What Is Keyword Stuffing?

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Keyword stuffing is the age-old black hat SEO tactic of loading a web page with keywords, in the (vain) hope that Google will bestow higher rankings on that page. True, in the early days of SEO — late 1990s and early 2000s — Google’s search algorithm was much less sophisticated and thus vulnerable to manipulation through keyword stuffing. Today, keyword stuffing has, at best, no effect on SEO, and at worst, a negative impact.

Basically, keyword stuffing can be implemented in three places on a web page: metadata, on-page text and anchor text for links. Let’s take a look at each.

What Is Keyword Stuffing in Metadata?

Keyword tags

Back in those early days of SEO, it was popular to load the keyword meta tag with scores of keywords, sometimes even using keywords that were not relevant to the page content. Google spiders would sometimes be taken in by this manipulation and move a page up in the rankings even though the page content was not relevant to the search query. This was obviously bad for Google’s search business. The practice of keyword stuffing in keyword meta tags became so widespread that Google finally stopped looking at the keyword tag. Today, most SEO campaigns don’t even bother to fill the keyword meta tag field, as it has little, if any, optimization value. 

Title tags

A more dangerous place to engage in keyword stuffing is the title tag. Google places great weight on the title tag — it should contain one or two of the page’s top, most relevant search terms. However, loading the title tag with several repetitions of the primary keyword or wide thematic range of keywords could raise the Google spider’s eyebrows, so to speak, and interpret the page as spam.

Meta description tags

Keyword stuffing is ineffective in the meta description tag as well. Meta descriptions have no direct SEO value, but when they are well written, they encourage click-throughs because they persuade the search engine user that the content will be useful. A meta description full of repetitive keywords has the opposite effect of giving the user the impression the page is mere spam. Best practice is to insert one or two primary keywords in the meta description, and concentrate on the writing effort on making a strong case for the user to visit the page.

What Is Keyword Stuffing in On-Page Text?

Just as keyword stuffing in meta descriptions turns off people, packing keywords into on-page text gives readers the impression they are being spammed. From a conversion point of view, on-page keyword stuffing has always been a problem. Even if keyword stuffing were successful in achieving higher rankings, who would actually convert on a page where the keywords detract from the message and destroy the credibility of the organization?

Black hat SEO practitioners sometimes get around the conversion problem by doubling down on black hat tactics — that is, by hiding the keywords using white text on a white background, size zero fonts and other means. Google considers hidden text as a punishable offense when used to hide keywords, and keyword stuffing itself can harm rankings, as Google publicly states.

Early on, keyword stuffing on the page sometimes worked. Today, SEOs are mainly concerned with not having too many keywords on the page and thus incurring the wrath of Google. Various keyword density tools are available to help SEOs and web publishers make sure they are not overoptimizing their web pages.

At this point, Google’s algorithm is sophisticated enough to determine the meaning of a web page without being reliant on keywords — a few repetitions of a handful of keywords is usually more than enough to get the point across. On the other hand, if a lot of repetitions of a keyword makes sense for readability and clarity, Google will not consider it an abuse. The best way to avoid keyword stuffing is simply to concentrate the creative effort on the human reader rather than the Google spider. 

What Is Keyword Stuffing in Anchor Text?

Keyword stuffing in anchor text is the black hat tactic of loading a link’s anchor text with several keywords or using the identical keyword in link after link. The latter tactic of using identical anchor text is most often used in off-site links, and either tactic is used on-site for internal links. 

Keyword stuffing in anchor text got a huge slap in the face from Google in 2012 when it introduced the Penguin update, which, among other things, reduced rankings for keyword stuffing and various types of link building schemes. A prominent type of spammy link Google targeted was the use of the same keyword in off-site links — a practice that had gotten way out of hand with black hat SEOs and overzealous white hat SEOs that seemed to get results from doing so.

Today’s best practice for anchor text is to keep it varied. Using keywords is acceptable, but especially for off-site link anchor text, it makes sense to also use the URL, organization name, descriptive text or even a simple “click here” as anchor text.    

In summary, the best approach to keyword stuffing is to avoid it completely. It offers no SEO benefit and can only diminish conversions.

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