Keyword Stuffing: What It Is & Why It Doesn't Work

For most people getting started with SEO, the idea of incorporating keywords—the terms and phrases search engines look for when determining if a piece of content is relevant—makes sense. However, deciding how often to use certain keywords in your content can be complicated—use too few, and you might be missing out on an optimization opportunity; use too many, you could be penalized by search engines for keyword stuffing.

To help prevent a keyword overdose in your content, you will need to know some basic information about the concept of keyword stuffing, including what it is, why it’s bad, and what you can do to prevent it from ruining your user experience. Read on for a brief overview of keyword stuffing and how to avoid it.

What is keyword stuffing?

We already know that adding the types of words and phrases people search for when using sites like Google is a best practice. But cramming the same keywords/phrases into your content over and over again—or inserting them in places where it doesn’t make sense to, reducing the readability of the copy—is where “keyword optimization” turns into “keyword stuffing.” In other words, keyword stuffing occurs when you over-use keywords throughout your copy to try to make search engines think your content is more relevant.

Why is keyword stuffing bad?

In the earlier days of search engines, keyword stuffing became popular as a way to “game the system”—search engines would recognize the additional words in phrases throughout the text and rank the content higher in search. Some marketers would even go the extreme of hiding keywords on a webpage by changing the color of text to match the background.

However, search algorithms have become exponentially more sophisticated over the past decade. As the practice became popular, search engines were forced to start recognizing when keywords were being artificially inserted because internet users were not engaging with the search results that were being served up, leading to the demise of rankings. Nowadays, sites like Google will recognize—and more importantly, penalize—a page that it identifies as using keyword stuffing.

How do customers see keyword stuffing?

Not only will search engines penalize you for keyword stuffing, but your site viewers will as well. Think of it from a user experience perspective: seeing the same keyword listed all over a page is jarring and distracting, making the copy more difficult to read and understand—and making you more likely to leave the page. Consider this example:

Example of keyword stuffing

Remember at the end of the day that your copy should cater to site visitors who are reading through your site—not search engines. Site visitors are the primary target audience of search engines, which means that Google and others will do everything to cater to them as well. That includes prioritizing content that looks, sounds, and flows better while still being relevant. Consider this better example:

Better example of keyword use

How do I avoid accidental keyword stuffing?

There are certain words or phrases that you’ll naturally end up needing to use often because they simply are vital to your topic. When you’re writing web copy—particularly product descriptions for an ecommerce site—it’s easy to use the same keyword over and over again without even noticing.

Once you’ve written your copy, be sure to edit it with a fine-toothed comb and diversify the keywords and language you have used wherever you can (again, only in a way that sounds natural). There are lots of “best practice” numbers flying around, but focusing on 3-5 keywords per page is a safe bet.

How do I incorporate keywords without stuffing?

It’s all about balance—you want to make sure that your keywords are included in a way that sounds natural, like the way you would speak out loud. The main idea for SEO and keyword usage is to ensure you’re strategically using the right keywords on the right pages at the right time. This boils down to common sense: if you think you’re using the keyword too much, you probably are, so don’t force it. Try using this method when creating your content:

  1. Do some research and determine which keywords/phrases you want to incorporate into your page
  2. Write the content for the page without thinking about your chosen keywords so that it comes across more naturally
  3. When you’re done with a draft, look back at your copy and determine where you can “massage” any existing language to include your chosen keywords and/or phrases
  4. Review your copy once more to ensure that it sounds natural and does not come across as too repetitive

Final Thoughts

Incorporating keywords into your content strategically should not involve stuffing your copy full of the words you think search engines will pick up on. As long as you write good, high-quality content that mentions your key words and phrases naturally, search engines will see that your content is relevant and should be ranked higher.