Definition: Keyword stuffing is the "black hat" search engine optimization strategy of directly or deceptively including a target keyword numerous times on a page. Though keyword stuffing was effective for many ecommerce businesses in the early days of SEO, it is now likely to incur harsh Google penalties and is not viewed as an effective method to improve search rankings.

A brief history of keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing was a common strategy back in the 1990s and the early 2000s, when Google and other search engines relied heavily on exact keyword matches. Several keyword stuffing techniques included:

  • Block paragraphs that were essentially lists of different search terms. These blocks of text would usually be neither coherent nor readable, and have no use other than to load up as many search terms in one page as possible to increase the number of page hits.
  • Incessantly repeating keywords several times in a piece of writing, despite its unnatural and non-user-friendly experience.
  • "Hiding" keywords by matching the font color to the background design.

Keyword stuffing fell out of favor once Google updated its search algorithm to combat and penalize this practice. Google makes approximately 500-600 changes to its algorithm every year, many of which combat similar "black hat" techniques that seek to game search results.

The dangers of keyword stuffing

Being bumped down in Google's search rankings means potential customers are less likely to stumble on to your business. In a world where 14 percent of people use the internet every day to find a local business, this is a significant loss.

There are other perils to keyword stuffing than just being ignored by Google, however. For one, it will increase the bounce rate for your business' websites, losing you further possible customers. If users see your page simply spamming keywords with little regard for creating engaging, informative and readable content, they're less likely to stick around.

Finally, if you're aiming to drive engagement with customers and internet users, keyword stuffing hurts your chances. Not only are generic keyword lists the opposite of unique, engaging content, they will also hurt your business' credibility in the eyes of your clientele, making it appear to be little better than a run-of-the-mill email spammer in the Internet food chain.

Potential keyword strategies

A common myth is that keyword density is the major determinant of a webpage's Google search ranking. In other words, there is a magic number for what percentage of a page's total word count should be made up of keywords. This isn't the case, however.

In reality, the best strategy is simply to ask yourself if the use and placement of a keyword reads naturally. You should also make sure the keyword is usable. Attach a useful, relevant link to the word or term that will serve the reader well, and you're likely to climb higher in the search rankings.

Keyword stuffing is a strategy that shouldn't be used by any modern business looking to improve their search ranking. Rather, businesses should focus on using keywords in a smarter, more focused way that helps them craft engaging content that will inspire readers and customers.

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