But seriously, keyword stuffing is a very real thing, a very real issue, and a very abstract concept. Every search engine has a policy against “keyword stuffing” as a mechanism for artificially inflating rankings, but they don’t define what it is, what it means, or what exactly constitutes stuffing.
Bing recently updated their policy on keyword stuffing; their Webmaster guidelines now state:
When creating content, make sure to create your content for real users and readers, not to entice search engines to rank your content better. Stuffing your content with specific keywords with the sole intent of artificially inflating the probability of ranking for specific search terms is in violation of our guidelines and can lead to demotion or even the delisting of your website from our search results.
As I read that, I think everyone in the SEO industry breathed a collective “DUH!” while small business marketers or the marketers who wear multiple hats and aren’t digitally focused might be saying “huh?” Here’s an example of keywords stuffing, and how many of us have read a sentence like this (note: this is a t totally fake example and not taken from any real business, any similarity to a real business is unintentional):
Chicago’s Acme Plumbing is a Chicago plumbing service that provides plumbing services in the Chicago area. We proudly serve all Chicago neighborhoods in the Chicago area with our plumbing services. Our Chicago plumbers are master plumbers from Chicago who are fully licensed and insured plumbers in Chicago. Chicago plumbing, plumbers, plumbing services.
As a human, you can see that that paragraph is awful. Who wants to read that? I can see that they want to rank for the keyword “Chicago plumber” and its variations but as a PERSON that content is totally unappealing. They sound like they don’t know how to write a sentence and while effective sentence writing may not be synonymous with quality, affordable, honest plumbers, it looks bad. For the search engines, they don’t want to promote this kind of content because the website content is trying to game the system to artificially inflate their ratings. This creates a bad user experience – because I reiterate, this paragraph sucks. It’s just unprofessional. Imagine if it said something like this:
Acme Plumbing, located in Chicago, IL, and has been proudly serving Cook County and surrounding areas since 1988. We provide plumbing services including installation, drain cleaning, pipe repair, and water heater repair and replacement. We are fully licensed and insured and we pride ourselves on a dedication to quality repairs, affordable pricing, and timely service. Please contact us for more information or call our local service center in Chicago for an immediate response.
Whoa! Big difference, right?! In the first paragraph we used the word Chicago 8 times and plumber or variations 7 times but it completely turns off the user. In the second instance, we used each twice. However, it’s likely also being used in headers, the name of the company, the footer, and alt tags on the images. We also provided links to other pages providing more detail, additional information, and calls to action. This creates a situation in which a customer is more likely to take action; it isn’t just about more traffic, it’s about BETTER traffic. Furthermore, the first example is a prime example of keyword stuffing, which runs a high risk of penalization or removal from the search results. It isn’t worth the risk or the drop in conversions.
Sometimes keyword stuffing can happen unintentionally or can happen because your marketing person or website person doesn’t know there are rules. I took a meeting with a business once where the marketing person was about 22 and thought that “proper use of keywords” meant putting keywords on the site (in white text on a white background). When my nonexistent poker face reflected a look of total horror, she, and the owner, realized that SEO might be somewhat more challenging than what they previously thought.
You must use your keywords in your content. If you don’t use them, the search engines won’t know to rank your for them because you won’t appear relevant. HOWEVER, do not OVERUSE them. A good rule of thumb is if it sounds funny or stilted or awkward when you read it aloud, you’re too close to stuffing. If it flows and sounds like a person could have written it, then you’re fine.
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