What Is Keyword Stuffing? Insights from Google’s Spam Policy

Adam Steele
Dec 27, 2023
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In the wild frontier of the early internet, some folk thought they had found a shortcut to success—keyword stuffing.

But all that glitters isn’t gold, and just like the baddies in a classic Western, these keyword-stuffing outlaws were about to meet their match.

So saddle up, partner, as we take a deep dive into

  1. what is keyword stuffing,
  2. how it once ruled the roost,
  3. and why it’s now the quickest way to find yourself on the wrong side of Google.

What Is Keyword Stuffing?

In the 90s and early 2000s, search engines were like the new sheriff in town, relying heavily on exact keyword matches to determine search rankings. In those early days of search, the more webmasters crammed their web pages with a target keyword—whether visible to the human eye or craftily concealed in white text—the higher their web pages would rank in search results.

This tactic, known as keyword stuffing, was an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking on the search engine results pages (SERPs)—something that’s referred to as a black hat tactic. 

Officially, Google defines keyword stuffing as: “Keyword stuffing refers to the practice of filling a web page with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate rankings in Google Search results. Often, these keywords appear in a list or group, unnaturally, or out of context.”

Learn more: SEO glossary 250+ terms explained.

Visible vs. Invisible Keyword Stuffing

So, what does keyword stuffing look like in practice? Let’s take a look.

Visible Keyword Stuffing

“Are you looking for affordable designer handbags? Our designer handbags are not only affordable but also high-quality. Our designer handbags allow you to step out in style without breaking the bank. Browse our wide range of designer handbags. Whether you’re looking for designer handbags for work, a night out, or casual outings, we have the perfect designer handbags for you. Don’t wait. Shop our designer handbags now!”

How’d that read? Not that well, right?

That’s visible keyword stuffing. The use of a keyword in the above paragraph, “designer handbags,” is overused to the point of redundancy, creating an unnatural and uncomfortable reading experience. This is a clear demonstration of visible keyword stuffing.

Visible keywords can take several forms, including unnaturally high keyword density in text, long lists of keywords, or repeated keywords where they don’t grammatically belong. The goal is to trick search engines, but the result is often poor readability and a negative user experience.

Invisible Keyword Stuffing

Invisible keyword stuffing is even more nefarious than visible keyword stuffing. Why? This practice involves hiding keyword visitors who cannot see them, but search engine bots crawling a web page’s source code can. What is the thinking behind this tactic? While the manipulation remains hidden, the user experience goes unaffected.

So, how are the keywords hidden? Hiding keyword stuffing can be accomplished by making the text color the same as the background color (also known as “white text”), putting an extensive list of keywords in the website’s code (like in meta tags or comment tags), or using CSS to position text off-screen. Here’s an example:

If you were to peek behind the curtain and take a look at a keyword-stuffed web page’s source code, the HTML code might look something like this:

<p>Keywords: best holiday deals, cheap holiday deals, affordable holiday deals, discount holiday deals, budget holiday deals</p>

While visitors wouldn’t see these keywords, search engine bots would still crawl and index them, potentially boosting the page’s rank.

Learn more: what is hidden text?

Why is Keyword Stuffing a Bad Idea?

So, is keyword stuffing worth a try? Let’s find out.

The Algorithm Updates

Remember the Wild West tale we shared at the beginning? Like any good spaghetti western, here’s where the good guys—Google, in this case—ride into town. Donning its white hat, Google began rolling out a posse of algorithm updates, with the sole mission to clean up the wild frontier of the internet, clearing the path for genuine, valuable content to shine through.

Google’s algo updates, especially those like Panda and Penguin, have been developed with the explicit purpose of combating practices like keyword stuffing. These algorithmic updates can detect unnatural keyword usage and penalize websites accordingly.

Penalties can range from a drop in rankings to more severe cases where websites are completely de-indexed from search results. Trust us—it’s a tumbleweed town you don’t want to find yourself in.

Perhaps even worse, keyword stuffing can also put your site at risk of manual actions, which are essentially human-implemented penalties by Google’s webspam team when they notice a website is not complying with Google’s guidelines.

The Deception and the Decline in User Experience

Keyword stuffing is also terrible for user experience. Why? Well, as you’ve just read for yourself, when visitors land on a keyword-stuffed page, they’re often met with repetitive, hard-to-read text that fails to deliver the valuable, informative content they’re searching for. This leads to increased bounce rates, lower time on page, and ultimately, will damage your site’s reputation.

The Right Way to Use Keywords: Write for Humans, Not Machines

So you don’t get run out of town, let’s dive into the approaches that keep your content on the right side of the search engines.

Embrace a Broader Vocabulary

Resist the temptation to overuse target keywords. Instead, embrace the ebb and flow of natural language. This approach will not only please the sophisticated algorithms of Google, but it will also appear authentic to your readers. As an added bonus, it opens the door to ranking for secondary and long-tail keywords that you may not have intentionally targeted.

Density and Distribution: Debunking the Myths

Let’s clear the air: Google doesn’t have an algorithm scanning for “ideal” keyword density. John Mueller has confirmed this, emphasizing, “Google does not have a notion of optimal keyword density. Over the years, our systems have gotten quite good at recognizing what a page is about, even if the keywords are not mentioned at all.”

But that doesn’t give you a free pass to ignore keywords altogether. It’s about being explicit and clear in your content. If you offer a painting service, say that. If you sell paints, mention it. Align your content with the terminology your potential customers organically use while searching for your offerings.

Learn more: what is keyword density?

Strategic Placement: Maximize Your Impact

Certain spots in your content hold more weight in the eyes of search engines—title tags, URLs, meta descriptions, the first 100 words, and H1/H2 headings. Therefore, place your target keyword/s in these areas for maximum SEO benefits.

But remember, forcing keywords into these spots can backfire. It’s better to leave it out if it doesn’t fit naturally. Your ultimate goal should be high-quality content that provides value to your audience.

Conclusion

By now, it should be as clear as a desert sky: the high-stakes game of keyword stuffing just ain’t worth the risk. So, instead of attempting to outfox Google’s algorithms, wouldn’t investing your energy into creating engaging, top-tier content that organically includes your targeted keywords be wiser?

At Loganix, we firmly believe in the power of genuine, high-quality content. Our SEO and content marketing services are designed to ensure your website ranks well and provides real value to your visitors.

So why risk your website’s reputation with keyword stuffing when there’s a better way? Contact us today, and let’s craft a content strategy that will elevate your online presence ethically and effectively. Your audience—and rankings—will thank you.

Written by Adam Steele on December 27, 2023

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.