Search engine optimization (SEO) is an ever-changing beast. As search engines have grown and pivoted, so has the content that drives them.
In the beginning, quality writing wasn’t considered an SEO must-have. In fact, you could write terrible content, but as long as you tagged it with the right meta tags and stuffed it full of keywords, it was very likely to rank. Thankfully, algorithm updates through the years have pushed publishers to produce professional, well-researched, and edited content.
But some old-school SEO practices are hard to let go of. There are a ton of marketing professionals out there (and even writers) who cling to what are now considered some of the biggest faux pas in SEO writing — keyword stuffing being one of them. Not only does it make for low-quality content, but it can also negatively impact your search rankings.
So, what exactly is it and how do you make sure that you aren’t doing it? I’ll walk you through it below.
What is keyword stuffing?
Keyword stuffing is when you oversaturate your content with keywords that reduce the readability and usefulness of the content.
For example, let’s say you sell custom unicorn onesies. In a high-quality piece of content, you would probably reference your keyword (custom unicorn onesies) in your title tag, meta, page title, and URL, and then sprinkle it in naturally throughout the content of a landing page.
Instead, keyword stuffing is when you overuse a keyword to the point that it negatively affects the content by disrupting flow and clouding your message.
For example, keyword stuffed content using the same keyword might look something like this:
We make custom unicorn onesies. Our custom unicorn onesies come in blue, pink, and purple. Our custom unicorn onesies come in three sizes (S, M, L) and our handmade by our custom unicorn onesie experts in our custom unicorn onesie studio. Get your custom unicorn onesie today by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
While that’s an exaggerated example, you probably get the point.
Sometimes, the content that we write requires repetitive keyword use, especially since keywords are most often general nouns (people, places, or things) and proper nouns (specific people, places, or things). When we’re writing about a product like a custom unicorn onesie, we probably will have to reference the product more than once in order to make sure that our readers can follow along smoothly.
But to please Google, and to make sure your content doesn’t read like hot garbage, I’ve come up with some easy-to-follow and straightforward tips to help you avoid keyword stuffing while still hitting the keywords you need to.
READ MORE: What is black hat SEO?
5 tips to avoid keyword stuffing
SEO can take a long time to show results, so why would you waste your time trying to rank with content that’s unlikely to perform well?
If you aren’t sure if you’re stuffing keywords into your content or not, it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of caution. The highest quality SEO content should cover a variety of keywords without the reader ever really knowing they’re there.
Here are some of the tips I’ve given to others when editing and reviewing content over the years.
1. Use your keywords in the right places.
The best places to use keywords are in your meta description, title tag, page title, and section headers.
Of course, you want to use keywords throughout your body content as well, but you’ll get the most bang for your buck strategically by using them where they’ll have the biggest impact. There’s really no need to stuff them into your body content unless they fit naturally.
2. If your SEO content reads like an infomercial, you have a problem.
SEO isn’t about the hard sell. The number of times you repeat a keyword has little to do with getting your customer to the next step in the funnel. In fact, I’d argue it does more harm than good for conversions as low-quality content is directly linked to poor website performance overall.
Although the type of content you are writing can affect how you use your keywords, SEO is all about the soft sell.
3. Be conversational.
Don’t write for Google, write for your readers. Make your content flow like a conversation. Ask questions in your headers that you answer correctly and concisely in your body sections.
One way you can do this is to pretend you are writing for someone who knows nothing about the topic, like your grandmother. When I was writing a lot of legal content, I would try to think about how I would answer my granny if she asked me a specific question. When you write this way, keywords naturally find their way into your answers without feeling forced.
4. Do some more SEO learning.
If your SEO knowledge is dated, or you don’t feel as though you know as much as you should, then brush up on your skills. SEO changes all the time. Each algorithm update brings new changes and best practices with it, so there’s no shame in feeling a little rusty.
5. Repurpose your best content.
Find your best-performing SEO content and analyze it. Why do you think it’s performing well? Is it because you used the right keywords, is there a gap in the market? Was it one of your most natural pieces?
Instead of just creating new landing pages with the same keywords you’ve seen success with, extend the life of your SEO content by repurposing it for emails, infographics, and other non-indexable pieces. This will make use of your content without oversaturating your website with the same keywords and phrases.
6. Hire an SEO writer.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is a writer, and that’s OK.
If you aren’t a writer and you aren’t seeing the results you’d like to from SEO, chances are you could use a helping hand. Depending on your goals, budget, and business, that might mean hiring a freelance writer or bringing someone in part- or full-time as an employee.
Make sure that whoever you decide to go with has quality writing samples, SEO experience, and understands your SEO goals. If their SEO copy reads like my custom unicorn onesie example, steer clear.
Say no to keyword stuffing
If you’re hoping to build a strong SEO foundation that you can rely on for years to come, keyword stuffing isn’t what’s going to get you there.
Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy tips to boosting SEO ranking and conversion rates other than producing high-quality content that sticks to Google’s guidelines. And it takes years to build that knowledge and know-how in a way that can be applied to your marketing goals and organic content strategy.
That’s where professionals can help. Experienced SEO writers will be able to fit keywords into your content seamlessly while making sure they’re placed where Google will notice them.