Stop Words: Should You Use Them?
The rules and best practices of SEO constantly change. If you’re anything like the majority of small business owners, you are always seeking out the latest ways to drive organic traffic to your site. People who have even a passing familiarity with SEO have probably heard about ‘stop words,’ and that you should avoid them in your keywords and URLs. Today, we’ll give you the low-down on stop words and how they impact your SEO.
Defining Stop Words
Before we explain how they affect your SEO, let’s take some time to define stop words. Essentially, stop words are common words that have little impact on the nature of the query you put into a search engine. There are hundreds of them. Here are a few, to give you an example:
Again, this is just scratching the surface. For a more complete list of SEO stop words, click here.
Are They Bad for Your SEO?
Conventional wisdom holds that using stop words in title tags, image alt text, meta descriptions, and URLs harms your SEO. One commonly held belief is that search engines such as Google simply skip over such words. Filtering them out helps to preserve disk space while speeding up the search. But the truth is that Google does not always ignore them.
As an example, let’s say you want to do some searching about your favorite film of all time, Billy Wilder’s 1960 romantic comedy, The Apartment—a real classic. If you were to leave the stop word ‘the’ out of this query, you would find the first page of results littered with local apartment listings. Google is pretty smart, and recognizes that individuals who precede the word ‘apartment’ with ‘the’ probably want some information about the classic film.
It’s Okay to Use Them—Smartly
Long ago, if you included a stop word in your query, Google let you know that you had done so and that the word was not included in the search. They no longer display this message.
This shift indicates that perceptions of the value of stop words for SEO purposes have changed.
Using stop words is not currently so ineffective as was once thought. Search engines have gotten smarter and more able to recognize that, at times, they really can have substantial implications in terms of what the searcher is looking for.
Another thing to consider is the rise of voice search. It is currently estimated that as much as 50% of internet searches originate from voice-enabled technology in 2020. When people search with their voice, they are far more likely to include stop words than in text search.
Excessive stop words ought to be avoided. But this doesn’t mean you should avoid them entirely. If you have a hunch that a stop word might help your SEO, do a little keyword research. Search your keyword on Google with—and then without—the stop words included. If their inclusion substantially impacts the results, it might be smart to use them in your optimization.
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