There is a difference between using a keyword effectively and using it misleadingly by stuffing. Just to clarify, keyword stuffing is having blocks of text that list the names of cities that page is trying to rank for and overusing a keyword for the sake of increasing keyword density (the total number of words divided by how many times the keyword is used) to boost your search engine ranking.
Google’s example of keyword stuffing:
We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keyword stuffing focuses more on the search engines than the people they are supposed to be trying to reach, ignoring one of the top ranking factors: user experience. Effective keyword usage would be to use the word as naturally expected. It’s considered stuffing when that word is used every other word and typically comes off as obnoxious and spammy. If you don’t care if your content comes off that way, you should consider how effective keyword stuffing really is.
Does Keyword Stuffing Work?
It’s commonly said that keyword density affects SEO. Some take that to mean “the more the merrier.” While not as common today, keyword stuffing originally involved people hiding their keywords on a page by making them the same color as the background to avoid readers noticing the ridiculous amount of times a keyword appeared. Since then, search engines have gotten smarter and noticed these spammy tactics. Search engines look for quality content and user experience, not just keyword density. And they don’t look for content with the most keywords either. Search engines look for content that has the best keyword density in which the keyword has been moderately used rather than abused.
Keywords are Good in Moderation
The key to using keywords is using them responsibly. The difference between keyword stuffing and responsible optimization is keyword density. Your target should be between 2 and 5 percent keyword density. That means there is no set number of how many times a keyword should be used. It all depends on the length of your content. Using a keyword 10 times may be good for one instance and way too much for another. In the case you find you are naturally using your keyword over the recommended 5 percent, try using synonyms and long tail keywords instead. Your goal is to use keywords with your readers in mind. Don’t make it obvious you are trying to hit your percentage goal of at least 2 percent. Target your audience first and search engines second.
When Can Keywords Become Spammy?
Keywords need to be used. But they don’t need to be overdone. The most common areas keywords become spammy are when they are inserted with invisible text or stuffed multiple times throughout content, meta tags, alt attributes, and comment tags. They are also considered spammy when the keyword is irrelevant to the content. You can’t choose a keyword to throw around just for the sake of it having a high search volume if it doesn’t relate to the topic of your content. For instance, the word “weather” is one of the most searched for words. If your content is about cars, you can’t keep throwing in comments about the weather to increase your ranking. It’s a silly example, but you get the point. Trying to throw off search engines by using an irrelevant keyword won’t work because your readers will know better. The more people keep clicking off your content from discovering it to be irrelevant to what they’re looking for, search engines will take notice and de-rank you.
One keyword spam you may not purposefully be doing happens with duplicate tagging. Make sure every page on your site doesn’t have the same title or description tag on it. Even if not done intentionally, search engines will assume it to be done misleadingly. Instead, make each page’s tag unique and specific to what content is on that page.
Keywords can be used effectively simply by keeping your keyword density and audience in mind. The second you start planning ways to trick search engines is the second you need to pause and rethink your strategy. Use them in moderation and don’t forget about synonyms and long tail keywords. Those will get the attention of search engines way before keyword stuffing will.