What Is Keyword Stuffing?

Have you ever read a blog post that has so much unnatural wording it’s impossible to make it through? If so, you may have seen keyword stuffing in action. In order to stuff in so many keywords, readability is usually affected.

Keyword stuffing is when a content creator adds as many keywords as possible to get it ranked higher on the search engine results page (SERP).

In the past, keyword stuffing was actually a decent way of getting a higher page ranking. Today? Not so much.

Not only does keyword stuffing lower the quality of the content, but it can also lead to lower rankings. Search engines are savvy when it comes to black hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing, and your site can be penalized for it.

6 Types of Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing comes in a few different forms — and all of them are bad for the user experience and your rankings.

  • Adding a block of keywords, such as cities or regions. The keywords may be separated by commas.
  • Adding keywords that aren’t relevant to the page or topic. This is a way to harness the power of a popular keyword without actually creating on-topic content about it.
  • Changing the font color to make keywords invisible. Large blocks of text in a font color that matches the background can still be found by web crawlers.
  • Listing several phone numbers without a legitimate reason. Some sites try to rank for numbers instead of keywords.
  • Putting keywords in the page code. This includes unnaturally adding keywords to metadata.
  • Repeating the same keyword to the point where it’s unnatural and doesn’t allow the text to flow. Even if the content is thorough and on-topic, using a keyword too often can lower its quality.

Here’s an example from Google Search Central :

Paragraph with keyword stuffing.

All of these tactics are manipulative and aim to get higher rankings without adding any value to the content.

Note that there isn’t a set number of times that a keyword has to be used before it’s considered stuffing. If a keyword is used unnecessarily or used so much that it interrupts the natural flow of the content, it’s considered keyword stuffing.

Is Keyword Stuffing Bad?

Keyword stuffing is frowned upon by audiences as well as Google and other search engines. It negatively impacts the user experience as well as search engine rankings, and modern algorithms purposely target sites that have spammy practices.

Keyword Stuffing, UX and SEO

When text is overloaded with a bunch of keywords that get in the way of readability, the user experience (UX) is weakened. Illegible content or wording that looks spammy doesn’t hold the user’s interest, and they’ll click off the website right away.

That’s why UX and SEO are closely related. Search engines look at how users interact with your website to determine whether or not it provides a positive UX. Since keyword stuffing lowers UX, it can also impact your SEO in the following ways:

  • Decline in ranking
  • Fewer conversions
  • Increased bounce rate
  • Lower dwell time

For example, let’s say a user enters a search query into Google. They click on a poor-quality website and find a blog post with so many forced keywords that it’s too obscure to read. They click off the website after a few seconds.

This will signal to Google that the user isn’t finding what they want and that the search engine shouldn’t prioritize that link in results.

Keyword Stuffing and Page Ranking

Google has a dedicated section for keyword stuffing in its Spam Policies. It defines keyword stuffing as “the practice of filling a web page with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate rankings in Google Search results.” It’s common for these keywords to be in a group or list, and they’re often out of context or unnatural.

Google states that eligibility to appear in search results requires websites to not violate spam policies. If Google finds out that content violates a spam policy, it says it may rank it lower or completely remove it from search results.

Also, keep this in mind: If one web page violates a Google spam policy and is removed from search results, it could affect the entire website. Search engine algorithms often work on a domain level, not an individual page level, which means the whole website is impacted.

The History of Term Frequency and Ranking

At one point, keyword stuffing was actually a bonafide way to snag a higher page ranking. By using exact-match keywords — meaning keywords written exactly the same way that users typed them in when searching — a page could be matched to the query.

Term frequency-inverse document frequency — TF-IDF for short — was an information retrieval method that would measure the terms in an online document to determine how relevant it was to the search query. The more a term appeared in a document, the more importance it was given.

Before keyword stuffing became a problem, this was a useful way for search engines to find and rank content that matched search query keywords.

Today, search engines don’t look at term frequency to understand the content on a web page. More advanced types of analysis are used that focus on the quality of the content, not just the words used.

Google Algorithm Updates

Over time, Google’s algorithm updates attacked keyword stuffing more and more.

In 2003, Google’s Florida update to the algorithm targeted link spam, and some websites that engaged in spam-like tactics (including keyword stuffing) were affected as well.

But it wasn’t under the 2011 Panda update that keyword-stuffed pages really came under fire.

The Panda update took its aim at low-quality websites that had thin, valueless content. Since many pages with keyword stuffing don’t provide value, they dropped in rank.

Then, in 2013, the Hummingbird update rolled out conversational search. That meant that users could use natural language to search for something, and Google would understand what they were looking for.

This focus on the person instead of the machine meant that content creators also had to adapt. From there, the best practice of writing for humans instead of search engines was broadly adopted. Even metadata, like image alt text and meta descriptions, should be written naturally.

