Keyword stuffing: Don’t succumb to the dark side of SEO

The other day I came across a local website in Adelaide that had a bunch of search terms listed on many of its e-commerce pages in an apparent effort to improve their performance in online search.

Someone at the company, or their web designer, or perhaps even a so-called SEO expert, thought it was a good idea to insert a long list of keyword combination as a block of text with no attempt at all to make it reader-friendly!

That’s what is known as “keyword stuffing” and it doesn’t just look bad on a website, it can actually have the effect of damaging your website’s credibility with Google and decreasing you rankings. When I did some research into whether that particular site came up for the terms they had “stuffed” on every product category page, guess what… They didn’t rank AT ALL on the first few pages for any of those searches.

If you are constantly fussing about including keywords in your website pages and blog posts, your online marketing tactics might be doing more damage than good, and you’re probably not thinking strategically. If your website is built purely for search engines, and not actual readers, it’s likely that no-one’s going to bother reading your content. If your content isn’t readable the effects can be disastrous:

  • Keyword stuffing can reduce attention and conversions
  • It can increase bounce rates, and
  • It can lower engagement and sharing.

Imagine a local hairdresser that wants to rank highly for the popular “Adelaide hair salon” search term.  If they were too focussed on ranking for that popular term and were keyword stuffing their website they’d include nasty copy like this:

“We are an Adelaide hair salon that prides itself on being not only the best hair salon, but one of the most reasonably priced hair salons around. So if you are looking for a hair salon in Adelaide that listens to you and understands your needs, contact us at our hair salon in the heart of Adelaide.”

Here’s a version that avoids the incessant repetition, and also omits some excess copy:

“We are an Adelaide hair salon that prides itself on being not only the best in town, but one of the most reasonably priced local hairdressers too. So if you are looking for hair stylists who listens to you and understands your needs, contact us today to make an appointment.”

Can you see how much better that is? It sounds like something a real person might say!

How to avoid the evils of keyword stuffing

The key to good web copy is writing content for human readers, then optimising it for search engines instead of the other way around. Write natural content which sounds just like you would say it. A good way to test your content is to read it aloud. If it sounds forced, you’re not wiring naturally.

One important aspects of natural content is the use of synonyms and related phrases. When you write natural content you use them without a second thought. For example, synonyms for “hair salon” include “hairdresser”, “hair stylist, “hair cutter” and “barber” . You probably know synonyms related to your business instinctively, but you can also find them using Google’s keyword tool (or a thesaurus).

Stuffing is bad. Stacking is good.

“Keyword stacking” is sometimes confused with keyword stuffing, but it’s actually something quite different on the lighter side of SEO. It’s the best way to ranking well in search for low volume or long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords (or low volume keywords) are three or four keyword phrases which are specific to whatever you are marketing to your customers, and they are particularly effective because customers who are ready to purchase a product or service tend to be quite specific when they search the web.

Rather than spending all your time just trying to rank well for broad and popular search terms in your industry like “hair salon”, “car repairs” or “marketing consultant”, and stuffing your site so full it sounds ridiculous to the reader, try including phrases like “hair stylist south of Adelaide”, “fix my broken exhaust” or “help with marketing”.

If writing doesn’t come naturally to you, but you see the obvious value in creating content that drives readers your way, consider video- or podcasting instead, or get help with your content writing from the team at Baker Marketing!

Image by Chris Isherwood on Flickr (CC by-SA 2.0)