If the average person thinks of anything when they hear “SEO,” they probably think of keywords. In many ways, keywords are the bread and butter of SEO, at least traditionally.
That’s why, for those who are relatively new to the topic, it can be surprising to learn that overusing keywords — a practice known as keyword stuffing — is one of the easiest (and most damaging!) ways to sabotage your digital marketing strategy.
What is keyword stuffing?
Keyword stuffing is exactly what it sounds like: taking the main keywords and keyword phrases you’re hoping your page will rank for and relentlessly stuffing them into your site’s headers, meta tags, body copy, footers, and just about anywhere else you can fit them.
Sometimes, keyword stuffing can even involve hiding text so humans can’t see it, but search engines can — by making it the same color as the page’s background, for example, or hiding it behind an image.
The idea behind keyword stuffing is that the more often a search engine spotted a word or phrase on your site, the more likely it would be to rank you for searches that included that word or phrase.
On its face, the idea seems like it could work. In fact, for a long time, it actually did work.
But then search engines got smarter, like they always do.
Why is keyword stuffing such a bad idea?
Here’s the problem: search engines, at their core, are designed to provide users with the best possible experience. While the algorithms are constantly being updated to better meet this goal, the goal itself always has been, and always will be the same.
Rather than simply skimming the web for keywords, modern search engines have impressively sophisticated methods of determining which pages provide the most relevant, useful information and the best user experience.
Unfortunately, keyword stuffing creates such a terrible user experience, most people won’t keep reading long enough to find any useful information on the page.
For example, let’s say you wanted to buy a new sweater for your dad. You type “men’s sweaters” into the search bar, click on one of the results, and start reading this:
We offer the best men’s sweaters on the market. Our men’s sweaters are made of high-quality materials and fit perfectly. We offer men’s sweaters in many different styles, including crewneck men’s sweaters, V-neck men’s sweaters, and men’s cardigan sweaters.
Would you keep reading for long? If you’re like most people, you wouldn’t. And search engines know that.
Keyword Stuffing Penalties
In fact, keyword stuffing creates such a bad experience for users, search engines consider it a “black hat” SEO practice and actively penalize pages who use it.
So beyond the fact that keyword stuffing will do nothing to help your site rank higher in organic search results, it’ll likely actually hurt your rankings, and could even get your site banned from SERPs entirely.
How to use keywords for SEO the right way
Keywords are still a fundamental part of great SEO strategies, but they’re really just one part of a larger algorithmic puzzle.
Rather than looking for shortcuts to getting search engines’ attention, focus on creating information-rich, useful content that would actually be useful to people who are searching for your site.
You’ll still want to incorporate relevant keywords into your copy, but incorporating them should come naturally because they’re truly relevant to what you’re writing about.
For example, let’s say you own a clothing boutique and you’re writing copy for the men’s sweater page on your site.
Do feel free to use a keyword like “men’s sweaters” where it makes sense — as the header, for example, and in the introductory paragraph.
From there, think more specifically about what you’re selling, and what kind of information people might be looking for.
For example, do you sell lots of sweaters made of high-end fibers like wool, cashmere, or silk? Maybe it makes sense to provide information about the options you carry — care, pros and cons, and how to choose the right option for you.
Search engines are smart enough to realize this information is relevant to “men’s sweaters,” even though you’re not repeating “men’s sweaters” over and over again.
So, long story short:
- The only way to convince modern search engines your page is relevant is by convincing actual people that your page is relevant.
- Best practices still involve strategically placing the right keywords where they make sense throughout your page, but stuffing your content with the same keywords over and over again isn’t a replacement for actually creating relevant, high-quality content.
That’s all great in theory, of course — but in practice, writing high-quality copy that’ll appeal to both people and modern search engines is a balancing act that requires a lot of savvy and nuance. This means doing your own SEO work is even more difficult (and time-consuming!) than ever before.
Luckily, you don’t have to nail it on your own — you have us!
If you’d rather focus on your day-to-day business than worry about whether your SEO strategy (or lack thereof) is costing you customers, reach out to us to set up a free consultation.