Google search results. Traditionally, this technique was used to enable websites to rank more highly, but the advantages are now virtually non-existent.
Google gives its own description of what it considers to be keyword stuffing giving examples such as:
What hasn’t been made clear by Google, though, is really how many keywords are too many. Must the keyword appear somewhere on the web page itself, or do keywords in the page’s source code also get included in the total? Is Google’s definition of keyword stuffing based on how a user would react to the text or does it have an algorithm to monitor it?
Essentially, there are no conclusive answers since Google doesn’t publish information of this kind.
Some websites take their own figures as their basis, usually a percentage between 2% and 5% of the total amount of text, but this is just an arbitrary figure, based on no real evidence.
Another major issue is the fact that keywords can be placed in so many ways that it’s virtually impossible to know which ones to count. For example, when a new web page is created, a keyword can be placed in its Page Title, its Meta description, its header tags, its image alt tags, its website footer, its website menu, its page tags, its schema data, and its meta keywords, not to mention in its content, and those are just the tip of the iceberg.
Although Google remains fairly tight-lipped about the ins and outs of its algorithms, John Mueller from the company has revealed in a Twitter response that keyword stuffing isn’t harshly punished by Google’s algorithms and, in many cases, keyword stuffing is overlooked completely as long as the content provides value to users. Mueller stated that Google uses more than 200 different factors for ranking pages, so not every single one of them needs to be perfect in order to achieve a good ranking for a website.
It seems clear that Google isn’t counting how many times website creators are using a particular keyword. Rather, they’re focusing on the user experience because of those keywords. If a single word appears over and over again throughout the text until the content makes no sense, clearly the user experience will be very poor. Google now penalises poor quality content, and that includes content with a single keyword repeatedly multiple times, by dropping its ranking significantly.
If Google may or may not issue penalties for stuffing a site with keywords, what else may it issue a penalty for?
One classic example is “hidden text” – a trick whereby the content creator places the keyword they want to rank for repeatedly in a font that’s the same colour as the background so that, while users wouldn’t see it, the search engine would read those keywords within the site’s code.
Some other things that Google states that it penalises include:
It is the last of these that relates to keyword stuffing but only insofar as they are used so often that the text becomes irrelevant to the topic being searched for.
If we are to draw anything from this information, it is that Google almost certainly doesn’t penalise any website for keyword stuffing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. Overloading an article with repetitive keywords is likely to fall into the category of “irrelevant keywords” which could elicit a Google penalty.
Also, as repeated keywords are unlikely to make the text useful or engaging to read, it’s likely that it would also flag up as poor quality content that would also be ranked poorly.
While many tools are out there to help people write quality content, and most of those tools have a function that allows you to check how often a particular keyword has been used so that you can stick to pre-defined limits (say, 3% of the total text), in fact, these guideline figures have been apparently plucked from thin air with no basis.
Although you’ll find many articles warning you about the possibility of being given a Google Penalty, in fact few websites today actually are given them and penalties for keyword stuffing are even rarer.
Essentially, for those who are creating content and who are worried about Google’s algorithms downgrading their web pages, the most important thing to consider isn’t how often you use a specific keyword on a page. The real thing to be concerned about is creating a web page and content that offers users a great experience.
The more engaging and informative the content you create, the more your users will be satisfied, and Google rewards content that satisfies its users. If overusing keywords makes the content irritating or dull to read, it’s unlikely to add any value for the user and that will only lead to a low ranking, but if those keywords are used in the context of an engaging and informative piece of content, the number of times those words appear on the page will not matter at all.