8 Ways To Avoid Keyword Stuffing

While keyword stuffing can feel like a reasonable way to quickly optimize content, it can do more harm than good. Instead of keyword stuffing, consider the following best practices.

Perform Valuable Keyword Research

Keyword research is a huge part of SEO efforts, and it involves several steps, including:

  • Researching your target audience
  • Determining what people want to know about right now
  • Choosing popular target keywords
  • Creating topic clusters
  • Analyzing keyword difficulty

This is a huge topic, and we have a few helpful articles to get you started:

Differentiate Your Primary Keywords

Each optimized page of your website should have its own primary keyword (also called a “target keyword”). You want to make sure to always target a different keyword per page. Otherwise, your site could end up with a keyword cannibalization problem.

Keyword cannibalization is when more than one page on your website is competing for the same keywords. This confuses search engines, and Google won’t know which of the competing URLs to rank higher. Ultimately, none of the pages achieve the potential it could.

To rank quickly, choose a low-competition keyword with a high search volume. This is called “low-hanging fruit” in the SEO world. A tool like LowFruits can help you find these sweet-spot keywords, as well as untapped content gaps with potential.

Pro Tip: Keep a spreadsheet of the target keywords you use. There isn’t an easy way to export this data from WordPress. Being able to sort a column alphabetically or search for duplicates to see if you’ve repeated keywords will prevent overuse and keyword cannibalization.

You may also want to check out our article that covers What Is a Content Gap?

Add Secondary Keywords

While you’ll use your target keyword the most in your content, don’t forget about secondary keywords, too. These include:

  • Keyword variations
  • Related long-tail keywords
  • Synonyms

Google and other search engines understand the content of a page as a whole. Those secondary keywords provide web crawlers with more information about what the content covers.

Plus, when you use a variety of keywords on a page, you have a good chance of ranking for several of them instead of just one of them.

Write Long-Form Content

The longer your content, the easier it is to add keywords naturally and avoid keyword stuffing.

A long-form article is 1,000 words or higher. If you’re having trouble figuring out relevant content to add, dig into the Google SERP. The People Also Ask section is excellent for generating related content ideas or creating a FAQ section.

People Also Ask section on Google.

You can also use a paid tool like Surfer, which will audit your content and give you suggestions to expand it and make it more competitive.

Maintain a Natural Tone

When you write naturally, your keywords have a way of getting into the copy without you even trying.

Skilled SEO writers will first write the content and then go back to check keyword usage. If a few more keywords have to be added, fine. But you may find that you already have most of what you need in the copy because you stuck close to the topic.

You may even add secondary keywords you didn’t plan to simply because you wrote naturally.

Know Where To Place Your Primary Keyword

While it’s smart to place your target keyword and secondary keywords throughout the article, there are a few places where it should always be used:

  • Title
  • First paragraph
  • Headers
  • Metadata

We’ll get into metadata a bit more later on.

Pay Attention to Keyword Density

Keyword density (also called “keyphrase density”) is the percentage of keywords you use in relation to your total word count. For example, if you write a 1,000-word article, a keyword density of 1% is 10, meaning 10 keywords.

SEO tools like Yoast have keyword density targets to hit that fall between .5% and 3%.

However, anything over 2% can feel unnatural. For example, 2.5% of 1,000 words is 25 — imagine using the same long-tail keyword 25 times in an article that’s only 1,000 words long.

Sticking to the lower end of the guideline (around .5%) is the best balance between using it enough without overusing it.

Pro Tip: Struggling to hit a low keyword density? Don’t worry about it too much. Some industry leaders feel that keyword frequency isn’t necessary at all in order to rank. Why? Because search engine algorithms are smart enough to understand the content of your web page even without keywords.

Add Keywords to Metadata

There are a few parts of your web page that can include keywords aside from the body content:

  • Image alt tags
  • Title tag
  • Meta description
  • Page title

These are powerful locations to add keywords. Even though they’re not visible to visitors, search engine crawlers can find and index them. This makes it easier for search engines to match your content to relevant search queries.

Wrapping Up

To recap, keyword stuffing is when keywords are used so frequently that they detract from the value and readability of a page. This can occur on the page or in the metadata or code that visitors don’t see. The purpose is to manipulate SERP rankings to get a higher placement.

While this was once a reliable way to get a page ranked, today, it has the opposite effect. With keyword stuffing considered spam, Google cracks down on sites that use this black hat SEO technique and can even completely remove those pages from search results. Plus, keyword stuffing negatively impacts the UX, making it difficult to get visitors to convert.

Creating high-quality content is the best way to rank highly. That includes following best practices like writing natural, long-form content and optimizing metadata.

With Link Whisper, you also have control over the anchor text for internal links, which can increase how many people click to visit another page on your site.

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