Don't Overstuff Keywords on Your Site

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I recently read an article in a marketing magazine that advised repeating keywords on your site as often as possible, and in multiple places so search engine spiders can find them. However, my friend and fellow copywriter Nick Usborne says that this advice is not only wrong, but actually harmful.


"This is the worst possible advice you can give to anyone about optimizing their site for the search engines," Usborne said. "It's an element of what is referred to as 'keyword stuffing,' and is either ignored by the search engine algorithms or, in bad cases, your page and site will be penalized. Worse still, it results in pages that read very strangely to human visitors. Using keywords too often on a page and in the meta-tags is worse than not using them at all. The frequency or otherwise of keywords on a page has nothing to do with whether a spider will find the page. And if a spider finds the page, it doesn't need a keyword repeated frequently in order to find it."


I am not an SEO expert, so I asked some consultants in this area - and others more knowledgeable than I - to comment on keyword use on Web sites.


"I think stuffing keywords on a Web page is taking the focus off where it needs to be to be successful in any business," Sean Woodruff said. "Stuffing keywords is a gimmick that is focused on tricking the search engines."


"Search engines are important," Susan Getgood said. "But it is far more important to have a good Web site that sells effectively. We should focus on writing good copy that effectively communicates the offer. I expect that keywords appear an appropriate amount in good selling copy vs. some artificial stuffing exercise, which doesn't fool the search engines and likely damages your overall communications effort. Remember, people do land on your Web site from other sources - advertising, direct mail and so on - not just from search engines. It is silly to try to optimize for one source if ... you end up with a sub-optimal Web site for all the others."


"I often furrowed my brow at suggestions of altering copy to optimize search engine results," Bruce DeBoer said. "It wasn't so much that I knew my way was better, but rather that I couldn't imagine altering otherwise great copy to satisfy a search engine."


Apryl Parcher advises, "When writing Web sites, it's more important to put keywords in meta-tags and descriptions that are only used by spiders and not seen by the average person reading your page, and also to give your pages titles in HTML that truly reflect the page's contents. While it is true that words are picked up on your home page for the search engine description - unless the text block is made into an image - it's usually the first 20 words or so. So make sure that text is what you want people to see when they pick you up on Google. However, you can go all out in putting appropriate search keywords in your description tags without stuffing your actual copy with them."


"Never stuff a Web page with keywords. It's awful advice," Paul Woodhouse said. "You make sure they're in your title and your meta data. Place them carefully in the beginning, middle and end of your spiel - and in the h1, h2 tags, if necessary. Any more than that and you risk being penalized by Google, although you can find many a site getting away with it. Also, it simply reads awfully. But don't take my word for it. Go to www.seochat.com for expert advice."


"If you want to attract search engine spiders and repel your human visitors, then by all means, stuff away," Andrea Harris said. "Good Web writing is a balance between satisfying the spiders and the humans. But it's the humans who buy your products and services."


"It's not about stuffing copy with keywords," Richard Leader said. "It's about making sure the keywords are in there. Some years back, I ran an online training company. Our course outlines were quite clearly course outlines to a human reader - but not to a spider. We realized we didn't once use the phrase 'HTML training course,' for example. So we added it in a few times - and yeah, it looked a bit clunky. But with just a couple of mentions - for example, 'In this HTML training course, you will learn ...' - we increased our search engine traffic and our conversions. So my advice is not to stuff but to strategically place."


"Placing keywords within your site is certainly an important part of getting search engines to notice you," Joel Heffner said. "However, my current favorite way to appeal to search engines is to ping entries that I make to my blogs. Search engines appear to love to run to see what's been added to a blog. If you create a link to a specific page, the search engine will take note of that page as well."


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