Search Engine Optimization

Keyword Stuffing: Google vs. Yahoo’s Treatment of Keywords

4 Sep , 2008  

Everyone on the internet this morning seems to be doing one of two things: googling for Sarah Palin or blogging about the new Google web browser, Chrome.  So like any good SEO I start thinking about how I can capture a piece of this search engine traffic.  My bright idea?  Why not capture both markets by titling a blog post What Sarah Palin could do with the Chrome on a Trailer Hitch?

Of course, I won’t do that, because I’m all about ethical SEO, and that’s what my blog post will be about today – how to not engage in keyword stuffing.  Not Sarah Palin, or the Republican National Convention, or the Google Chrome Browser.  Seriously.  No keyword stuffing here.

Keyword Stuffing is just like turkey.  Too dry without gravy

The term keyword stuffing is an old one which was probably first invented to describe the excessive use of the Meta Keywords Tag.  But it has evolved to mean any site which either puts way too many keywords on a web page, or tries to hide the use of excessive keywords.  I would hope most SEOs and web designers today realize that Google will penalize for it, but I still get plenty of requests from clients to either add lots of keywords in nonsensical places in their content, or to hide keywords in invisible sections of their code.  Why?

One reason may be the fine line we do have to walk between keyword-stuffing, and simple keyword placement.  Google has a number of factors which it takes into account for ranking pages, and believe it or not keywords in actual page body content are not really that high on the list — Google depends more on keywords in backlink anchor text.  But other search engines, most notably, Yahoo, do place more importance on keywords in content.  Whereas with Google you could probably get away with just placing your primary keywords in the page title and an H1 tag, Yahoo will look at keyword density, proximity, and page location of keywords (putting more prominent keywords in the beginning of the page’s content).

So how and when are keywords overused?  You may have noticed I have probably already used the term “keywords” way too often in this post.  Even I’m getting sick of it.  If you read your website’s content to yourself and you get tired of reading the same word over and over again, then you’ve overused it.  It’s pretty much that simple; write your site content for humans, not for search engines.  As long as you’ve done a reasonably good job writing content for humans Google’s not going to penalize you.  And if you hired someone to work on SEO for your site and they repeat your target keyword 100 times on a page, get out of that contract fast.
But wait, what about plural versions, misspellings, different verb conjugations, etc. – all those variations on keywords for which you want to capture the search traffic?  It’s not really stuffing if you pepper in just a couple of those, but really, do not focus on it.  Especially misspellings – you might capture the top search engine rank for a misspelled word, but everyone reading your content is going to think you can’t afford a good copy editor. 

And before you criticize my blog for that, I’m not mispelling on purpose, it’s because I literally can’t afford a good copy editor. My copy editor is a middle-aged guy named Sal who splits his time between the men’s room and waxing nostalgic over the days of typewriters and white-out. But I digress.

I already mentioned the importance of anchor text in backlinks for Google, and it is true – that is arguably the most important determining factor in how Google ranks you.  But you can overuse keywords there also.  You don’t need 1,000 backlinks all with the exact same keyword (unless, of course, it is a highly competitive market you’re going after, in which case I’d suggest you look into long tail marketing).  Instead, try varying popular keywords in the anchor text of links which point to your site, if you have control over them.

This will allow you to rank for a more varied number of queries, and will also allow you to get some better metrics on which keywords are working better for you by comparison.  If you have 10 links with term “A” and 10 links with term “B”, but visitors coming to your site with term “B” are converting more (be it pages/visit or sales), than obviously you want to shift your linkbuilding efforts to focus on term “B”.  Simple, I know, but a lot of people still don’t get it.

And my apologies to anyone who mistakenly found this blog post on SEO keyword use when looking for something else entirely.  For you, I offer these links: Sarah Palin, Google Chrome, and Trailer Hitches.

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12 Responses

  1. Simon says:

    Thanks for the insights here and congrats on the 9rules success!

  2. I like to use keywords in subheadings – even if search engines pay little attention, it helps users work out that the page is relevant.

  3. Yes, but “What Sarah Palin could do with the Chrome on a Trailer Hitch” might have been a more, um, interesting post. :-)

  4. Heather says:

    This is a very insightful article. It makes me want to look over our website and make sure that it is written well, not just written with keywords in mind.

  5. Anthony says:

    i used to keyword stuff when i first got into the business but thanks to articles like this ive learned..Thanks

  6. Nice article – there is a great firefox plugin that allows you to check your keyword density

  7. SEO Norwich says:

    Without a doubt Google is better than Yahoo at spotting keyword stuffing and spam of all types. IMO – this is a big factor as to why it is the market leader

  8. I think search engine now simply ignore the meta keywords tag, they base their serps on the title and description tags. Although content has always been king, correctly anchored, incoming backlinks coupled with relevant meta tags should generate sufficient traffic.

  9. Thanks Barry for the great post.

    I am very new to search engine optimization and mostly optimizing my own websites only. Honestly speaking the idea of rotating keywords in back link anchor text never came into my mind. I was just optimizing my site for a single keyword.

    Using variations of keywords in anchor text would be a great idea and can generate few times more traffic.

  10. Great article.

    @aniroy1986 Writing for readers is always a good option, but what happens when an writer is in love with a special keyword? He might use it too often?

  11. jonathan says:

    Keyword usage is vital to quality traffic. One method of targeting keywords is meta-tags and header (h1/h2) tags…

  12. read for the quantitative averages of Google, Yahoo and MSN allowed keyword density to help you avoid any keyword stuffing on your site.

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